Just War

Chris’s discussion of justifications for war, and the John Quiggins’ discussion linked to in the comments, have prompted me to try and say clearly something that I’ve made a stab at a couple of times before.

Let us suppose – for the sake of argument only – that we believe a war to be justified. That will always mean that we regard it as the lesser of two evils, because war is always (and obviously) evil, even when justified. We may say, ‘This war is justified’, not ‘This war is good’.

Let me put this another way. To fight even a justified war is to do wrong, in a situation where there is no option available which does not involve doing wrong. To fight even a jusitified war is to sin.

Deciding to fight a war, therefore, whatever the justification (even if it is a straightforward war of self-defence), means accepting huge responsibilities towards those against whom one is being forced to sin.

We incur huge responsibilities to our own soldiers, who we must pervert by training them to fight and sending them into battle.
We incur huge responsibilities to innocent bystanders, who always get caught up in the crossfire.
We incur huge responsibilities to enemy combatants, who are seldom those who have initiated the fighting,
And so on.

To go to war is to take on these responsibilities: to make ourselves answerable for the welfare and flourishing of all these, as well as those we fight to defend. We take on the responsibility to do the least damage possible to all of them, and we take on the responsibility to do all we can to repair damage once the fighting is over. And the depth of the responsibility we incur is proportional to the horror of the fighting that we inflict – and that can hardly be overstated.

So here’s a strange way of regarding a justifiable war: it is an extraordinary and dangerous deepening and widening of our obligations to, our connectedness with, our responsibility for, our enemies and our friends. That’s a cost we must count in assessing the case for any war.

One Thought on “Just War

  1. This is great. I sent a link to it to an Anglican list I’m on that was recently discussing the issue. Thanks.

Post Navigation