March 6, 2003


Catholics Debating: Back President or Pope on Iraq? (LAURIE GOODSTEIN, March 6, 2003, NY Times)
Pope John Paul II asked all Catholics to fast and pray on Ash Wednesday for peace, especially in Iraq. The ash still dark on their foreheads, the parishioners offered a prayer before downing their caff� lattes.

On the prospects of war with Iraq, almost all of them find themselves in a bind: as conservative Catholics, they follow the pope, but as conservative Americans, they support the president. They, like many other religious Americans, are more deeply indecisive and ambivalent than their religious leaders appear to be.

The pope has repeatedly appealed to world leaders to avoid a war, and today a papal envoy, Cardinal Pio Laghi, carried the message directly to President Bush. Last week, Catholic bishops in the United States issued their third antiwar declaration of the last four months. [...]

The principles of a "just war" were first developed by St. Augustine in the fifth century and expanded upon by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th. For a war to be considered just, it must meet the following criteria: have a just cause, meaning that it confronts a danger beyond question; be declared by a legitimate authority acting on behalf of the people; be driven by the right intention, not ulterior economic or other motives; be the last resort; be proportional, so that the harm inflicted does not outweigh the good achieved; and have a reasonable chance of success.

Does anyone know anything or have any links to articles about Just War doctrine? I'm reading Michael Walzer's Just and Unjust Wars and even though he acknowledges that, "The rights of states rest on the consent of their members", he everywhere diminishes this point, arguing as his central and apparently almost inviolable thesis that: "It is a crime to commit aggression...". But how can it be unjust to free a people who are not
permitted a consensual government? If we accept his argument wouldn't it have been unjust to intervene in Cambodia to stop the Killing Fields or in Rwanda to stop the violence between the Hutu and the Tutsi? Is it really our theory of international law that no one has the right to interpose themselves between a tyrant and his unwilling people?

So, for example, check this out, -ESSAY: Just War Theory and Self-Determination (Dr. Jan Garrett, December 1996; modified October 18, 2001)

Forms of pursuing just cause. These are offensive and defensive wars. There is a strong presumption in favor of defensive wars. (They are responses to aggression.)

Just war theory was in the past used to permit "offensive wars to protect vital rights unjustly threatened or injured" (O'Brien, p. 34) Today, there is a strong tendency among theorists about wars to oppose offensive wars generally. "A war of vindictive justice wherein the [fighting country] fights against error and evil as a matter of principle is no longer condoned by just-war doctrine" (O'Brien). The reference is to military projects like crusades and holy wars. And offensive wars to enforce justice for oneself are also "now seemingly prohibited by positive international law." (One should use instead international courts, the UN, etc.)

Are they out of their minds? Can justice possibly requitre that we not fight evil? We have to reject that utterly. On the Diane Rehm show today, one of the Korea experts said that two million people have starved in North Korea in the past decade. Did they take any comfort from dying needlessly rather than in a war?

-ETEXT: St. Augustine, The City of God, Book XIX
-ETEXT: St. Thomas Aquinas :The Summa Theologica : OF WAR
-ESSAY: Just War Theory (Alex Moseley, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
-Principles of the Just War (Vincent Ferraro)
-INTERVIEW: Justice in War: Just-war theory: with Robert P. George (Kathryn Jean Lopez, October 15, 2001, National Review)
-ESSAY: Defining a Just War (Richard Falk, October 11, 2001, The Nation)
-ESSAY: A Just Cause, Not a Just War (Howard Zinn, November 2001, The Progressive)
-ESSAY: Questioning the Morality of Military Attacks on Civilians (Peter Steinfels, 6 April 2002, New York Times)
-Resources on Just War Theory (USD Values Institute Forum on Just War and the Balkans)
-ESSAY: Give Freedom a Chance: Rather than wring our hands, Americans should gird our loins--that is, to fight to win with the conviction that our cause is just. (William Safire, 3/06/03, NY Times)
-ESSAY : Can There Be a Decent Left? (Michael Walzer, Spring 2002, Dissent)
-ESSAY: INSPECTORS YES, WAR NO.: No Strikes (Michael Walzer, 09.23.02, New Republic)
EXCERPT: Walzer and the Legalist Paradigm
-ARCHIVES: "michael walzer" (Find Articles)
-ESSAY: Walzer’s Razor: Is a reasonable, responsible Left possible? (Steven Hayward, March 22, 2002, National Review)
-ESSAY: Searching for a Better Left: Since September 11, a handful of leftists have undertaken the project of looking for a principled American liberalism. Will they succeed? (Lee Bockhorn, 03/19/2002, Weekly Standard)
-ESSAY: Can There Be A Decent Left? Michael Walzer's Second Thoughts (David Horowitz, March 26, 2002,
-ESSAY: War and the Fickle Left (Robert Kagan, 12/23/02, Washington Post)
-ESSAY: My Fellow Lefties . . .: Stop it with the American-bashing. (Michael H. Shuman, 02/18/2002, Weekly Standard)
-ESSAY: As the Left Says No to War, a Journal's Editor Dissents (DANIEL TREIMAN, JANUARY 31, 2003, FORWARD)
-ESSAY : The War Party's Theologian : President Bush carries on the liberal tradition of Reinhold Niebuhr. (JOSEPH LOCONTE , May 31, 2002, Wall Street Journal)

