On the surface the idea of going to war is simple. We must go to war protect our liberty and the liberty of people who are unable to defend themselves from oppression. We must make preemptive strikes against our enemies to prevent them from obtaining power that will allow them to cause harm to us. These ideals feel very American, but in fact, the origin of the idea of just war theory which is discussed in modern universities was outlined by Saint Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century in the Summa Theologicae. (Moseley 48) The just war theory provides guidelines that build a moral framework which must be followed in order for the war to be just. Moseley outlines a just war as, “having just cause, being a last resort, being declared by a proper authority, possessing right intention, having a reasonable chance of success, and the end being proportional to the means used.”(48) I believe the guidelines of just war theory are important, but I argue that no matter what kind of guidelines you apply to war there will always be acts that are unjust and immoral, as this is the nature of war. An immoral war cannot be avoided, only minimized. This can be demonstrated by applying the principles of just war theory to the war in Iraq.
In his article Just War Theory, Alexander Moseley outlines just war theory stating, “Theorists distinguish between the rules that govern the justice of war (jus ad bellum) from those that govern just and fair conduct in war (jus in bello) and the responsibility and accountability of warring parties after the war (jus post bellum).”(48) Leading up to the war in Iraq, it passed the test of the Jus Ad Bellum Convention; there was just cause, it was a last resort, it was declared by a proper authority, we possessed the right intention, had a reasonable chance of success, and the end was believed to be proportional to the means used. Each of these conventions of just war were in some sense fulfilled. Our belief that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction gave us just cause. UN weapons inspections were not turning anything up, but military intelligence was telling us that they did indeed have weapons of mass destruction, so it was a last resort. The president of the United States of America declared the war with the majority of the American people backing the war effort, so it was the proper authority. Our intention was to free the people from the oppression of Saddam’s regime as well as rid the region of unconventional weapons, so the right intention was there. We are the most powerful nation in the world, so of course we believed we could be successful in a timely manner. But as we all know, we severely underestimated our enemy on many different accounts. The greatest problem with the just war theory is that its conventions can still be subject to faulty judgement. We did not find a single weapon of mass destruction. We did not find any facilities that were attempting to produce weapons of mass destruction. The end result was an unstable region, and it took 8 years and trillions of dollars to reach that point, so the end certainly did not justify the means. In this application, the convention of Jus Ad Bellum failed us.
The next principles we can apply to the Iraq War are the principles of Jus in Bello. Moseley describes this concept, “The rules of just conduct within war fall under the two broad principles of discrimination and proportionality. The principle of discrimination concerns who are legitimate targets in war, whilst the principle of proportionality concerns how much force is morally appropriate. A third principle can be added to the traditional two, namely the principle of responsibility, which demands an examination of where responsibility lies in war.”(52) Following these guidelines gave us a severe handicap. The problem is that the enemy did not have the same moral compass as we do. Insurgents understand our moral guidelines we must follow and use it to their advantage. It is common practice for insurgents to house themselves with civilians. Michael Walger emphasizes the importance of protecting civilians in his article The Triumph of Just War Theory (and the Dangers of Success) saying, “This idea about the need for civilian support has turned out to be both variable and expansive: modern warfare requires the support of different civilian populations, extending beyond the population immediately at risk.”(57) In other words, a war cannot be won without civilian support. Abused civilians are the perfect candidate for the insurgency to recruit new members, so a society abused by the war effort turns out to be an endless supply of enemies.
In order to have a war we must be able to combat the enemy, and in this instance it means that it must be done by soldiers on the ground, because missiles and bombs cannot offer this discretion. Walger clarifies this idea saying, “The principle is this: when it is our action that puts innocent people at risk, even if the action is justified, we are bound to do what we can do to reduce those risks, even if this involves risks to our own soldiers.”(60) Following the principles of Jus in Bello puts us in a catch 22 situation. Sending in troops on the ground puts those men and women in harm’s way, but using other means is unacceptable due to civilian casualties. Also, we cannot leave because we already entered the region on a false premise, destabilized the region, so now we also cannot leave in good conscience until we fix our mess. The just war theory was not designed with terrorists in mind.
It might be worth exploring whether war would be better off without the constraints of just war theory. Before the development of just war theory there were many different justifications used by barons and kings for going to war. Walger explains one method of waging war, “States claimed a right to fight whenever their rulers deemed it necessary, and the rulers took sovereignty to mean that no one could judge their decisions. They not only fought when they wanted; they fought how they wanted, returning to the old Roman maxim that held war to be a lawless activity: inter arma silent leges – which, again, was taken to mean that there was no law above or beyond the decrees of the state; conventional restraints on the conduct of war could always be overridden for the sake of victory.”(56) As we already discussed, in the case of Iraq, we need the people to approve of the war effort; we could not win without it. So we are still left with the same problem, how we wage war with terrorists who have no moral standards. We are left at a severe disadvantage. Walger said, “But there was another feature of Vietnam that gave the moral critique of the war special force: it was a war that we lost, and the brutality with which we fought the war almost certainly contributed to our defeat. In a war for “hearts and minds,” rather than for land and resources, justice turns out to be a key to victory.” Moving forward into future wars against terrorists, we may need new conventions to bring the just war theory up to date with our global community.
It is clear that there is no easy answer to modern day warfare against terrorist states. The just war theory needs to be modified to deal with current moral questions. When the enemy hides behind civilians it brings to light a question that must be answered, how many of their civilian casualties are worth the protection of our country.
Walzer, Michael. The Triumph of Just War Theory (and the Dangers of Success) in Arguing about War. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 2004
Mosely, Alexander. Just War Theory. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ISSN 2161-0002. http://www.iep.utm.edu/justwar/. June 16, 2011.
Keen, Sam. The Enemy as Abstraction in Faces of the Enemy. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1986.
I, Ryan Gardner, on my honor, have submitted my position paper to my e-portfolio and accompanied it with reflective writing.