Monday, January 5, 2009

Uncle Jay Delivers the News

Uncle Jay, still in the Christmas spirit, recaps some of the major news stories of 2008:

Thanks to Jeanne for passing this along.


Just War (I)

Byron has suggested that it might be helpful to look at the current Israeli/Hamas conflict in terms of what philosophers and theologians call Just War theory. This is a fine suggestion so I'd like to devote a couple of posts to exploring what we know about the current conflict in the context of Just War thinking. First, though, some background.

From the time of Augustine (c.400 a.d.) many Christian philosophers and theologians have thought about the question of the demands and restrictions the Gospel imposes on the use of force. One result of that thinking has been a list of criteria that must be satisfied in any situation in which force, particularly military force, is contemplated. This is called jus ad bellum (justice in going to war). These criteria generally include the following:

1. Just cause. Examples of a just cause for the use of force include: Defense against an unjust invader; Protection of family, home, or other innocent victims from direct harm; Recovery of goods unjustly taken; Protection of constitutional rights and liberties from government encroachment; Defense of allies who have been unjustly attacked, etc.

2. Just intent. The purpose of the war must be to establish peace or to protect the innocent. Hatred, economic gain, or the exercise of power are all illicit reasons for using force against another.

3. Legitimate authority. The war must be declared/waged by a legitimate government authority. A war declared by a terrorist organization like al Qaeda is by definition unjust.

4. Reasonable prospect of success. Deliberately protracted wars or wars initiated with no reasonable hope of success are unjust.

5. Last resort. When it's clear that no measure short of the application of force will avail, or that an attack upon one's nation is imminent, war is justified provided the other criteria are met. This requirement is problematic in that it is always possible to imagine yet another set of peace talks, etc. that could be embarked upon and which would delay war indefinitely. Thus, governments have to exercise reasonable judgment in determining whether they have actually exhausted all practical options and have been left with no realistic alternative to war.

Just War theory also requires that wars not only be warranted by stringent criteria (jus ad bellum) but that when fought they be conducted according to certain guidelines (jus in bello: justice in war). The two chief criteria of jus in bello are:

1. Discrimination. Civilians should never be deliberately targeted. This follows from the Christian imperative to be compassionate and merciful. It entails that prisoners not be mistreated and that property and livelihoods not be unduly or unnecessarily damaged.

2. Proportionality. The means employed must be no more brutal or violent than what is necessary to secure victory. It would be unjust to slaughter defeated and retreating enemy soldiers if they no longer pose a threat. It would be a disproportionate response, and therefore unjust, to respond to a cross-border raid with nuclear weapons.

As is no doubt obvious, the heat and stress of war and incipient war may create a lot of gray areas for those seeking to hold to the criteria of Just War, and there's often much room for differences in interpretation. Nevertheless, those who wish to wage war justly will strive to hew as closely to these principles as the exigencies of war permit.

Tomorrow I'll try to explain why I think Israel is conducting itself quite in accord with the requirements of Just War theory. For now, though, I close by observing that whatever the case with the Israelis, it's certainly clear that Hamas, Hezbollah, al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their Iranian masters care nothing at all about these requirements, but then, of course, Islam has no just war tradition to speak of.

It is also the case that secularists who condemn Israel for the war in Gaza have absolutely no basis for so doing. The secularist must piggy-back on the Christian understanding of morality in order to make their condemnations, but that understanding rests on belief in God. If there is no God then howling about alleged Israeli transgressions against moral behavior is foolish nonsense. The secularist simply has no grounds whatsoever for condemning anyone or any nation. All they can do is insist that they don't like that Israel is killing Hamas fighters and destroying buildings.