Just war theory

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Just war theory is the attempt to distinguish between justifiable and unjustifiable uses of organized armed forces.


  • There are two rules of war that have not yet been invalidated by the new world order. The first rule is that the belligerent nation must be fairly sure that its actions will make things better; the second rule is that the belligerent nation must be more or less certain that its actions won't make things worse.
    • Martin Amis, "The Palace of the End", The Guardian, 4 March 2003
  • In order for a war to be just, three things are necessary. First, the authority of the sovereign…. Secondly, a just cause…. Thirdly … a rightful intention.
    • Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica (1266–1273; 1947 republication), part II–II, question 40, article 1, p. 1359–60. The three conditions are sometimes paraphrased as: public authority, just cause, right motive.
  • But, say they, the wise man will wage Just Wars. As if he would not all the rather lament the necessity of just wars, if he remembers that he is a man; for if they were not just he would not wage them, and would therefore be delivered from all wars.
  • They who have waged war in obedience to the divine command, or in conformity with His laws, have represented in their persons the public justice or the wisdom of government, and in this capacity have put to death wicked men; such persons have by no means violated the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill."
  • The Mahabharata, which provides the context for the Gita, clearly lays down that “non-violence is the highest duty” and describes how Krishna tries several non-violent solutions. Only when these fail due to the stubborn selfishness of the other party, and when the justice of his party’s cause is established and acknowledged even by elderly members of the opposite party, does Krishna gradually accept the second maxim, viz. that “violence is a duty against wilful evildoers”. That’s when he agrees at last to let the war begin. ... At any rate, his conduct in the whole process leading up to the start of the war is neatly compatible with the European theory of Just War, and could even be read as the earliest attempt at formulating such a doctrine of the conditions for Just War.
    • Bhagavad Gita. About the Just War concept in the Bhagavad Gita. Elst, Koenraad, The religion of the Nazis in : Elst, Koenraad. Return of the Swastika: Hate and Hysteria versus Hindu Sanity (2007)
  • Justa bella quibus necessaria.
    • Wars are just to those to whom they are necessary.
    • Quoted by Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790).
  • War is something absurd, useless, that nothing can justify.
    • Louis de Cazenave, French veteran of World War I, in [1] BBC News report (2005)].
  • War will never yield but to the principles of universal justice and love, and these have no sure root but in the religion of Jesus Christ.
    • William Ellery Channing, reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 614.
  • Modern civilization has introduced great qualifications to soften the rigours of war; and allows a degree of intercourse with enemies, and particularly with prisoners of war, which can hardly be carried on without the assistance of our Courts of justice. It is not therefore good policy to encourage these strict notions, which are insisted on contrary to morality and public convenience.
    • James Eyre, C.J., Sparenburgh v. Bannatyne (1797), 2 Bos. & Pull. 170; reported in James William Norton-Kyshe, Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904), p. 245.
  • All the same, the fundamental truths which govern that art are still unchangeable; just as the principles of mechanics must always govern architecture, whether the building be made of wood, stone, iron or concrete; just as the principles of harmony govern music of whatever kind. It is still necessary, then, to establish the principles of war.
    • Gen. Ferdinand Foch, Principles of War. From the preface written for the post-bellum edition.
  • Never think that war, no matter how necessary, no matter how justified, is not a crime.
    • Ernest Hemingway, Introduction to "Treasury for the Free World" by Ben Raeburn, 1946.
  • When people ask me what I did in the war, I tell them I did the same thing we all did. We fought for what was right. I've come to realize, there's nothing good about war... But there is good in why you fight wars. And we were all fighting for the same thing.
The church has historically trusted men to make the decision about when to take life in war by giving them the “just war” theory. There is no “just abortiontheory for women. ~ Frances Kissling
  • The ideology of warfare that has been repeatedly invoked for the past thousand years of Western history grew out of Augustine's thesis of just war in the fifth century and continued to be developed to its complete expression in Pope Urban II's propaganda campaign launching the first Crusade at the end of the eleventh century. Simply stated in the terms of the American western, one of the great cultural institutions for fostering violence, the world is made up of good guys and bad guys, and the good guys have to shoot the bad guys for everyone's well-being. Once this was established, the state had only to declare its proposed victim a bad guy to justify a war.
  • The organizing principle of any society is for war. The basic authority of the modern state over its people resides in its war powers. Today it's oil, tomorrow, water. It's what we like to call the GOD business: Guns, Oil, and Drugs. But there is a problem. Our way of life, its over. It's unsustainable and in rapid decline. That's why we implement demand destruction. We continue to make money as the world burns. But for this to work the people have to remain ignorant of the problem until it's too late. That's why we have triggers in place: 9/11, 7/7, WMDs. A population in a permanent state of fear does not ask questions. Our desire for war becomes its desire for war. A willing sacrifice. You see, fear is justification, fear is control, fear is money.
    • Gerry Langdon in The Veteran (2011), written by Matthew Hope and Robert Henry Craft.
  • Justum est bellum, quibus necessarium; et pia arma, quibus nulla nisi in armis relinquitur opes.
    • To those to whom war is necessary it is just; and a resort to arms is righteous in those to whom no means of assistance remain except by arms.
    • Livy, History, Book IX. 1.
  • But war, in a good cause, is not the greatest evil which a nation can suffer. War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other.
    • John Stuart Mill in "The Contest in America", in Dissertations and Discussions, vol. 1 (1868), p. 26; previously published in Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Volume 24, Issue 143 (April 1862), page 683-684.
