Posted by: dswerling | May 30, 2008

War is Never “Justified”

“But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

“This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;
for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”

This post has been coming for a long time, and since I saw a similar post on a fellow Christian’s blog I decided that it couldn’t wait any longer. I am often amazed by the conduct of Christians, not even in history because I think learning morality takes time, but especially today. Christians are willing to bicker endlessly about faith and works or abortion or homosexuality, and all these things certainly pertain to the Christian faith in some way or another. However, none of them receive such clarification as this one, violence, does. Jesus clearly tells us that we are to forgive, forgive, forgive, no matter what the cost. We are to be kind and loving and always ready to present this forgiveness, no matter what the cost. We are told to be peaceful and to avoid conflict, but as Christians we should grade ourselves on how well we follow through. How often do we react with anger and “wrath” because of some insult? How often are we willing to fight and bicker, or become angry and bitter rather than give a person the benefit of the doubt? What truly mystifies me of our ignorance to this issue is how incredibly important and central it is to Christianity. The concept of constant, unending, unconditional forgiveness is a uniquely Christian ideal, one that the martyrs of the early Church subjected themselves to with great zeal. It has its philosophical implications, since the only way to avoid an unending cycle of conflict is to forgive. Why do we so often ignore this concept?

This concept is particularly true when it comes to the behavior of countries, especially countries considering going to war. Now it’s odd that a Christian would feel this way, since it was the early Church fathers who came up with “Just War theory.” So allow me to set myself apart from two thousand years of history and tradition and the notions of many Christians by saying that, quite frankly, I think Augustine and Thomas Aquinas and the other church fathers were wrong. I don’t think that war is ever “justified,” period. I think that the Church father’s problem was how they defined “Just war” and I think that erroneous definition has created problems in our post-modernist age.

War cannot be deemed “just” or “unjust,” because war is the absence of such classifications. Warfare is violence, chaos, the epitome of suffering and evil. War is the practical implication of a failure-a failure of communication, politics, negotiation and policy. War is what most poignantly reveals our human nature, animalistic “original sin” side. Therefore, just by its own definition, to deem war “just” is simply absurd. Furthermore, who can ever justify a war? The country who instigates the war? How convenient then, that the country who is going to war (almost always for natural resources or land) determines that this is a “just” and “good” war. International agencies like the United Nations? The United Nations is not objective; it is made up of the very same countries that it tries to regulate. It is a diplomatically convenient way to determine what is just and unjust, but history shows its justice to quite often be off the mark; the citizens of Cambodia, Somalia, Ukraine, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur could all tell you about that (all of these countries have experienced genocides since the creation of the UN.) So does God justify warfare? Obviously not everybody believes in God, and it is possible that there are religions out there with doctrines that advocate warfare. However now we have this religion where God tells us never to fight, to always be forgiving and never struggle with one another! What is the implication then? Perhaps the idea that war is never just! Maybe, just maybe, we’re just making it all up when we say we fought a “just war,” because such a war has not ever, and never will exist.

The problem isn’t specifically with the warfare. The problem is with the term used for it, the term “just war.” A war is one group of people killing another group of people. This implies that justice is therefore whatever a larger group of people decides is right. If we accept this definition, it means the Holocaust was justified, because the majority population of Germany decided the Jews should be killed. This definition obviously doesn’t make sense. In our American justice system, the idea is that one person’s actions are judged by a jury of (hopefully) objective jurors to determine whether they broke the law or not. Certainly there are many problems and imperfections within our justice system, however, to me this seems to be closer to the right idea. To me, “justice” suggests that an outside, objective authority has examined your actions based on an objective, accepted standards, and determined them as right or wrong. However, as I pointed out before, on the global scale, no such outside authority exists, and there is no objectivity. For this reason, I believe no war can ever be called “just.” To me, suggesting a war is “just” is like suggesting a “fair tax” or “fair government,” no such thing can ever exist.

I’ve spent this entire time talking about how there are no just wars, and you’d be liable now to ask “but what about the holocaust or the other genocides? Sometimes fighting is necessary. If you never fight for what’s right, then all that’s good will inevitably be destroyed.” Certainly this view is true, but this does not imply a “just war.” This implies that sometimes, war is “necessary,” it is the lesser of two evils. If we look at World War Two, we see two options: a war that will destroy all of Europe and cause tremendous death and destruction, or a totalitarian regime that attempts to eradicate an entire group of people and exert an endless, almost Imperial control. Neither of these options are good, it is only obvious that the second one is worse. Therefore, in such a case, fighting a war to prevent the worse result is necessary. This does not mean such a war is “just” or “right” or any other ideas, it only means that war is a necessary evil. We may find sometimes that our only option is to fight, lest all that’s good be destroyed. However, we should not be overeager for this to happen.

“What’s the difference?” you may ask. “Why does what you call it matter?” It matters because it shows how often humans are quick to cry foul when we feel we’re the victims of “injustice,” but are very quick to commit “injustice” upon others. I do not believe we should ever be happy to go to war. We should not be excited; war should not be seen as this glorious, wonderful, unifying thing that it so often has been thought of in the past. War should be, if anything, thought of as a terrible consequence, a national chore or punishment for lack of communication. We should not fool ourselves into thinking we’re somehow doing a good thing by fighting any war, because we aren’t. All we’re doing is preventing the less-evil thing from happenning, and this course of action may be necessary, but it certainly is not desirable. It saddens me to see how often all people seem to forget this now, and it is another reason that makes me consider the Gospel so very important. Two thousand years ago, a humble carpenter in Palestine knew that violence was never just, and never desirable. Why does it seem like even now, in our age of great intellect and brilliance, we still can’t figure this message out?


  1. I do not believe we should ever be happy to go to war.

    Amen to that. I myself never quite understood how Christianity and its adherents (like myself!) became stereotyped as so bellicose and incendiary. I always say that I would defend myself and my loved ones, but never go to war unless they’re literally knocking at my door (that could be my libertarianism speaking as well, though).

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