The Rationale and Rhetoric of “a just War” Directions

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Jus Ad Bellum’

The Rationale and Rhetoric of “A Just War”
Directions: We now know that the United States has not technically declared war since the Second World War (WWII) in 1941. So, what then are the other “wars” usually called the “Korean War”, “Vietnam War”, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Perhaps the United States struggles with the concept of jus ad bellum, tentatively translated from Latin to mean “a just (or righteous) war”. In examining this concept, let’s review excerpts from the peer-reviewed articles of U.S. Military Intervention in Crisis, 1945-1994: An Empirical Inquiry of Just War Theory, by Michael J. Butler, a professor at the University of Connecticut, and The Metaethical Paradox of Just War Theory, by Laurie Calhoun, a professor at Harvard University. Essential question: Is it possible that the United States doesn’t declare “war” because it would rather engage in jus ad bellum operations?
Part I: The Jus Ad Bellum Rationale and Rhetoric
Michael J. Butler, in U.S. Military Intervention in Crisis, poses the following question:
“Is the "rhetoric of justice" that appears so serviceable as a public rationale for U.S. military intervention actually a driving force in U.S. decisions to intervene militarily? Does it truly serve as a guiding principle for decisions to employ the ‘military option’? (p. 228).
He goes on to say that,
“Even a cursory review of U.S. military interventions in the past half-century (or longer) reveals a distinct pattern of public moralizing in the service of American military engagements evident throughout U.S. officialdom” (p. 227).

  1. Consider the recent “operations” in which the United States has engaged: “Operation Iraqi Freedom” (Iraq), "Operation Restore / Enduring Freedom" (Afghanistan), "Operation Just Cause" (Panama), and "Operation Restore Hope" (Somalia).Rhetoric”, as mentioned in the first quote above, is the usage of words to convey emotion. What emotions are conveyed in these titles? In other words, in examining just these titles, what is the United States hoping to convey to the world?

But, the concept of “just war” is not an American creation. In fact, Laurie Calhoun, in her Metaethical Paradox paper:

“The just war paradigm has proven extraordinarily resilient, extending from the Ancient Babylonians, Chinese, Romans, and Greeks all the way up through to the present day. The classical advocates of ‘just war’ recognized that the burden of proof lies with those who would kill human beings in the name of morality. The default absolutist position is that it is impermissible to kill human beings. Exceptions to this rule must be justified. The requirements upon a ‘just war’ delineated in modern military protocol were first systematically articulated by medieval and renaissance thinkers, including Augustine (354-430 AD), Aquinas (1225-1274 AD), Suarez (1548-1617 AD), and Grotius (1583-1645 AD), who insisted that war would be justified, and killing in war permissible, only provided certain conditions were met” (p. 44)
Michael J. Butler goes on to say that,
“…the ‘just war’ tradition offers its practitioners not only a set of principles to objectively examine and guide their own decisions and conduct in the prosecution of war but also provides them with the necessary space for the objective examination of the conduct of other involved parties and of the context and dynamics of the situation itself” (p. 233)

  1. Translate Butler’s argument. Why is the concept of ‘just war’ a good “weapon” for military strategists to use?

The aforementioned Thomas Aquinas is perhaps the most important philosopher to debate the issue of “just war”. Michael J. Butler states that Thomas Aquinas, in his famous Summa Theologica:

“…specified three clear and irrefutable conditions for a just war:

    1. legitimate authority must be received from the sovereign [the governed];

    2. a just cause for the attack must be present; and

    3. a rightful intention should guide the proceedings,

In stating these general precepts of the just war, Aquinas is clearly seeking to explore the possibilities of his distinction between human and natural law… [W]ar in and of itself reflects humanity's fallen condition…[but]…humans should strive through the use of reason and human intelligence to discipline human law…” (pp. 231-232).

  1. In simple translation, Aquinas states that there must be “righteous ideals” behind “just war”. We know that technically, the “War” in Afghanistan is a misnomer – it’s not technically a war. But for this example, let’s imagine it is. In examining the most recent “just war” (“Operation Enduring Freedom” in Afghanistan), does this military intervention pass the three (3) laws of Aquinas’ “just war” theory? Why or why not?

Laurie Calhoun adds to the “just war” theory with the discussion of “realists” and “idealists” in regard to war and its declaration:

“‘Realism’ and ‘idealism’ are the two most fundamental divisions among writers on war. Realists maintain that war is unavoidable, given human nature, but the categories of morality are misapplied in discourse about war. Idealists claim that the distinction between ‘just’ and ‘unjust’ wars is a real and important one. Both pacifists and just war theorists are ‘idealists’ in this sense, insisting that the concepts of morality apply to the phenomenon of war. Just war theorists, in stark contrast, hold that nations may (or even must) engage in war under certain circumstances” (p. 43)

  1. In reviewing her “realists vs. idealists” argument, today, are most Americans “realists” or “idealists” in regard to war? Give evidence for your example.