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 6, 2003 12:11 PM

Make Walzer define aggression before he goes any further. He won't be able to.

Posted by: Harry at March 6, 2003 1:07 PM

No, he really means any attack on a foreign nation at all.

Posted by: oj at March 6, 2003 1:27 PM

The best First Things article on Just War doctrine is Darrell Cole's Good Wars
. A must-read.

Just war doctrine basically derives from the same logic as the just use of force by individuals. The name is misleading, it draws from an antiquated theological definition of 'justice'; in ordinary English, it should be called just-moral war theory, because half the theory is about what we normally call justice and half about what we normally call morality (which the theologians of the Middle Ages called 'prudence').

Ignoring hard cases for the moment, the basic principles are (1) it's unjust to initiate the use of violence; (2) it's just to use force in self-defense or the defense of innocents; (3) its immoral to inflict more harm than necessary to end the violence, or to harm the innocent unless in unavoidable 'collateral damage' associated with the least damaging way of defending against the aggressor.

Of course there are hard cases -- if you are certain the opponent is planning violence, but he hasn't done it yet, do you have just cause? -- that the theory doesn't clearly address. However, applied to Iraq:

(1) Iraq has committed vast murders of Iraqis; Kuwaitis; Iranians; Israelis; and Americans; and it is morally certain that they will commit more. These acts of war give us just cauase to fight.

(2) There is every reason our conduct of the war will be prudent, minimizing civilian casualties, as it was in Afghanistan.

Thus, I think just war doctrine supports the war.

Posted by: pj at March 6, 2003 1:54 PM

Another important point, made by Cole, is that for Augustine and Aquinas, it is a moral obligation
to fight a just war, and a failure of charity to fail to fight. E.g., to fail to overthrow Saddam would demonstrate a lack of charity for the Iraqi people, and his future terror victims.

Posted by: pj at March 6, 2003 1:56 PM

I read a pretty good critique, though I have since forgotten where, that makes the point that, in practice, Just War theory is useless because some of the questions can only be answered ex poste

Posted by: David Cohen at March 6, 2003 2:43 PM

We should have intervened in Rwanda, but we didn't.

Posted by: Wrighty at March 6, 2003 3:02 PM

Who "owns" Just War Theory? Who decides what JWT says? Is JWT the position of the Catholic Church, or is there some ecumenical council that meets to determine what it is? It has obviously changed over time, as the article stated.

Is JWT just one of those useless labels, like "Family Values", that can be molded to anyone's definition?

Posted by: Robert D at March 6, 2003 3:57 PM

It's odd to consider Rwanda as similar to Cambodia, as Orrin seems to do, for Rwanda was not ruled by a monstrous oligarchy. Rwanda had consensual government, but the majority of people effectively voted to put the minority to death.

Here's a question: does Just War doctrine allow a full invasion of Iraq, or does it simply call for assassinating Saddam? If you're trying to minimize harm to innocents, you could argue that tyrannicide is more humane than war.

Posted by: Peter Caress at March 6, 2003 4:16 PM

David -- many of the questions cannot even be answered definitively ex post, except by God. In prudential judgments, we'll never be able to know what would have happened had we chosen another course, and so we can never adequately evaluate the decision.

Robert -- Just War theory derives from Biblical principles and is the heritage of the Christian tradition. That said, there has never been complete uniformity of opinion on when wars are just and good. It is not dogma. Finally, prudential judgments can vary as circumstances change, and judging whether war is good is just such a judgment.

The debate over the death penalty is a good counterpart here, because Catholic teachings over the death penalty are really part of just war theory. Both face the same issues -- the same issue of justice: when can a government justly kill? and of morality: among those circumstances when a killing is just, when is it good? -- and derive answers from the same principles. Catholic teaching holds that the death penalty is always a just punishment for murder, but the Pope and many theologians have recently argued that the death penalty is rarely or never the best course. Their skepticism toward war is of a piece with their skepticism toward the death penalty.

