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Just War?


Breaking the Cycle of Violence Through Circles of Peace

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Up until the 4th Century, Christians were persecuted in the Roman Empire. Many of them were killed for their beliefs, and one of the things that angered the Roman government the most was that the Christians were pacifists: they refused to carry weapons or serve in the army.

Bust of the Emperor ConstantineThen, the Emperor Constantine made the empire a Christian nation. Many thought this was a good thing, but it caused a moral problem. A few years later, the barbarian hordes were poised to sack Rome. The Christians were no longer just a religion -- they ran the government and had to decide what to do.

Attilla the Hun, Scourge of GodIf they decided to remain faithful to their pacifist tradition and refused to fight the barbarians, they would be killed, their wives raped, their children taken into slavery, their possessions stolen and their homes and businesses burned. But, if they fought, they would betray their God. It was a horrible decision that they had to make.

St. Augustine St. Thomas AquinasThey asked St. Augustine for advice. He turned to the philosopher Cicero for inspiration to find a way out of this terrible dilemma. His answer to this question is now called “Just War” and he wrote it down in an essay called City of God. It laid the basic outline for most the moral inquiry into just war in the Christian tradition.His proposal was refined by Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century, and is still evolving today.

The Just War tradition has evolved into two concepts: jus ad bellum and jus in bello. In brief, jus ad bellum means that a war is fought for a just cause, while jus in bello means that the war is fought in a just way.

In all of the just war tradition, there is an implicit injunction against war, an attitude that although war may be at times a necessary evil, it is evil even when necessary.

There is no official list of the criteria for a just war, but here are some that have evolved over the ages:

    Jus ad bellum has several components:

    1. A war must be a means of last resort. All diplomatic, economic, and political means must be either exhausted or obviously ineffective.
    2. A war be declared by legitimate authority. A nation acting alone with no support from other nations is less likely to be considered just when waging war then a large coalition of countries would be; a president acting without the concurrence of congress would be "less just."
    3. A war must have a reasonable chance of success
    4. A military action must be morally justifiable. This is generally broken down into four scenarios:
        (a) It is a defense against aggression; the opponent is the attacker;
        (b) It is the correction of injustice - when conditions in another country become so desperate that not even the most basic of human rights are being upheld,
        (c) it be waged with an eye toward establishing a more perfect political order - revenge or punishment are not enough - and
        (d) it be waged with the end of peace in mind.

    Jus in bello requires:

    1. The proportionality of the use of force in a war. You don't use a shotgun to kill a cockroach.
    2. The combatants discriminate between combatants and noncombatants. Innocent, nonmilitary people should never be made the target of attacks.
    3. A country is not responsible for unexpected side effects of its military activity as long as the following three conditions are met:
        (a) The action must carry the intention to produce good consequences
        (b) The bad effects were not intended and
        (c) The good of the war must outweigh the damage done by it.


Here are some Internet links that further discuss the concept of just war. If you know of more, please sent them to the webmaster:


Amazon has more than 50 books listed on the topic of "Just War." Here are those that look most promising. The links will take you to the Amazon.Com home page. If you buy one of these books by following this link, the peaceCENTER will receive a rebate.

  • Interpretations of Conflict: Ethics, Pacifism, and the Just-War Tradition
    by Richard B. Miller ($22.00)
    buy from Amazon

  • The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millennium
    by Walter Wink ($15.37)
    buy from Amazon

  • Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument With Historical Illustrations
    by Michael Walzer($20.00)
    buy from Amazon

  • Can Modern War Be Just?
    by James Turner Johnson ($32.00)
    buy from Amazon

  • The Ethics of War and Peace: An Introduction to Legal and Moral Issues
    by Paul Christopher ($24.67)
    buy from Amazon

  • Making War and Making Peace: Why Some Christians Fight and Some Don't
    (Peace and Justice Series, 8)
    by Dennis Byler, J. Allen Brubaker (Designer) ($5.59)
    buy from Amazon

  • When War Is Unjust: Being Honest in Just-War Thinking
    by John Howard Yoder ($11.20)
    buy from Amazon

  • Just War: Principles and Cases
    by Regan Richard J., Richard J. Regan ($19.95)
    buy from Amazon

    Should War Be Eliminated: Philosophical and Theological Investigations
    by Stanley Hauerwas ($15.00)
    buy from Amazon

  • The Ethics of War
    by A. J. Coates ($24.95)
    buy from Amazon

Some Bible Passages about War and Peace

Thou shall not kill
Exodus 20:13

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.
Matthew 5:3

And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
Isaiah 2:4

Greet one another with the kiss of Christian love. May peace be with all of you who belong to Christ.
1 Peter 5:14

You must turn away from evil and do good; you must strive for peace with all your heart.
1 Peter 3:11

And goodness is the harvest that is produced from the seeds the peacemakers plant in peace.
James 3:18

Try to be at peace with everyone, and try to live a holy life, because no one will see the Lord without it.
Hebrews 12:14

May the Lord himself, who is our source of peace, give you peace at all times and in every way.
2 Thessalonians 3:16

The peace that Christ gives is to guide you in the decisions you make; for it is to this peace that God has called you together in the one body.
Colossians 3:15

So Christ came and preached the Good News of peace to all—to you Gentiles, who were far away from God, and to the Jews, who were near to him.
` Ephesians 2:17

God has called you to live in peace.
1 Corinthians 7:15

Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Matthew 22:39

For the whole Law is summed up in one commandment: "Love your neighbor as you love yourself."
Galatians 5:14

A child is born to us! A son is given to us! And he will be our ruler. He will be called, "Wonderful! Counselor," "Mighty God," "Eternal Father," "Prince of Peace."
Isaiah 9:6

"But now," Jesus said, "whoever has a purse or a bag must take it; and whoever does not have a sword must sell his coat and buy one.
Luke 22:36

And you will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end.
Matthew 24:6

A time to love, and a time to hate; A time for war, and a time for peace.
Ecclesiastes 3:8

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