  • War, in one form or another, appeared with the first man. At the dawn of history, its morality was not questioned; it was simply a fact, like drought or disease -- the manner in which tribes and then civilizations sought power and settled their differences. And over time, as codes of law sought to control violence within groups, so did philosophers and clerics and statesmen seek to regulate the destructive power of war. The concept of a "just war" emerged, suggesting that war is justified only when certain conditions were met: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the force used is proportional; and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence. Of course, we know that for most of history, this concept of "just war" was rarely observed. The capacity of human beings to think up new ways to kill one another proved inexhaustible, as did our capacity to exempt from mercy those who look different or pray to a different God.
  • Every decision to launch a war, even if it is the most justified and clear decision, is never easy. [...] It should not be utilized in the political race of those who wish to rise to power even at the price of baseless self-destruction, which lacks logic and boundaries – all this around a war which was the most justified.
  • It is the object only of war that makes it honorable. And if there was ever a just war since the world began, it is this in which America is now engaged. * * *
    We fight not to enslave, but to set a country free, and to make room upon the earth for honest men to live in.
  • We must not let what happened lead to a deepening of divisions. Religion must never be used as a reason for conflict. [...] With all my heart I beg God to keep the world in peace. From this place, I invite both Christians and Muslims to raise an intense prayer to the One, almighty God whose children we all are, that the supreme good of peace may reign in the world.
    • Pope's spokesman Dr. Joaqun Navarro-Valls: ...the pope believes that the extremists directly responsible for the attacks on the United States could and should be distinguished from the wider threat of Islamic fundamentalism and that any response should be limited to punishing the guilty.
    • Pope John Paul II, Astana, Kazakhstan, September 23, 2001 [3]
  • I say: NO TO WAR! War is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity. International law, honest dialogue, solidarity between states, the noble exercise of diplomacy; these are methods worthy of individuals and nations in resolving their differences. I say this as I think of those who still place their trust in nuclear weapons, and as I think of the all too numerous conflicts which continue to hold hostage our brothers and sisters in humanity. Bethlehem reminds us of the unresolved crisis in the Middle East, where two peoples, Israeli and Palestinian, are called to live side by side, equally free and sovereign, in mutual respect. Faced with the constant degeneration of the crisis in the Middle East, I say to you that the solution will never be imposed by recourse to terrorism or armed conflict, as if military victories could be the solution. And what are we to say about the threat of a war which could strike the people of Iraq, the land of the Prophets, a people already sorely tried by more than 12 years of embargo? War is never just another means that one can choose to employ for settling differences between nations. As the charter of the United Nations Organisation and international law itself remind us, war cannot be decided upon, even when it is a matter of ensuring the common good, except as the very last option and in accordance with very strict conditions, without ignoring the consequences for the civilian population both during and after the military operations.
  • When war, as in these days in Iraq, threatens the fate of humanity, it is ever more urgent to proclaim, with a strong and decisive voice, that only peace is the road to follow to construct a more just and united society. Violence and arms can never resolve the problems of men.
  • The Seeger Court recognized that the exemption provision needed to “deal[] with the beliefs of different individuals who will articulate them in a multitude of ways,” and focused its test simply on the sincerity of the individual’s conscientious objection.
    Even this broadened approach to conscientious objection remains focused on individuals who are opposed to participating in any war, as opposed to those who are opposed to participating in a particular war. This leaves certain people who have moral objections to participation in particular wars—for example, someone who subscribes to “just war theory,” which condemns some, but not other, wars—without protection.
  • Unjust war is to be abhorred; but woe to the nation that does not make ready to hold its own in time of need against all who would harm it! And woe thrice over to the nation in which the average man loses the fighting edge, loses the power to serve as a soldier if the day of need should arise!
  • Women have long been props for war-making. Invasions are often justified in part by pointing to the suffering of women in the countries targeted for attack. “Only the terrorists and the Taliban threaten to pull out women’s fingernails for wearing nail polish,” Laura Bush said when she took over her husband’s weekly radio address, in 2001, to urge Americans to support the war in Afghanistan. Like McMaster’s miniskirt photograph, Bush’s speech exemplifies the kind of pseudo-feminism sometimes used to justify invasion. The literary theorist and postcolonial feminist Gayatri Spivak calls it “white men saving brown women from brown men,” an imperial logic that ignores sexism at home to fight sexism abroad, and which disregards brown women’s agency and self-understanding. How women make sense of the situations in which they live—whether, for instance, they see the veil as oppressive or as a symbol of resistance or simply as an important religious practice—is irrelevant. Instead, imperialism is presented as a necessary act of deliverance. They don’t know how to treat their women; our job—really, our moral obligation—is liberation.
  • .מלחמת שלום הגליל היתה מהמוצדקות ביותר במלחמות ישראל
  • The statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception.
    • Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger and Other Stories
  • War can only be abolished through war … in order to get rid of the gun it is necessary to take up the gun.
  • The term "just war" contains an internal contradiction. War is inherently unjust, and the great challenge of our time is how to deal with evil, tyranny, and oppression without killing huge numbers of people.
  • We need to decide that we will not go to war, whatever reason is conjured up by the politicians or the media, because war in our time is always indiscriminate, a war against innocents, a war against children. War is terrorism, magnified a hundred times.
    • Howard Zinn, The Old way of thinking in The Progressive (November 2001).

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