War and peace


Christianity on issues of war and peace, including the teaching of sacred texts

Just war theory

Reasons for and influences on its development

Jesus himself seemed to recommend pacifism:

“You have heard it said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone slaps your right cheek, turn for them the other cheek also”

Jesus himself never did violence. The closest he came was flipping some tables of money lenders in the temple and throwing them out. Early Christians were often pacifists like Jesus, often willing to die (be martyred) for their faith rather than do violence. The 10 commandments also contain a command against killing.

However, in 313AD Christianity become the official religion of the roman empire. The roman empire was not pacifist (to say the least..) – so when Christianity became its official religion, pressure mounted on it to form a theology which would not conflict with roman territorial ambitions.

Augustine was instrumental in formulating just war theory during the next century. He argued that Jesus’ teachings on non-violence applied only to individuals – who should indeed follow them and not immediately report to violence.

However, Romans 13:4 seems to suggest that the ruling authorities have the right to use the ‘sword’ to carry out ‘God’s wrath on the wrongdoer’. So Augustine concluded that the state can be justified, if against wrongdoers.

“They who have waged war in obedience to the divine command, or in conformity with His laws, have represented in their persons the public justice or the wisdom of government, and in this capacity have put to death wicked men; such persons have by no means violated the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’”

Just war theory is the Christian theory about the conditions required for a war being morally acceptable. Augustine and Aquinas developed the Just war theory.

Jus ad bellum

This refers to the conditions required for starting a just war.

  • A legitimate authority must start the war – one which has the duty of upholding the common good. In the past this would be a religious authority like the Pope. Today it could be the united nations.
  • Just cause. The purpose of a war must be just. It cannot be for the purposes of destroying a people, or gaining land/resources.

“A just war is wont to be described as one that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished, for refusing to make amends for the wrongs inflicted by its subjects, or to restore what it has seized unjustly.” – Augustine.

  • Right intention

“An evil intention, such as to destroy a race or to absorb another nation, can turn a legitimately declared war waged for just cause into a wrongful act” – Augustine.

  • Last resort. All other non-violent means of addressing the issue must have been attempted before war can be justified.
  • Reasonable chance of victory. If a war is likely to fail in achieving its good purpose, then it is a pointless harm which should not be risked.
  • Proportionality.A war must cause more good than harm.

Jus in bello

This refers to the conditions required for just conduct in war.

  • The force used during the war must not be greater than is required.
  • Humanity/discrimination. Violence must not be used against civilians or prisoners of war.

Jus post bellum

  • If a defeated nation deserves punishment
  • Those who have been wronged might deserve compensation.
  • Punishment and compensation must be proportionate.

Examples of wars that may be evaluated against the theory

Iraq war – not a just war because the dictator Sadam Hussein was not attacking anyone – only terrorizing his own people. Arguably America just started the war for oil. These are not just causes for starting a war.

This suggests JWT is valid, since it can acceptably analyze this war in terms of the reasons for starting it being wrong.

The crusades. They were to retake Christian lands, though arguably muslims also had just as much claim to them. Plus, the means were not very proportionate – and no discrimination was observed, many innocent civilians were intentionally targeted. However, it was waged by a legitimate authority – the Pope! But overall not just because too many criteria violated.

This suggests JWT is valid – again, the reasons the crusades are thought wrong as in line with the violations of the criteria.

However, arguably JWT isn’t valid/helpful – because the crusades heights the difficulty of analyzing just cause – each religion having arguably an equally valid claim to the holy lands. So is it a just cause for the Christians to re-take them from the Muslims, given that their claim is equal?

WW2 – often cited as an example of a just war. Hitler was not going to stop until he had killed everyone on the planet he didn’t like. We helped Germany and japan restore to a healthy state after the war economically – we just didn’t let them have much army.

But maybe JWT isn’t helpful – since arguably if we hadn’t been so harsh after the war ‘jus post bello’ during the first world war, the second world war might never have happened!

But then again, JWT can make sense of why WW1 ending in the way it did was unjust.

special issues arising from nuclear war

Proportionality in bello (during the war) seems to require that nuclear weapons can only be used if another nation uses them first.

Nuclear weapons as a deterrent.

Nuclear weapons are argued to have legitimate use as a deterrent. If you have nuclear weapons, no country will attack or nuke you because you could easily destroy them in return if they did.

The UK has a nuclear deterrent called trident – submarines armed with nuclear weapons. At least one is always on patrol somewhere in the sea. If another country were to use nuclear weapons against the UK, that submarine would be able to fire back at them.

This is called mutually assured destruction. (MAD).

However, nuclear weapons seem to inevitably target innocent civilians. So, they cannot be used with discrimination/humanity even if used in retaliation.

Nonetheless, the idea of having them as a deterrent is the hope that they will not be used.

Arguably that worked well so far. Nuclear weapons have only been used in war once.

However, what about groups that want world destruction. E.g. adherents to apocalyptic theology. Those who think that the world ending is a good thing because it will bring on the apocalypse would not be deterred by mutually assured destruction – because they want that destruction.

Mistakes. There were many instances during the cold war between the USA and Russia – where each country had nuclear weapons aimed at each other – where reconnaissance instruments were faulty or information was flawed which led those in command to mistakenly believe that the other country had just fired nuclear weapons. Avoiding nuclear Armageddon was just down to pure luck and rational thinking of those in charge who realised a mistake had been made.

Nuclear weapons will only get cheaper and easier to produce as technology improves. The difficulty at controlling their spread

The Hiroshima & Nagasaki nuclear bombings.

The only nuclear weapons used in war was during world war 2, when America dropped two nuclear bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and then Nagasaki, resulting in around 130,000 to 225,000 deaths. The justification for this was that it would help the war end faster because it would force Japan to surrender, potentially saving millions of lives in total.

If it helped the war end faster, does that justify it? It seems disproportionate, and targets civilians (is indiscriminate) – which go against just war principles… but if it helped the war end faster and saved more lives, does that justify it?

Concepts of pacifism

Absolute, relative/ selective and nuclear pacifism

Relative/selective pacifism – The main general rule would be pacifism, but if the situation is extreme enough the violence could be justified.

Nuclear pacifism – pacifist about nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons can never be justified, though other sorts of violence could be.

The success of the Just War Theory as a theory and in practice, the practicality of pacifism in its different forms, perceived advantages of war such as technological development, relevance of religious contributions, success of named wars in achieving their goal.

Practicality of pacifism. Absolute pacifism isn’t practical because if you don’t draw the line somewhere then what is going to stop violent people dominating the world, e.g. Hitler.

Absolute pacifists could only exist if their lives are defended by those who use violence.

Relative/selective pacifism. It is hard to draw the line and who decides what is extreme enough to count as justifying violence.

On the other hand, maybe it’s not possible to draw those lines precisely, but can’t we draw them roughly?

Well, drawing the line roughly still depends on the consensus of the population at the time.

Nuclear pacifism just seems difficult to initiate – because nuclear weapons exist and countries are in a state of mutually assured destruction because of them. Denuclearisation leaves a country vulnerable – so they wouldn’t be willing to do that.

Multilateral disarmament – when countries agree together to all reduce their nuclear stockpile – that is feasible.

The role of pacifist movements and pressure groups