Nine days after announcing that he would send more troops to Afghanistan and set July 2011 as the start of a gradual withdrawal, President Barak Obama gave a similarly nuanced speech in accepting the Nobel Peace Prize.
Obama condemned religious-inspired violence, so-called holy wars, but also offered a defense of the just-war tradition in the face of “evil” in the world.
A few days after 9/11, a good friend of mine called to ask me to help preside at the funeral of his son, age 26, who had perished in the World Trade Center. He wondered aloud if this was war or something else. “No,” I said, “it was murder.”
Like many Americans, I decided in early 2003 that a war with Iraq was increasingly necessary. War seemed justifiable because of the intelligence reports concerning Iraq’s weapons programs and because Saddam Hussein, who had committed atrocities in the past, was likely to be highly dangerous if he acquired weapons of mass destruction.
The just war tradition is meant to be more than a tidy checklist of criteria for evaluating a conflict. The tradition developed not as a theory to be bandied about, but as a rigorous ecclesial practice that arose out of the church’s day-to-day life and shapes that life. The tradition is a form of Christian discipleship, an expression of the character of Christian communities concerned daily with justice and with loving their near and distant neighbors.
"Why do the nations rage so furiously together and the people imagine a vain thing?” That is Handel’s lyrical adaptation of Psalm 2:1. The anguished question is an ancient one, reflected in the mythology of the Greek and Roman gods of war, Ares and Mars. Tolstoy asks in his extensive study of war, “Why did millions of people begin to kill one another?
"Wars are not won on the defensive,” asserts Vice President Dick Cheney. “We must take the battle to the enemy and, where necessary, preempt grave threats to our country before they materialize.” For the Bush administration, this policy appears to include a preemptive strike against Iraq, which is viewed as another installment in its war against terrorism.
Speaking at the U.S. Military Academy in June, President Bush offered an expansive statement articulating a doctrine of preemptive action against rogue states and terrorist groups. Iraq was not mentioned, but subsequent statements suggest the West Point speech laid the foundation for war against that nation.
The mainstream of Christian ethics has contended that there can be a legitimate or “just” use of military force—legitimacy being determined by a variety of factors, such as the presence of a “just cause,” “right authority,” “last resort,” and the use of “means proportional to the end,” to cite some of the traditional language