Tuesday, September 10, 2013

"Just War" or Just War?

Something to consider: How would we Americans feel if the top leaders of a country (a country we never threatened or attacked) were publicly and unapologetically discussing their plans to strike us with missiles? 

This is precisely what our leaders are doing to Syria. 

Some argue for U.S. intervention thus: If one sees his neighbor beating his wife or children one ought to (that is to say, one is morally obligated to) intervene. This is to love one’s neighbor. So, the U.S. is morally obligated to protect the innocent anywhere and everywhere it possibly can. 

But such an analogy is flawed on at least two levels. 

First, this is nothing like what may or may not be happening in Syria. Syria is more like two adult males savaging each other for nobody knows why. If one sees two strange men slashing each other with knives for no discernible reason, is one morally obligated to intervene by taking it upon oneself to shoot one man in effort to save the other?  

Syria is in the midst of a civil war. And as is the case with many civil wars it can be more than a little challenging to know who—if anyone—is wearing the white hats. Furthermore, like all civil wars, innocent non-combatants are caught in the middle. (Hence the “noble rebels” are fond of fighting Assad by killing Christians.) 

Second, the proffered analogy and application confuse categories. That is, the analogy and its application conflate personal, individual ethics with the ethics of the State. Individual ethics and State ethics are two very different things. Such conflation is wrong-headed and can even be dangerous. (Yes, war can be dangerous.) 

Speaking of the Christian’s duty to “love one’s neighbor” with cruise missiles, the 16th century reformer Pierre Viret said, “There is nothing which Christians should be more wary to employ nor which is less suited to their profession [than war]” (Joel McDurmon, The Bible & War in America, p. 29). 

Yet oddly enough, it seems American Christians are often eager to beat the drums of war. After all, what’s wrong with fighting when one is always on the side of the angels? But are our wars Just or are they just wars? 

Contemplate these “Just War” principles: 

·         A just war can only be waged as a last resort. All non-violent options must be exhausted before the use of force can be justified.

·         A just war can only be fought to redress a wrong suffered. For example, self-defense against an armed attack is always considered to be a just cause. Further, a just war can only be fought with "right" intentions: the only permissible objective of a just war is to redress the injury.

·         The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace. More specifically, the peace established after the war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought.

·         The violence used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered. States are prohibited from using force not necessary to attain the limited objective of addressing the injury suffered.

·         The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Civilians are never permissible targets of war, and every effort must be taken to avoid killing civilians. The deaths of civilians are justified only if they are unavoidable victims of a deliberate attack on a military target.

Do the above tenets justify the majority of America’s war waging? 

Some argue that America wages war as God’s instrument of wrath. True, God does use nations to judge other nations, but it would be incredibly presumptuous of us—or any nation—to arrogate to ourselves the role of God's "super police-state." 

Of course, God can do to and with the United States what He wills. God is sovereign. But God’s sovereign prerogatives in no way render the actions of a warring nation morally justified.


  1. Charles Spurgeon on war: "The Lord’s battles, what are they? Not the garment rolled in blood, not the noise, and smoke, and din of human slaughter. These may be the devil’s battles, if you please, but not the Lord’s. They may be days of God’s vengeance but in their strife the servant of Jesus may not mingle. "

    1. Excellent quote...thank you for reading and thinking.

  2. Well I am old enough that I recall Eisenhower warning against the Military Industrial Complex running our nation. I'm old enough to have been drafted and to have served in Vietnam as an infantry soldier. I'm old enough to have had the privilege to serve Christ as a pastor for over thirty years. I'm sanctified enough to say, "Let's try the novel idea of bombing Syria with blankets, food, water, and medicine. Let's try the novel idea of 'loving our neighbor as we would love ourselves.'" Dennis E. Roe, pastor

    1. Indeed. Thank you for reading & thinking and for your service to Christ and country.