Just War

War, Peace and Human Rights

The Just War Tradition

In the 4th Century, St. Augustine set out two conditions for a Just War (later added to by St. Thomas Acquinas and others) – ALL of these conditions should hold if a war is to be considered JUST.

  1. PROPER AUTHORITY - war should be declared by a proper authority e.g. a government or king
  2. JUST CAUSE – the war must be started for a good reason – e.g. self-defense, and not because of greed, etc..
  3. RIGHT INTENTION – the war must be fought to establish good, or fight evil
  4. LAST RESORT – it must be a last resort, when everything else has been tried, e.g. diplomacy
  5. PROPORTIONALITY – the amount of force used must be only enough to succeed - no more
  6. WIN POSSIBLE – it should be possible to win the war
  7. JUST METHOD - no civilians should be involved, and no deliberate unnecessary cruelty.

Poor Annie Just Couldn't Resist Ian's Latest Romantic Proposal Without Playing Jelly Marbles

Until the 20th century, it was possible to fight a just war. Most Churches supported their countries when they were at war. Very few Christians were pacifists.

BUT, many Christians and churches began to change their minds about war in the 20th Century: Why?

World War I: 9 million dead and 21 million injured started to change people’s minds. Christians began to feel they had been wrong to support and encourage this!

World War II: most Christian churches agreed it was important to fight Hitler, but many were unhappy about the methods used, e.g. “carpet bombing” cities such as London and Dresden. Both sides deliberately targeted civilians. 50% of those killed were civilians. This went against the “Just War Theory” because civilians were being killed, and unnecessary force was used.

Atomic Bombs: 1945, 2 atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the Second World War. Some Christians believed that this was necessary to bring a swift end to the war. Other Christians were horrified – thousands were vaporised; radiation killed thousands more; adults and children developed cancer; for years after babies were born dead or seriously deformed. Many Christians said it was totally against Jesus’ teaching, and should never be allowed to happen again.

Today, most churches agree with the Just War theory, but many Christians believe it is impossible to have a “just war”.

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