How would you apply just war theory to the present international crisis and imminent war on Iraq?

Just war theory is not so much a theory as a set of questions we should ask about any war. I think the questions are good questions. But they almost never lead to a consensus. Those who favor a war can usually argue that there it is being fought for a just end, with public declaration, prospect of victory, etc. Those against it can usually find flaws in the argument. Of course a nation going to war never does so from absolutely pure motives, is never sure about the prospect of victory, etc. So these arguments usually end indecisively.

Of course just war theory isn’t the Bible. It’s a tradition that goes from Aristotle to the Stoics, and it has then been adopted by Christians like Augustine.

But in the end we must make our ethical decisions sola Scriptura. There are some broad biblical principles that bear on war: the sanctity of life first of all. But Scripture is pretty realistic about war. It recognizes that it’s not always possible or desirable to protect all non-combatants, for example. Basically, it recognizes that war is hell and for the most part you just have to put everything into the war and end it quickly.

I know of course that arguments about “biblical principles” tend to be as inconclusive as arguments about just war theory. But I think the Bible is helpful in that it loosens things up. It doesn’t require the ethicist to micro-manage how many weapons are used, etc.

Obviously a Christian will never advocate killing anywhere unless it is a genuine responsibility of the civil magistrate, carried out with a serious regard for human life, even knowing that some human life must be sacrificed to attain the objective.

And I don’t know of anything in the Bible that rules out a pre-emptive strike, though just war theory generally abhors that. (Compare Harold Brown’s article with Arthur Holmes in the book Five Views of War (Zondervan, I think)). Certainly in Israel’s wars in the time of Joshua, Israel took the initiative.

In the present situation, I tend to trust the in I think the civil magistrate may sometimes, in order to protect his own people, make a pre-emptive strike. Or: he can neutralize the enemy with less loss of life by a pre-emptive strike, than by waiting for the enemy to attack. So I would support my government in an attack on Iraq. The agreement of the UN would be a nice thing, but it is morally irrelevant.

Share your thoughts!