Posted by: pj at March 6, 2003 4:21 PM

Peter -- These are the kinds of questions just war theory requires leaders to think through. Either attempts at assassination, or full war, could be preferable under just war theory; the decision-maker has to appraise the likely consequences of each course, and select the more prudent.

Posted by: pj at March 6, 2003 4:26 PM


If Christ Himself came with a sword how can aggresion be always unjust?

Posted by: oj at March 6, 2003 4:43 PM

The world we live in today is radically different from anything seen before, because of terrorism, and its use of technology, cash, and freedoms in the West to kill the very citizens of those Western countries. Any model of "just anything" that has no ability to factor that in is obsolete. St. Augustine didn't have to consider the costs to society of a nuclear device detonated by a terrorist in a major metopolitan area.

When our own citizens become targets, 5th century philosophy is about as useful as t*ts on a bull. In my opinion, anyway.

The clock is ticking ...

Posted by: Jeff Brokaw at March 6, 2003 4:52 PM

Robert - JWT isn't infinitely malleable, it has to conform to Scripture, e.g. Exodus 22:1: “If a thief is caught in the act of housebreaking and beaten to death, there is no bloodguilt involved.” There are circumstances in which it's OK to kill. Even Jesus, who can do no sin, overturned the tables of people he called "thieves," and sent Roman swine to their deaths. So it's clear that violence against persons or property is just and good in certain circumstances.

But it is difficult to draw the boundaries, and good Christians can disagree about specific cases.

Biblical passages which might seem to support the extreme pacifist position don't really. Commenting on Jesus's “I say unto you, resist not evil; if one strike you on the right cheek, offer him the other” [Matt 5:39], St. Thomas Aquinas notes that Jesus's cheek really was slapped (by a servant to the high priest) and far from turning the other one, Jesus protested: “If there was harm in what I said, tell us what was harmful in it, but if not, why dost thou strike me?” [John 18:23] Aquinas comments: "Holy Scripture must be understood in the light of what Christ and the saints have actually practiced. Christ did not offer His other cheek, nor Paul either. Thus to interpret the injunction of the Sermon on the Mount literally
is to misunderstand it. This injunction signifies rather the readiness of the soul to bear, if it be necessary
, such things and worse, without bitterness against the attacker. This readiness our Lord showed, when He gave up His body to be crucified." [Commentary on Saint John, 4, 2]

Posted by: pj at March 6, 2003 4:56 PM

oj - aggression isn't always unjust. Still, I wouldn't use the Christ-sword example to prove it. When Jesus says, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I come not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law." -- he is saying not that he
who cannot sin will be using the sword, but that sinful humans, who may be erring, will use the sword as a result of his coming. If I understand Harry's lessons on history, this prophecy has been amply fulfilled.

Posted by: pj at March 6, 2003 5:37 PM

Jeff -- just war theory is amply flexible to cover the case of terrorism and WMD -- but I agree with you that the Pope has not gotten his mind around the implications of those things fully.

Posted by: pj at March 6, 2003 5:39 PM


Your disdain for the wisdom of the past is alarming. St. Augustine speaks to us now more profoundly than all the chattering sophists of our age.

"We know that we have made no discoveries, and we think that no discoveries are to be made in morality, nor many in the great principles of government, nor in the ideas of liberty, which were understood long before we were born, altogether as well as they will be after the grace has heaped its mold upon our presumption and the silent tomb shall have imposed its law on our pert loquacity." -- Edmund Burke.

Posted by: Paul Cella at March 6, 2003 11:07 PM

Why is it that the Ameican Media pits the Pope aganist Bush on War but not against Kennedy, Cuomo, etc. on abortion? Also, why isn't it that when the secular Left criticizes Bush's religiousness as a source of decision-making conflicts, it does not point out that he is defying his own bishops, ministers on national security issues?

Posted by: MG at March 7, 2003 3:44 AM


Isn't one of the problems with the Just War fols appropriating Augustine and other Christrian philosophers that they no longer believe in either evil nor a hierarchy of being? How can you hope to speak of justice if you don't acknowledge that evildoers must be punished.

Posted by: oj at March 7, 2003 8:22 AM


I don't categorically toss aside all the wisdom of St. Augustine - but I reject the idea that relying on it as the sole basis for consideration of strategy, when fundamental changes have taken place in our society, is the prudent course. I don't subscribe to the idea that philosophy can solve all
of our problems, and here is an example of why.

Our free society has no workable model from the past on what to do about this. To defend our very civilization, we must become more aggressive and pro-active than any nation in the past has ever been.

