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Just Wars

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The idea of a ‘Just War’ is often used by Christians. But, where does it come from? Is there such a thing as a ‘Just War’/ bellum iustum?

It does not come from the Bible, or even from Christian sources, but from Roman Catholicism and Roman philosophy. This does not necessarily mean the idea is wrong, but it ought to suggest we look at it in closer detail, because of its source.

One of the earliest references to a ‘just war’, that is, a war that is justified, comes from Cicero. For Christians, however, it has its basis in the theories of Augustine of Hippo; for Catholics, in the work of Thomas Aquinas. The first documented ‘reason’ for a just war is one between the Teutonic Knights and the Kingdom of Poland (De bellis justis, Stanislaw of Skarbimierz). Hugo Grotius (see article on him, and his part in forming the later, modern, UN ‘Treaty of the Sea’), changed the notion into that of International Law theory.

As far as Catholic teaching is concerned there are four conditions to justify war:

  1. The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain.
  2. All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
  3. There must be serious prospects of success;
  4. The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power as well as the precision of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.

(Catechism of the Catholic Church, para 2309)

Just War advocates say they hate war, but accept that such a war may at times be either necessary or pressed upon a people. I doubt that anyone can argue against that claim. Another aim of their theory is that the war should be executed swiftly, cleanly, and with the aim of bringing about peace and justice.

The theory divides into three parts (the latter part being a recent addition):

  1. The reason for the war
  2. The way the war is conducted
  3. Prosecution of war criminals, peace agreements and termination of war

Apparently, there is a ‘consensus amongst Christians’ on the matter: “…that violence is an evil which can, in certain circumstances, be condoned as the lesser of two evils, is relatively young.” Based on the “older war theory developed around 400 AD, it rejected…the crusades.” (‘Rethinking the Crusades’, J R Smith). David fought just wars – because God was the One Who commanded them!

Of course, the Crusades are irrelevant to a Christian ethic on the issue, because they were organised and implemented by popes for a war they could not justify. Christians cannot be blamed for what Roman Catholicism does.

The BBC, that bastion of everything liberal and anti-God, says there are six conditions to satisfy before a war is ‘just’. Basically, they are the same as those written by Rome. According to the BBC’s Ethics section, a just war can become unjust if innocent people and non-soldiers are harmed. Nowadays, this is almost impossible to comply with as protagonists, especially Islamic (Hamas is a good example), tend to use their own people as shields. Also, only appropriate force may be used. Sadly, though, this does not usually work – it just implies a stale-mate, allowing the one who started the war to gather his forces to deliver a greater blow. This is behind the Israeli attitude to being attacked.

Added to this, the backing of international conventions is sought after. Usually, this means the UN, even though the UN is, and always has been, Marxist, preferring Marxist regimes even when they are evil. And, as I have shown in my book ‘The Global Green Agenda’, the UN actually joins forces with antagonists, as killers and blocks to peace!

Though modern philosophers argue over what is, or is not, a just war, and whether ANY war is ever just, wars continue. Can Christians argue for a just war?

We are called to live at peace with everyone – but only insofar as we are able. Most Christians forget that latter statement. I have observed that only Christians who live in safety, and have never known being harmed by others, will support the passivity notion. But, I think most of them would defend their families and friends!

I believe the Second World War was just, though it was also the fault of nations too eager to see good in Hitler. What he was about to do could be seen in his pre-war activities and his build-up of armaments and ‘planes. Would it be better to have a pre-emptive strike at the start, to minimise casualties? Or, to wait, as everyone did, until the inevitable comes about, and then experience casualties into the millions (not including the millions killed by gas ovens)? No Christian can ignore these questions, because when war comes everyone is involved.

War is hateful… but, as the Old Testament shows us, there are times when we must not only defend, but also attack. We cannot use the “turn the other cheek” option, because that has nothing to do with war! Mull over what has been said and decide for yourself. And do not fall into the passivist trap, which is erroneous.

© April 2011

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Bible Theology Ministries - PO Box 415, Swansea, SA5 8YH
United Kingdom