Reflections of a Broken Man

On Just War: Part II – Alternatives by StephenMac

** Currently listening to So Long, So Long – DBC**

Why a moral just war theory? Why not? What are the alternatives?

1. Alternative approaches to war

As mentioned last post, just war theory in one sense sits between two moral extremes – realism and pacifism. Realism is a political science term that has at it’s centre the idea of realpolitik or political prudence. In layman’s terms, whatever gets the job done goes. Realism’s central aim is the preservation and survival of the state, and it will do whatever it needs to to maintain that survival: in a word, prudence. In contrast to just war theory, realism holds that the political and the moral are completely different spheres of thought, and therefore should not overlap. While realism is aware of the “moral significance of political action”, it does not believe that morality should limit action, especially when the state’s survival is at stake. As such, realism will advocate a dual morality: a morality of the individual, and a morality of the state. The individual can say that murder is wrong at a personal level, but this should not filter into the state level, or at least in the same way.

At the other extreme is pacifism. Pacifism argues that all war is inherently immoral, and therefore cannot and should not be fought. Realistically, a majority of pacifist thought comes from a Christian standpoint, based most usually on Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek. There are two main types: deontological and consequential. Deontological pacifism argues “that there are no situations, real or imaginary, in which resort to war would be the lesser evil” (Bellamy, Just Wars: 279-280). In other words, war involves killing, and killing is inherently wrong, therefore war is inherently wrong. As such, they advocate “passive non-resistance” and alternatives to war. It is important to note that modern Christian deontological pacifists have become somewhat more consequentialist. Rather than war is “inherently wrong”, they argue that there are situations which could theoretically exist in which war may be permissible, yet “the moral constraints on war are interpreted in such a way as to make it highly unlikely that any war would meet the criteria” (Bellamy, Just Wars: 294). More recently, the Christian perspective has moved in this direction, with the US Catholic Bishops (The Challenge of Peace), and the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (The Just War Revisited) both advocating a “presumption against war” or a “presumption against violence”, which argues that the Christian scriptures argue first for a peaceful settlement of disputes, and in “exceptional cases” some use of force is permitted (determined by the principles of just war theory).

Consequential pacifists would argue that it’s not war per se that’s wrong, but rather it’s modern form. They would argue that war is theoretically possible, but modern warfare involves the killing of innocents, and the killing of innocents is wrong, therefore modern warfare is wrong. In difference to deontological pacifists, it’s not that killing is wrong, but the killing of innocents is wrong, and modern warfare inherently involves these innocents. If the nature of warfare were to change, then war would be morally possible, whereas the deontological pacifist would say that war itself is wrong, and can never meet the criteria of being moral.


On Just War: Part I – Starting Points by StephenMac

**Currently listening to: This is a Low – Blur… I so love the Glastonbury version of this…**

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, so I thought I might return to my roots… I overheard a 4th year convo on Just War, and remembered that this is what brought me to college in the first place. Two years on, we’ll see if anything has changed much.

What is Just War Theory?

Just War Theory in short is a normative (what should be) and prescriptive (what should be done) approach to the study of conflict. It is a moral approach (not legalistic, as will be argued later) that makes judgements on what should be and what should be done on the basis of what is right and what is wrong. Quite simply, it is a framework for the moral fighting of war. It is not really a theory in the literal sense, rather, it is a practical framework: a set of principles that provide governments and individual soldiers alike a moral and ethical structure for the waging and limitation of war (O’Donovan** – Just War Revisited, p. 6).

Why is it needed?

This moral framework seeks to limit war. It begins with a pessimistic view of human nature, and therefore assumes that war will happen. As such, just war theory as Jean Bethke Elshtain describes it, is a “tragic necessity“. The state of affairs of Micah 4:3 is eschatological, and so we need to find a way to limit war.

There are two approaches to war in political science: Realism argues that if war is the natural state of affairs, then war should be fought without any restraint to ensure victory (prudence). Pacifism argues that war is inherently immoral, and therefore should not be fought at all. There is a problem: realism’s ‘amorality’ fails to allow for restraint, while pacifism’s extreme morality fails to provide any way forward for the moral conduct of war. Realism therefore descends into immorality, while pacifism risks “inadvertently conceding a free hand to those who support the war to execute it free of moral restraints” (BellamyIs the War on Terror Just?, p. 281). Just War Theory attempts to straddle the two, realising the need to conduct war, while demanding that there be moral limits.

A Moral Framework?

There are a couple of principles that are necessary to provide a foundation for a moral Just War Theory (as opposed to a legalistic one):

The first principle is the importance and worth of the individual. Just War insists on the limiting of violence and suffering. Why? Because the individual has worth, and that their suffering is undesirable if not completely wrong. In this regard, accounts of war in terms of prudence (realism) do not sufficiently explain why there is such an emphasis on limiting war’s effects. Where does the individual gain his worth from, and why is life respected? The Christian worldview provides such a perspective: individuals, men and women, are created in the image of God. It is a description of the way that God made humanity, in the likeness of his character. Anything that harms that creation, like suffering and death, therefore tarnishes the image of God, and is therefore inherently evil (wrong).

