The Heaviness of Just War | USIH


Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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20 Responses

  1. Avatar Damon says:

    Generally, the only “just war” is one of self defense, ie your land, village, town, city, country have been invaded.

    Anything else is aggression.Report

    • Avatar El Muneco says:

      As the OP says, this is not exactly a new field of study, and there are fair number more strictures to be met, but you’ve basically captured the gist.

      “Only in response to an initial attack, only after all other potential solutions have failed, only in proportion to the attack, only against the combatants involved and those who directly supported them, and stopping as soon as defense is no longer necessary” is more complete.Report

      • Avatar Damon says:

        I wouldn’t go that far.

        “Only in response to an initial attack, only after all other potential solutions have failed, only in proportion to the attack,”

        In proportion? No. Overwhelming response. Creates a deterrent. You come at me with a knife, I come at you with a machine gun.Report

        • Avatar El Muneco says:

          No, that’s a properly fought war. Fighting a “just war” means that you’re handcuffing yourself in a number of clearly predetermined ways in order to institutionally ensure that you don’t ever slip out of the moral high ground. Pragmatic, it ain’t.Report

    • Avatar trizzlor says:

      I feel like there was some conflict in the mid 20th century where millions of innocent people were concentrated and massacred while other countries did nothing because it wasn’t self defense. It seems to come up a lot when discussing the responsibility of a nation but I just can’t put my finger on what it was …Report

      • Avatar Damon says:

        Surely we would remember something if it was “just”. Ergo, it wasn’t. We seem awfully fickle when we come to the rescue of some people and not others

        We watched the Armenians butchered
        We watched the Cambodians get butchered
        We watched the Chinese get butchered
        We watched the Tutsi get butchered
        We watched the Ukrainians get butchered.

        On and on and on.Report

        • Avatar Trizzlor says:

          We already watched many people die so what’s a few more? Maybe not as compelling an argument as you think.Report

          • Avatar Damon says:

            Actually the argument is this: You’ve shown no inclination to save others, why these? Why now if not then?

            Oh, THEY aren’t worthy of rescue/saving, but THOSE are? Explain that moral decision.Report

            • Avatar trizzlor says:

              Who is the “YOU” here? I’ve pointed out clear cases where the concept that just war is only in self defense is flawed. Your counter-argument is that other people have been inconsistent? Okay, fine. But how does that address my point?Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                The “you” here is all those who advocate defending one group but not the other groups / all groups facing the same threat. If it’s moral to come to rescue of one group facing genocide, is it not moral to do the same for every group facing this? If not, where’s the “just-ness”?Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                No, it is not.

                There isn’t any moral theory that can claim perfect consistency, simply because human relationships and organizations are never so one dimensional.

                The just war doctrine had several tests, among them achievability, where it is morally necessary to evaluate chances of success.

                Cold blooded political calculus is actually one of the many factors of moral stances.

                The “just-ness” is in taking our own desires and self-regard out of the equation, and focusing on what the maximum good for the maximum number might be.

                Adopting a moral stance which features perfect consistency and never requires complex moral reasoning is the opposite- it celebrates our own moral righteousness over actual accomplishment.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                “among them achievability, where it is morally necessary to evaluate chances of success.”

                I think you can objectively say that the US could achieve success on any “anti genocide” effort by threatening to nuke the relevant offenders, so I don’t see this as an issue.

                You’ll have to explain to me the maximization of goodness for the US not intervening in the butchery I listed above but why WW2 was critical to intervene. Surely someone, not necessarily you, who advocates a nuanced application of “just war” can do so.Report

              • Avatar InMD says:

                @damon I actually think the proposal regarding nuclear weapons itself would fail in almost any evaluation of a just war. If the offending government/army/militia called our bluff and we tried to use nuclear weapons we would quite likely destroy the people we were ostensibly trying to save and render their territory uninhabitable, It’s too blunt a tool.

