A little while ago I posted up some thoughts I had about the war in Iraq. These thoughts did not come in a vacuum. At the time of the invasion I read several books on the morality of war. At the time of compiling this article had just read James Turner Johnson’s works on the issue and was reading the medieval ethicist Vitoria’s De Indus . This morning I discovered a discussion about my article at the Manawatu Christian Apologetics Society website . One correspondent Murray asks several questions about my post. These are good questions so I will clarify here.
Just War Theory is all very well, and sounds good. However, I would ask the following in respect to the 6 requirements needed to call a war “Just” by this theory:
1. Who decides what a “just cause” is? When religion is involved [especially] the word “just” is completely dependant upon your world view.
The question of what constitutes a just cause, is simply an extension of the more general question when is a person justified in using violence .In the Christian tradition, two answers are forthcoming, to defend innocent people from attack and to punish those guilty of crimes. Hence, in the writings of Theologians the two cases have generally been either to defend people from an attack upon their rights or to punish a person for an offence committed. My understanding is that Jewish and Islamic traditions do not differ greatly on these conclusions, and international law about war in fact is largely based on just war theorizing.
Murray seems to espouse a kind of relativism, whereby what’s right and wrong depends on what a person thinks. The problem is he does not seem to apply this consistently because he condemns the US invasion for violating principles he and the peace movement think is correct. If no one has a right to decide these questions then the peace movement doesn’t either.
2. When does any nation have a lawful authority to wage war, and whose law do we judge this right by?
OK here the answer is relatively straightforward. The right of a government to go to war is simply an extension of governments police powers. If a criminal attempts to rape or kill people within the geographical realm over which a government has authority then the government can use force to prevent this and also can use force to try and punish anyone who does hence the existence of a police force, courts and prisons. Just war theorists simply note that there seems no reason why this authority ceases to exist when the person committing the offence is a soldier from another country as opposed to a domestic criminal.
I have never heard anyone give an answer as to why this should make a difference. If the NZ government cannot use force against foreign soldiers who invade us why are they required to protect Greenpeace demonstrators on a peaceful march from violence? Or why are they allowed to protect children from violent parents and yet not allowed to protect those same children from bullets from a foreign army?
3. There is usually no such thing as a “last resort”, simply preferred resorts. If invading Iraq was a last resort what is a nuclear bomb? The resort after the last resort?
It’s hard to get exactly what Murray’s point is here. First, use of Nuclear weapons are almost always ruled out by a just war theory on the basis of principles of discrimination (only combatants can be targeted) and proportionality ( the force used must be the proportionate to the threat being repelled).
As to Murray’s other point, again the idea of a last resort is simply an extension of principles governing a resort to violence in other contexts. The basic idea is that if a conflict can be reasonably and realistically resolved without violence, then to use it is unnecessary and hence unjust.
In the case I wrote about. The the US wanted regime change. They wanted the Baathists out of power. Given the horrendous record of this government in violating the rights of its citizens and other citizens that was a perfectly reasonable request. One that Saddam could have granted, and was morally obligated to grant. (Did Saddam have a right to torture kill and massacre people?) He did not grant this request. Hence Iraq did not fight as a last resort.
On the other hand if Saddam had made reasonable concessions, if he had agreed to write a new constitution granting basic rights to Iraqi citizens, had set a date for free and open elections with international observers etc and organized a transition. Then the US should not have invaded or at least delayed the invasion until the sincerity of these concessions was apparent.
.4. Who is the judge of the “possibility of waging war with a reasonable chance of success”? What is success and who determines it, by what guidelines is success measured? Success is dependant upon the original aim. (in Iraq this was removal of WMD, then when that was found lacking it was changed to “regime change to bring democracy”. No,luck there, sow whats next, control of oil flow? well, I guess that has been almost achieved…). If we don’t know the aim of waging a war (i.e. we were told it was WMD in Iraq, but obviously was not as they are still there and no WMD found) then how can we possibly judge the likeliness of a successful war?
