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Christian Philosophy of The Just War Theory

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When I think of war, I immediately think of weapons, extreme violence, innocent deaths and unavoidable suffering. The belligerence that drives war conflicts with the basic ethics of civilisation as it impedes on an individual’s right to peace, security, subsistence and liberty.

As a predominantly Christian philosophy, the Just War Theory claims that under certain conditions, war can be morally justified. The ideologies of the Just War Theory were first coined by Plato and Cicero, Greek and Roman philosophers, and were eventually developed by Christian theologians Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. For a war to be considered just, it must meet six specific conditions. The first and possibly the most important criteria, is that the war must be for a just cause. However, this continues to be an area of contention as there is disagreement over what constitutes a just cause with such examples presented like self-defence or corrective punishment. The next criteria to be satisfied is that the war must be declared by a legitimate authority. Subsequently, wars must be fought with the right intention otherwise fighting for material gain for example, undermines the justice of the war. In addition to this, the declaration of war must be a last resort following the exhaustion of all other plausible alternative means to resolving the problem. As violence without probable gain cannot be justified, all declarations of war must see reasonable chance of success by the states. And finally, wars must be fought with proportionality, in other words, the ends must justify the means. It is also said that a war may stop being a just war when innocent people and civilians are harmed and when excessive force is used.

While the concept of a just war in theory seems logical, there has never been a just war to date, or at least according to the criteria of the just war theory. The 20th century has seen the world’s two biggest wars, as well as hundred of regional wars, conflicts and civils war. According to official statistics, the total death toll of all these wars reached a staggering 150 million, with 80% of them being innocent civilians, and this figure is excluding the many more that were injured and disabled.

Now in the 21st century, wars are continuing at full force and threaten to turn into disasters of even bigger scales. What’s all the more saddening is that the global powers and leaders behind these wars have been deeming them as “wars of necessity.” For example, the 2003 Iraq war which concluded in 2011 under the direction of Britain and USA saw more than one million Iraqis lose their lives, a majority of whom were civilians. Following a United Kingdom commission, it was revealed that Iraq didn’t pose a threat to the countries in opposition and the severity of the danger posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction wasn’t justified. Therefore, the Iraq War launched wasn’t a ‘war of necessity’ but instead a ‘war of choice’ founded on varying agendas and flawed intelligence.

Additionally, with the rapid developments of modern technology, weaponry and machinery, some hold the idea that as today’s weapons are far too lethal, sophisticated and widely accessible, the very idea of a ‘just war” is obsolete. The possible uses of biological, chemical and nuclear warfare cannot be solely confined to only combatants in a war and that harm done is immensely greater than any benefit gained by them. In fact, Pope John Paul II advises that the existence of these weapons of mass destruction has significantly raised the threshold for a just war.

Another Christian perspective to war, is pacifism, which preaches the idea that war and violence is never justifiable and that all conflicts should be resolved peacefully. The word ‘pacifism’ which can be translated to ‘peace making’ was first devised by a French Peace campaigner and adopted by other peace activists at the tenth Universal Peace Congress in Glasgow in 1901. While pacifism covers a spectrum of varying views, central to the claim of opposition to war, militarism and violence are the New Testament commands to offer no resistance to evil and to love one’s enemies. These orders demonstrate Jesus’ own selfless love for humankind, which is revealed in the work of the cross and his quest of compassion and forgiveness. Ultimately, Christian nonviolence is rooted in the respect and dignity afforded every human being because we were all created by god.

However, pacifism is regarded by many as an unrealistic strategy as they proclaim that when natural human rights are being violated, some values and freedoms are worth fighting for.

Ultimately, as John Paul II proclaimed, ‘war is a defeat or humanity” and there will never be a universally agreed upon answer to whether wars are just or not.  

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