Evil people want us dead. We must destroy them first. Iraq is first on the list due to their known support of terrorism. We are the only country with the power, the motivation, and the guts, to do it. We have a choice: sit around and hope for change, or force change. The first one has been tried for 25 years with terrorism, it does NOT work. The stakes have become too high, now, with the availability of WMD. GWB backed me up on this last night. Philosophy is good as far as it goes, but that isn't far enough.

Posted by: Jeff Brokaw at March 7, 2003 9:06 AM

Jeff -- of course we cannot just adopt an idea blindly because St Augustine articulated it; and we must understand the logic of the situations we face, applying first principles to them. But I think if we apply first principles properly to the war on terror, we will find our solution compatible with Augustine's theory.

oj - Yes, you've hit on the key point. George Neumayr
makes this point eloquently, likening the Pope's pacifism toward Saddam to the U.S. bishops' pacifism toward child rapists -- in both cases, the proffered solution is talk, not action; "resist not evil" has been taken literally and elevated to the highest moral principle. We are no longer to fight evil, but to talk it away, however long that may take. Of course this is contrary to the Christian tradition.

Posted by: pj at March 7, 2003 9:29 AM

There's an awful lot of nonsense in Augustine. Query:

If a person is a demonstrated fathead on numerous issues, just how much deference is he entitled to on X?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at March 7, 2003 1:55 PM

oj & pj, thanks. You confirmed what I thought, that it was a general Christian theory, not specific to the Catholic church. pj, while conformation to Scriptures may prevent a theory from being infinitely malleable, it still allows a level of malleability verging on liquidity. In this sense, I am intellectually in agreement with the fundamentalists: if you do not take the Bible literally in everything it says, then it becomes useless as a foundation for determining absolute, objective truth. Interpretation is a creative act, the interpreter brings a desired proposition to the reading, and can usually come away with a biblical confirmation of that proposition.

Posted by: Robert D at March 7, 2003 2:36 PM

Robert - the trouble is that if you take everything
in the Bible literally, then parts contradict each other. For instance, there are two creation stories in Genesis -- they can't both be right -- and look at Aquinas's example below about how Christ didn't turn the other cheek.

It seems to me that we have to say that everything in the Bible is to be taken seriously
, but not necessarily literally.

Yes, interpretation is a creative act -- but so is living
. Isn't it clear that God wants us to bring a certain creativity to life?

Posted by: pj at March 7, 2003 3:27 PM

I'm with Robert D. It seems there are only two intellectually possible positions with respect to scriptures (any of them). Either they are the inspired word of God (as I was taught) and then you have to swallow them anyhow, or they aren't.

So I'm a Fundamentalist. I believe they are the inspired word of God and I deduce characteristics of God thereform. Not very flattering to Him.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at March 7, 2003 4:55 PM

Why isn't God allowed to use metaphors?

Posted by: pj at March 7, 2003 5:46 PM


If being a fathead on many things was a bar to deference on anything there'd be no reason to listen to anyone about anything. You may as well renounce Relativity because Einstein was a communist dupe.

Posted by: oj at March 8, 2003 10:47 AM

pj - God is allowed to do whatever he wants, including using metaphors. If, during the process of revelation, the scribe were told "ok, the next book is all a metaphor", then we would know what God intended to be metaphor, and what he intended to be taken literally.

However, there were no such revealed instructions. Hence, we either play it safe and take everythin g literally (I'm imagining how young Marine recruits are taught, when told by a superior to "take a seat", they are to pick the chair up. I witnessed this happen!). Or we are to interpret what is literal and what is metaphor. The rock of authority is gone, we are in improvization mode.

What is to stop us from saying that the resurrection is a metaphor for spritual rebirth?

If you say you are for objective truth, then you must follow the logical conclusion of what that means, and be like the Marine recruit. You must purge yourself of all subjective bias. Objective truth does not have to make sense to you. It is a reality outside of yourself, you can't arrive at it by looking inward. It must be imposed on you, in a way that you cannot deny it's veracity, irrespective of your own instincts, feelings or reasoning.

Posted by: Robert D at March 8, 2003 11:53 AM


Isn't the point that what you ask we are not capable of. Even Christ despaired: "Oh Lord, why hast Thou forsaken me." If Man was capable of accepting the objective truth that resides in God, would we not be gods?

Posted by: oj at March 8, 2003 12:29 PM

Oj, then what does it mean to say that religion is necessary for us to arrive at objective truth? Aren't you admitting that even with religion, people are still imprisoned within their subjective nature, and will bring that to bear on any moral question?

If this is the case, then consulting scriptures only provides an illusion of ascertaining objective truth, for it allows the individual to ignore the subjective viewpoint that he brings to the reading. In this case, we are all subjectivists. The religious and the secular are in the same boat.

Posted by: Robert D at March 8, 2003 1:04 PM