Just War and Victory

For the past few weeks or so I’ve been grappling in my mind with the implications of Just War theory and the current Middle East fighting. Not only with respect to Israel’s current battle with Hambollah, but within the greater context of what appears to be a showdown coming between the West as a whole and Islam.

One side of me thinks that just war theory should be followed to the T, with those of us held to the “higher standard” (i.e. Geneva Conventions) going out of our way to limit civilian casualties in the short term, even if our actions (or inactions) may lead to higher civilian and/or military deaths in the long term.

The other side of me thinks that while we should certainly not target civilians, we cannot allow terrorist and their state sponsors to hide behind human shields unpunished (as we are doing in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Israel is in Lebanon). One cannot win a war in which enemies are allowed to attack under pretenses in which their targets cannot respond out of a sense of moral obligation to innocents.

I was watching a Discovery Channel program last night on the use of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima. Surely we will never know how many men would have died as a result of an Allied invasion of Japan. However we can get a good estimate from the battles in the pacific which were fought, island by gruelling island. And by those estimates I dare say it was a JUST thing to end the war by targeting tens of thousands of civilians directly, and hundreds of thousands more indirectly by using the atomic bomb. When you’re talking millions of deaths, tens or hundreds of thousands don’t seem bad by comparison….unless you happen to be one of them.

[Editor’s Note]: This sentiment indicates I approve of the direct targeting of civilians. I certainly do not, as this contradicts Catholic moral teaching and is unacceptable (bad means do not justify good ends). I stand corrected.

When two sides have stances which are diametrically opposed, there is no such thing as a diplomatic solution, and further there is no such thing as a casualty free war. That is why war is so despicable, so reviled and should always be considered very last option: because it is a fact that many people will die.

The fact of the matter remains that while everyone pretends that war is not what is wanted, wars continually start despite that apparent “universal sentiment”. Meaning it ain’t that universal.

And insofar as wars must sometimes be fought, I am coming to the conclusion that we, as the side held to the morally higher standard, must come to grips with what David Warren posits as potentially a horrible truth: that targeting enemy combatants regardless of civilian presence may be the only way to win.



Filed under Catholicism, Politics, Terrorism, War

3 responses to “Just War and Victory

  1. Pingback: Secret Mojo Dumbs It Down for You » Wordpress Gems: Love and War

  2. leading–inquisition writes : “When you’re talking millions of deaths, tens or hundreds of thousands don’t seem bad by comparison….unless you happen to be one of them.”

    Hiroshima was intentional targeting of civilian, i.e. not combatants. Murder is not subject to proportionality. Your argument is modernist relativism nonsense.


    Leading–inquisiton writes : “One cannot win a war in which enemies are allowed to attack under pretenses in which their targets cannot respond out of a sense of moral obligation to innocents.”

    And since the Church teaches : a man cannot intentionally commit an evil in order to bring about a future contingent good. It follows given the criteria you specify, that such a war cannot be won.

    But I suspect you’re setting up a false dichotomy because double effect does allow for the targeting of a military target where proportionality is not violated. Using a shotgun to kill houseflies at the dinner table while supping with the wife and children obviously doesn’t meet proportionality, so likewise is proportionality violated by the common methods used by the American military, objections to the contrary while using cluster bombs not with standing.

    And for what it’s worth, as St. Thomas argues, a man can err to his own advantage in preservation of himself, with preservation in this instance falling in the category of self defense. From which it follows that the state likewise acting in defense of those under its purview can err to the same advantage. Thus if all things else being even, self defense and obligation to defend one’s family becomes the deciding factor.

  3. You’re correct, re-reading my post I mis-spoke in regards to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima/Nagasaki. If you’ll notice I did say prior to that statement that “we should certainly not target civilians”. However, my next statement completely contradicted that sentiment. Such are the internal grapplings of the mind when writ sometimes. I stand corrected.


    My point was that in effect our current rules of engagement dictate that our enemies have an advantage…..and that advantage is exactly our own moral obligation to proportionality. I am merely drawing attention to this fact and stating that I do not see a clear path which allows us to 1) defeat the evil that is militant Islam and 2) remain faithful to Just War principles. If you have that answer, by all means….share.

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