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Just War Theory?

It seems like a lot of my thoughts on this blog are half-baked, and probably at least slightly controversial. This is not exactly on purpose. The half-bakedness of my thoughts is due to my limited life experience (at a mere 17 years on this Earth, and only 4 of those spent considering at some level a few of the issues I’ve been posting about).

I’m going to start off with a premise. You can disagree with my premise, but if you don’t, then the rest really doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination. Then I’m going to justify the premise a bit, but honestly, if you disagree with the premise, it’s going to be hard to convince you of anything further.

My premise: When a nation goes to war, it is just that: the nation. All of it. Some are more involved than others, but everyone is involved.

For example, in World War II, Americans at home who were not in direct combat situations were helping to make supplies, follow ration guildelines, and (at least) gave moral support to the soldiers fighting in the war–writing letters and such. On the lowest level, each citizen pays taxes to the government. Therefore, they support–albeit indirectly and occasionally unwillingly–the wars which the government wage.

Now, each of these people may be more or lessresponsible for the actions of the government, but each has some stake in the wars. It is not simply the soldiers (called “combatents” in the Geneva convention) who wage a war. There are politicians who authorize it, citizens who fund it and otherwise support it, and support systems (such as medics and supply workers) that are also responsible for the war.

If you agree with my premise, then you must agree with what I am going to say next: There can be no clear disticntion between a non-combatant and a combatant. If there is no distinction between a combatant and a non-combatant, then Geneva has some serious holes (as does Just War theory). Brandon mentioned that Just War theory has to say something about the idea of extra-national forces attacking a nation. I say that it is relatively impossible to make such changes, because of the nature of the non-combatant. Any changes in saying who constitutes a combatant is admitting that there is no clear distinction (which is what I am saying).

When the distinction between a combatant and a non-combatant crumble, other necessary questions arise. For example, under Just War Theory, the use of atomic weapons on Japan to end their resistance in World War II was arguably an unjust use of power. However, if one is to consider the lives that were lost in the number of island battles already fought, and then calculate the number of people who died in those two bombings, the bombings become much more justifiable. This has profound implications in how a Christian should view warfare. Obviously, the Japanese government reacted by ending the war. This most likely saved lives. This matches one of the Just War Theory’s principles that in war any nation must not kill any more people then necessary. Actually Brandon, I am in complete agreement with you. Human life is precious. In fact, it is so precious that the fewer people who die, the better (does it matter if they are a “combatant” or a “non-combatant?”).

A nation goes to war. If the cause is for evil and it is defeated, the nation suffers. Not the army primarily. The nation will suffer economically–as World Wars I and II have shown. there will be social upheaval, as the class in power that brought about the war will be judged. There will be unrest, as new power structures are enacted. All of this would happen primarily to the citizens, not the army. How does Just War theory account for this? The non-combatants are suffering as the aftermath of a war. Is it the obligation of the winning, Just nation to cut down all the ill effects of war for the non-combatants? It all gets irrationally odd if the standard of Just War theory is applied (though you might argue that is post war, and thus all Just War doesn’t apply).

Brandon, taking a life is a weighty matter. A nation must consider whether the war is just or not before it thinks to engage, and during the war it must be careful not to take the life of more human beings than is necessary. Where I differ with you is this: I think that fewer lives have to be taken if–occasionally and with great care–sometimes civilians are involved in warfare. This has been the case historically, and will most likely continue to be the case as we enter the age of extra-national warfare in earnest (that is an issue that I cannot touch on now, but Just War theory fails miserably against the present wave of terrorist warfare, simply because no one is prepared to possibly kill/detain civilians (and the terrorists exploit this and hide as if they were civilians).

Here is the one concession that I will make Brando (from our previous discussion when you were here in Lancaster): some are clearly more responsible than others. The man who orders the combat (the rulers of the nation) have the majority of responsibility, as do the generals. The next responsibility lies with those who are on the front lines and those in supply roles. After them are the civilians supplying the nation’s armies and paying the taxes that make such wars possible.

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