With any moral question the person who needs to answer the question is the person engaging in the action The role of being a moral agent is to ask oneself is what I am about to do the right thing? So in this case the government has the duty to ask, before it goes to war whether it’s likely the end for which they are fighting is one they are likely to achieve. This is determined by examining the factual information and making the best assessment one can *at the time of the decision*. (not on the basis of what was known after the event) Like all factual decisions it’s fallible. If this counts against making it then one should not make any factual decisions which involve life and death.
Murray’s response to some extent proves the point of my original post, because after dismissing the idea of doing so he inconsistently criticizes the US for not making this assessment adequately. However, as I noted its not just the US who have a duty to act justly so does Iraq, and it seems blatantly obvious that Saddam had good reasons for thinking that he could not successfully fight of a US invasion, hindsight confirms this to a far greater extent than it does with regards to the US belief that they could defeat Saddam. Yet Murray ignores this and applies the standard only to the US despite suggesting that the standard is meaningless.
It is precisely this kind of garbage that lead me to not support the peace movement.
5. To prevent evil we must agree on what evil is. One mans terrorist is another mans freedom fighter.
Well this slogan is simply false. A terrorist is a person who targets non combatants for the purpose of striking terror into the population so as to achieve political ends. A freedom fighter is a person who engages in war for the purpose of liberating a people from oppression. It’s simply false to conflate these categories. A person can use terrorism to enslave people and a person can fight for freedom without using terrorism.
However again, Murray is also very inconsistent here, if what constitutes an unjust attack on another’s rights is simply relative. If what counts as an unjust act of war (terrorism) and what is justified (freedom fighting) is simply arbitrary and relative. Then on what basis does he condemn the US invasion. Its funny how, when dictators act unjustly we can’t condemn it because morality is relative, when the US uses force suddenly the standards the peace movement believe are correct apply to the US government even when it disagrees with them.
If one cannot make judgements that certain actions are evil, then one cannot judge George Bush’s actions as evil.
6. How is it possible to wage a war in a civilian area (e.g. a city) and at the same time use only “proportionate and discriminate” force? Any attempt at this would result in a quagmire within hours, which any invading army knows full well. Which is why Baghdad was bombed from the air. In that particular case “Just War” is surely an oxymoron.
I find this response surprising because just war theorists have frequently and repeatedly discussed this very issue.
The problem Murray points to is this. According to traditional just war theory a state can (in certain circumstances) use proportionate violence against enemy combatants but not against non-combatants. However, this requires the ability to distinguish between the two and to be able to attack one without attacking not the other. For this reason in addition to refraining from targeting combatants, there is also a duty to not use combatants as human shields (hence the traditional European method of meeting at a battlefield in Uniform).However, if enemy combatants dress like civilians, look like civilians, hide amongst civilians and attack from within civilians centres it becomes extremely difficult to repel them without hitting civilians in the cross fire.
There are really only two responses to this problem: The more sensible response is the one suggested by several just war theorists such as Donagan, Walzer Ramsey etc that in such cases, soldiers should take reasonable care to avoid hitting civilians, but if they cannot defend themselves from attack without killing some civilians then the responsibility for the deaths is not theirs, its rather the fault of the enemy who choose to attack from amongst them. This suggests that the duty to not kill non-combatants does not apply to human shields if there is no reasonable way of hitting the assailant without hitting them.
(This I think is a general point about self defence a F 16 would have been justified in shooting down one of the United Airliners heading for the world trade centre for the same reason and similarly a policeman could shoot a suicide bomber threatening to blow up a mall who was also carrying a baby )
Murray however takes a different option which I consider mistaken. He suggests that when the enemy fights from within a civilian area it is wrong to defend oneself against their attacks. This seems to lead to a conclusion that as long as I hide behind civilians and use them as human shields I gain protection from the morality, however if I don’t do this and refuse to use human shields I do not. This seems problematic if not outright perverse.
In a sense however Murray answers his own question he notes attacking a city would result in mass civilian causalities, he therefore notes that because of this an alternative method was used precisely to minimise these causalities. Exactly, that’s what a just belligerent tries to do in such cases, minimise civilian causalities. Would Saddam have made an effort to do this, I doubt it.