Similarly, the importance of the individual means that any account of political science must portray, even in part, the agency of individuals in the international realm. In this way, accounts of war that focus purely on the state neglect the role of the individual. From the outset, just war theory has placed the individual in a position of responsibility, be it the leaders (the prince or the prime minister) or the soldier. The responsibility and accountability of the individual is an assumption that remains at the heart of just war theory, and underpins many of the principles that it espouses. Why is this so? Amongst other things, theologian John Stott explains that God created humanity with the ability to be rational and moral (Stott – Issues Facing Christians Today, p. 62). How else would they be able to both understand and respond to God’s commands? The implication is that if humanity is both rational and moral, then it is also responsible and accountable. Humans are free to make decisions as they will, and as such, are subject to moral praise and blame. While “the Fall” (the break in the perfect relationship with God and the corruption of sin upon the world) may diminish humanity’s capacity to be perfectly moral or rational, this does not mean that it is not responsible or accountable. Responsibility and accountability may be diminished, but not completely denied. Rather, it is in the context of the Fall that Elshtain makes the comment that war is “tragically necessary” – in a world that is corrupted by sin, the oft-quoted idea of ‘beating swords into plowshares’ is eschatological and not of this age, and conflict is something that will continue to be.



On Wisdom by StephenMac
March 11, 2009, 10:08 pm
Filed under: Reflections | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

**Currently playing in iTunes: Burn Out Brighter (Northern Lights) by Anberlin**

I think the chorus of this song sums up this post:

Live, I wanna live inspired
Die, I wanna die for something higher than myself
Live and die for anyone else
The more I live I see this life’s not about me

Wisdom is the art of godly living. It’s something that I make no claim to know extensively, nor even able to live out. It’s about living our life in a way that brings glory to God. I also think that wisdom is a moral category: to act foolishly (to act without wisdom) is morally wrong and reprehensible, because it fails to bring glory to God (cf. Romans 1:21-23).

As Christians, we live in a family: adopted children of God, and so interpersonal relationships is a key part of our life. Thus, I would argue that wisdom involves understanding how to be in relationship with others (specifically other believers), and involves selflessness.

Oliver O’Donovan, in the CASE lecture series in 2007, describes morality in terms of being “awake” and “aware” of what is around us. It is morally wrong (foolish) to be inattentive, or unconcerned, or even ignorant of what is going on around us.

Drawing these threads together, I want to say that wisdom is being aware in our relationships, and failure to do so is morally wrong. We need to be attentive to how we are interacting, how we are impacting and affecting people around us.

What is the motivation for this left-field post? At the risk of trivialising this post, I have recently been reflecting on relationships. To put it verbosely, what is the wise way to pursue courting? To be blunt, what is the wise way to tell a girl you like her? Wisdom, being aware of the way that you affect people, warns us that just because you think that asking a girl out for all the right reasons as you see it may not be the wise thing to do. You may think that she is the right person for you because:

– She would be a great partner for ministry
– She is precisely the kind of girl you want your sons to marry, and daughters to be
– She is the epitome of Prov. 31.

Wisdom warns us that we need to be aware that in fact, our “overtures” for a relationship may not be wise. What happens if our pursuit of a relationship in fact harms her, for whatever reason? I would argue that our inattentiveness, our lack of being “awake” or “aware” of the impact of our intentions is therefore morally reprehensible, foolish, and wrong.

Wisdom tells us, “The more I live I see, this life’s not about me.”


The right to life by StephenMac
August 3, 2008, 12:31 pm
Filed under: Reflections | Tags: , ,

I was slightly disturbed this past week when I overheard one of my friends comment on the impending trial of Radovan Karadzic. The comment was along the lines of “I hope he hangs”, and it got me thinking on whether the death penalty is ever justifiable. Let’s be clear: Karadzic is “accused of being responsible for some of the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II.” He is charged with:

  • Persecution of Bosnian Muslim (Bosniak) and Bosnian Croat civilians
  • Targeting of political leaders, intellectuals and professionals
  • Unlawful deportation and transfer of civilians
  • Unlawful shelling of civilians
  • Unlawful appropriation and plunder of property
  • Destruction of homes and businesses
  • Destruction of places of worship
Put simply, he is accused of playing a part in the killing of 8,000 men at Srebrenica, sniping civilians during the siege of Sarajevo, and ethnic cleansing of non-Serbs.

But… despite the gravity of these charges, is the death penalty really needed? Is the death penalty justice?

Look at Karadzic’s mentor, Slobodan Milosevic. After delaying the trial for five years, Milosevic dies of heart failure. Asumming that Milosevic was guilty of the charges against him, the end (his death) was the same as if he had been executed. But could this be considered justice? Somehow, I think that those Bosniaks and other victims of the atrocities would argue no – they would want to see him declared guilty. So I think it is reasonable to assume that the justice is found, not in the death of the guilty, but in the declaration of the guilt. That said, there must be punishment that follows.
But how does this mesh with our guilt before God? See, I can say quite easily that before God, I deserve to die for my actions. Yet I am less comfortable with the statement that Karadzic deserves to die (here and now) for his. I suppose the difference lies in the fact that God’s justice is perfect, while ours is limited. If Karadzic is innocent, then executing him mistakenly is a bit hard to reverse, while a life sentence can be cut short. However, this seems to be a more practical answer rather than addressing the specific problem of the death penalty being right or not.