WAR Paradoxes – Class Notes P.2

“JUST WAR” – Bellum Iustum

Key thinkers: St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Hugo Grotius

is a body of thought developed by philosophers and theologians (especially Christian) as an effort to uphold the values that:

  • Taking human life is seriously wrong.
  • But war can be justified in certain circumstances to protect the innocent and defend important moral values.

So, the concept is paradoxical because there are relative moral values that become absolute. Killing is a sin, but killing in war is not a sin.

⚠️ Spoiler Alert ⚠️ Wars are always unjust.

The theory of ‘Just War’ was born to assess when war can be justified and how one can wage war justly. All of its criteria must be met for a war to be deemed just.

Jus ad bellum (“law to go to war”)
Deals with the reasons and justification for the use of force (for going “to” war).

Jus in bello (“law/conduct in war”).
The real “Laws of War.” Deals with the conduct of war once engaged.

Jus ad bellum (“law to go to war”)

Just cause: self-defense, against aggressors, stopping genocide.
Right intention: not for self-aggrandizement.
Last resort, truly the last option after all peaceful efforts have been exhausted.
Legitimate authority: formerly meant the head of state or king declaring war, but in today’s context, it can refer to democratic governments (presidents) or even organizations like the UN.
Reasonable chance of success: if war is inevitable, one must be confident of a high likelihood of success.

Jus in bello (“law/conduct in war”)

Distinction, meaning distinguishing between civilians and combatants, so only those with legal status to engage in armed conflict may participate. Not civilians. Also not members of certain groups claiming to be ‘soldiers.’
Proportionality: for example, if attacked conventionally, the response should not involve nuclear or bio weapons. • Military Necessity: Fair treatment of Prisoners of War (PoWs), no torture allowed.

Jus ad bellum and Jus in bello are also the foundation of two world humanitarian laws: The Hague Laws and The Geneva Laws.

For a war to be considered just, all criteria of Jus ad bellum + Jus in bello must be met. The criteria are complex, while humans are creatures of flaws. So, Just War remains utopian, and wars that erupt prematurely are fields of dystopia.


Thucydides Trap
This term originated from the ancient Athenian military general, Thucydides, during the Peloponnesian War (Athens vs. Sparta). It roughly suggests that war becomes an inevitability when a powerful entity, which already possesses strength and influence, suddenly perceives a neighboring entity as having even greater power that threatens its hegemonic position. It’s like the idea that “the grass is always greener on the other side” but make it Westeros. 🐉🔥

There have been many examples of wars triggered by this dynamic, and the term “Thucydides Trap” is now commonly used to describe the potential conflict between the US and China.

When discussing Just War, it often overlaps with the tradition of Pacifism (non-violence, complete opposition to war or violence).

In the context of Christian teachings, it is generally associated with the teachings of Jesus, who emphasized love and forgiveness. A popular slogan is “Turn the other cheek, give your other cheek.” “Forgive seventy times seven.” “Love your enemies,” etc.

These two traditions, Just War and Pacifism, have shaped the Christian response to war for thousands of years. However, it’s also a subject of debate whether Jesus can be considered a pacifist. Through his practice of martyrdom (being crucified), does pacifism equate to passivism? Should one passively accept injustice or wrongdoing? I don’t think so. (Next time, let’s discuss martyrdom across various belief systems ☕️)

Other forms of pacifism include:

  • The Kingdom of God Is Within You (Leo Tolstoy)
  • Ahimsa (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism)
  • Satyagraha (Mahatma Gandhi)

Individuals or communities that follow pacifism often refuse to participate in the military, and if given a choice, they would prefer to pay fines. For example, the Quakers.

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