                The real problem with @trizzlor ‘s point is that it assumes we have the capability of intervening on behalf of those being killed in a manner that results in a just outcome. The obvious current example of our inability to do that is Libya, where we kept the people in Benghazi from being overrun and potentially slaughtered by the Libyan army. However in doing so we caused the state to collapse and now the country is run by warlords and stuck in a cycle of violence and economic chaos with no end in sight.

                To me a war needs to not only be just (which in my opinion is limited narrowly to self defense) but also the U.S. government and tax payer need to be willing to own the outcome on the level we did with post war Germany and Japan. That means a commitment over a few generations and long term investment. I think that type of scenario is unlikely to ever happen again. It was the product of a very specific historical moment and it won’t be repeated in some messy third world civil war.Report

              • Avatar El Muneco says:

                Not just nuclear weapons – any post-industrialization battlefront since armies have grown to have a larger footprint than pinpoints on the regional map is arguably questionable.

                Per the Catholic Church’s doctring, “the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated (the power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition).” By the strictest reading of this, humanitarian intervention would likely have to be addressing an injustice on the scale of at least Rwanda to justify conquest and occupation.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                Again, if the justification were a simple linear axis, nuclear weapons would fit; But of course it isn’t.
                Achievability is balanced by proportionality, and other things besides.

                Also, you are probably right to ask why intervention was declared justified “here” and not “there”.

                But we already know the answer- that our leadership, and we the citizens ourselves, never apply the just war doctrine in anything approaching a rigorous manner.

                Yes, of course we are fickle, and use moral justification foolishly.

                Its probably why the theologians are re-evaluating the entire enterprise now.Report

              • Avatar Damon says:

                “that our leadership, and we the citizens ourselves, never apply the just war doctrine in anything approaching a rigorous manner.”

                I’d eliminate the comment about the citizens. They’ve never voted on going to war, even when congress has proclaimed it. And it can be argued that other than WW1 and 2, they’ve never had a vote, just a chance to die in the wars. Of course, you can also argue that our entry into these wars was contrived too, so….

                As for nukes, I’m a general fan of them for only defensive uses.Report

              • Avatar Blomster says:

                Citizens may not vote on going to war, but they do have opinions on whether interventions are justified or not – which is the context in which this issue was raised.

                In any case, I’m not happy giving the citizens in a democracy a total free pass regarding the actions of their governments.

                I feel there’s even a case to be made (perhaps not a very strong case, but a case nevertheless) that there is no such thing as an ‘innocent citizen’ in a democracy. Citizens can’t declare themselves innocent of the military actions taken by the government they’ve voted into power.Report

              • Avatar El Muneco says:

                This. One big problem with Just War theory is that it’s an ivory tower ideal. It’s a response to the fact that wars were venal things, all about naked conquest or just murdering some people you didn’t like – and almost democratic, in that even a non-state actor could get in on the fun if he could bankroll a few thousand mercenaries.

                And in the modern era, it’s both a cloak (of justification) and in some ways a straitjacket (ensuring that a modern mech/air army meets all its strictures puts a lot of nontraditional barriers in the command/logistical chains).

                So, less and less, do people care. Thus the re-evaluation.Report

      • Avatar KatherineMW says:

        Well, and because most of those other countries barred the people from fleeing into their countries.

        You can take several different tacks in arguing that WWII was necessary, but the one you’re taking is fairly unconvincing. If your calculus is a simple “lives saved”, then accepting refugees who flee a persecuting government is going to result in far fewer total deaths than fighting a global war will.Report

        • Avatar trizzlor says:

          I’m only speaking for the US. The fact that this country did not accept refugees fleeing Nazi Europe is criminal, but it pales in comparison the number of innocent lives that would have been saved with a pre-emptive entry into the war. Moreover, the theory espoused here says, quite clearly, that if there was no Pearl Harbor the US would have been bound to watch from the sidelines. I don’t see how a theory can be conscionable if it supports such an outcome. And I don’t see how arguing that the US was also negligent in Rwanda or a dozen other places addresses this.Report