“Justice and War are incompatible”

War is defined as armed conflict between two or more groups. The purpose of war is to resolve conflict. We see from Richard Norman that war by its very nature is problematic because it involves activities, which are normally thought deeply wrong. For example, the deliberate maiming and killing of other human beings. The main concern with any type of war is whether it can be justified. Some people may say war can never be justified because it goes against values we humans should hold, such as the preservation of human life. These people may include pacifists who believe in the sanctity of life. Other people may believe war can be justified if the just war criteria are met. Patriots may believe war can be justified because we have a duty to fight for our country and protect out neighbour.

Some people may believe justice and war are incompatible because the intentional killing of another human being can never be seen as a justified act. Pacifists believe all fighting is wrong and that there are more creative ways to resolve conflict such as boycotts, sit-ins and strikes. They claim these techniques result in much less destruction, suffering and misery and are less wasteful in terms of the world’s resources and human lives. Pacifists are committed to ensuring peace without resorting to violence. Some pacifists base their beliefs on deontological justification, so war is intrinsically wrong and a priori wrong. Justice and war are incompatible because civilians are being used as a means to an end and this act can never be seen as righteous. For absolute pacifists war is a moral obscenity. An example of Christian pacifism is the Quaker peace testimony. This states “We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end under any pretence whatsoever. And this is our testimony to the whole world.”

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Many Christians believe war and justice are incompatible because of the commandment “Thou shalt not kill”. This is clear instruction to Christians that taking another person’s life is wrong and this intentional killing can never be justified.

Other Christian pacifists say violence leads to more violence. They may have come to believe violence does more harm than good because Jesus said, “Those who lives by the sword will die by the sword”. Some Christians learn form Jesus’ example and teachings, such as “blessed are the peacemakers”, “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemy”. From these teachings some Christians believe justice and war are incompatible because we see Jesus taught people to forgive, love and create peace not war. Absolute pacifists believe all fighting is wrong even in the case of self-defence. This is because as we see from Jesus’ arrest we should not retaliate. Jesus did not use violence at his arrest in self-defence. So war and justice are incompatible because we should love our enemy and we are not loving them by killing them.

However others and myself may disagree and believe justice and war are compatible especially in the case of self-defence. Elizabeth Anscombe argues pacifism is mistaken because it denies a person of self-defence and places unacceptable and extra-ordinary limits on an individual’s rights. It is also dangerous because it encourages the belief that all killing is wrong and makes no distinction between legitimate and illegitimate killing or justified and unjustified killing. Louis Pojman asks what is a right if we do not have the right to defend it?

Pacifists claim war and justice are incompatible because of Jesus’ teaching of “turn the other cheek”. However, it is one thing to offer your own cheek, but quite different to offer your neighbour’s cheek.

Also Jesus used violence to fight for what he thought was right. He fought for justice; therefore we see justice and war are compatible. For example, he used violence to challenge those who misused the temple as a place to make money.

Also the idea of self-defence being wrong is incoherent because Jesus said, “no greater love hath a man than to lay down his life for a friend”. Although Jesus did not use violence at his arrest maybe this was because he knew his duty was to die and fulfil God’s plans.

In my opinion justice and war are compatible if the just war criteria are met. The just war theory (JWT) maintains moral principles and provides a framework to limit use of violence in controlled circumstances and against certain targets.

The JWT is as follows-

The war must be declared by legitimate authorities. This is supported by Romans 13:1f where the government is instituted by God. It usually means the highest authority, such as the UN.

The war must have a just cause. This shows war and justice can be compatible because if a country goes to war because of greed, envy or the enlargement of territory the war is not just. Example of just causes for going to war may include, an attack on property, territory or independence, the recovery of stolen land, upholding international laws and treaties or the defence of a weaker nation against a bully.

There must also be a just intention. This may be the advancement of good and avoidance of evil.

There must be a reasonable chance of success.

War must be a last resort. All peaceful methods must be exhausted. It is recognised that going to war is an extreme decision. War and justice are compatible because war is the only method to bring about peace, as no other methods have worked. If the country does not go to war, justice will not be achieved.

The principle of proportionality must be used. Only the force necessary to achieve the aim of war must be used. This rules out the use of nuclear weapons etc.

Finally there must be discrimination over targets. Civilians must not be killed.

Jus ad bellum considers when it is right to go to war. The war must have a just cause. Jus in bello considers how wars should be fought. This is very difficult to decide in our modern world because of the weapons available and the destruction they cause.

Justice and war are compatible if the just war criteria are met and the principle of proportionality is implemented. Although we see this is difficult to meet in the modern world, especially because of the introduction of nuclear weapons as they cause mass destruction. In my opinion the use of modern weapons, which can cause devastation, can never be justified. This is because innocent civilians are killed and cities are usually bombed causing strain on resources, such as water. However, I do think justice and war are compatible in certain circumstances, such as an attempt to overthrow a dictator. In my opinion justice and war are compatible, but in modern society I do not think war can be justified because of the weapons used.


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