Part II: Jus Ad Bellum in Execution
Jus ad bellum is a fine theory, but does the United States actually engage in this principle? Or is it nothing more than “lip service”? Let’s examine the reality of the American practice of jus ad bellum.
Laurie Calhoun says “Just war theory is plausible…but…logic alone implies that… both sides cannot be right,” (p. 45) meaning that if two sides are at war, then they both can’t be fighting for “just causes” because an “enemy” must have misstepped, requiring a “just war” response.
The author goes on to say that,
“The following jus ad bellum requirements are widely accepted by just war theorists:

  1. A just war must be publicly declared.

  2. A war justly waged must have a reasonable prospect for success. (Regarding the impending Gulf War, U. S. President George Bush repeatedly insisted that: ‘This will not be another Vietnam,’ meaning a war in which thousands of American lives would be lost for a vague and intangible cause.)

  3. The cause of a just war must be proportional, i.e., sufficiently grave to warrant the extreme measure of war.

(President Truman said that, ‘having found the bomb, we have to use it. We have used it against those who attacked us without warning at Pearl Harbor, against those who have starved and beaten and executed American prisoners of war, against those who have abandoned all pretense of obeying international laws of warfare. We have used it in order to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans,’ Wasserstrom, 1970, p. 83).

  1. A war is justly waged as a last resort.

  2. A just war must be waged for a just cause.

(George Bush: ‘The state of Kuwait must be restored, or no nation will (be safe, and the promising future we anticipate will indeed be jeopardized.’ Botwinick, 1998, p. 133).

  1. A just war must be waged by a legitimate authority” (p. 45).

  1. Again, let’s imagine that the “wars” in Iraq and Afghanistan are truly wars. In examining these recent conflicts, what above number(s) do you think most Americans will use as evidence that these wars cannot be “just wars”? Give support to your answer.

Michael J. Butler attempts to prove the most important reasons for American war involvement, and whether or not they are “just causes”. His research is amazing, and he placed his discoveries in a table.

The “coefficient column” discusses the data based on strength of the “just cause”.

  • A “zero / 0” indicates that this reason resulted in no American military involvement

  • A “1” indicates that this reason resulted in “low-level American military involvement”

  • A “2” indicates that this reason resulted in “mid-level American military involvement”

  • A “3” indicates that this reason resulted in “high-level American military involvement”

  • A “4” indicates that this reason resulted in “direct, declared military activity”

The “odds ratio” indicates how many times more likely the United States is to engage in a military response because of the cited reason.

  1. Based on this table, what are the “top three (3) reasons the United States engages in, or declares war”? (HINT: Either look at the “coefficient” or the “odds ratio” columns.

  1. Furthermore, why do you think that the reasons of “global organization authority present” and “formality of outcome” are so woefully low, that they actually result in a “negative involvement”?

  1. Now, offer your conclusion. Examine all you’ve learned about “just war”:

    1. Thomas Aquinas’ three criteria for “just war”

    2. Laurie Calhoun’s list of “just war” criteria

    3. The impact of major “just war precepts” on U.S. military intervention decisions

Since WWII, has the United States engaged in “just war”? Why or why not?

Firstly, we know that no wars have been declared in almost 70 years. Why? Perhaps its declaration is not necessary. Michael J. Butler says that, “

“Because the jus ad bellum law is fundamentally a precautionary principle that allows the use of force only as a last resort and only to a degree proportionate to that which is needed to bring about peace, it theoretically contains a greater concern for individual and small-group deliberation than other, more structurally bound approaches” (p. 231)
That means that these “just wars” must be small in scope, enough to only “push back” an aggressor nation. They are usually dubbed “military actions” or “operations” because they are hoped to be: “‘battles involving regular foreign military forces’ generally resulting in fewer than one thousand fatalities,” (p. 419).

  1. Examine the chart below that shows the number of American military casualties since World War I. Using the above quotes regarding the number of casualties and “small group deliberation”, provide evidence for why the latter three (3) “operations / wars” are or are not “just wars”.



No reliable date

No reliable date

No reliable date

No reliable date

  1. As technology advances, supposedly, so does our ability to declare “just wars”. But the casualties in Vietnam and Korea were much more than “…fewer than one thousand fatalities,” (p. 419). Can these wars, then, be “just wars”? Why or why not?

It appears as if Vietnam and Korea attempted to be “just wars” because they started as:

“…the deployment of conventional forces to countries neighboring the conflict… [or simply]…the dispatch of military advisors to one or more parties involved in the conflict” (p. 229).
But, it appears that, based on the number of casualties and the length of “occupation” in these countries, all “wars / operations” throughout the world simply cannot be “just wars”. But let’s look at other principles.

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