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Can War Be Justified?

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Text Preview For those who spend their lives working to prevent and end wars, whether and how war itself can be justified must be an urgent question. Of course, war’s justification is an ancient tradition. Bizarrely, Just War theory was formulated within the Christian church, whose founder chose a donkey instead of a war horse and taught his followers to overcome evil with good. Not only is the theory still mainstream among churches but, as Dan Smith, head of an important NGO working for conflict transformation who has written recently on the theory,argues - not only is the theory still mainstream among churches: it has become and remains influential in political and military circles. His exposition and discussion of it is thoughtful and nuanced. He acknowledges that its name is a misnomer and that it can be argued that war is never just, being full of injustices. He says that its criteria are hard to apply, given the uncertainties of warfare and that some may seem to be met while others are not. He clearly sympathises with President Obama’s predicament in ‘facing the world as it is’. On balance, he feels Obama has yet to win the argument that the war in Afghanistan is just. The fact that such a thoughtful writer argues that assessing this is a balancing act indicates, at the very least, the elasticity of the criteria employed. Dan argues that there was ‘just cause’ for the war against Afghanistan’s then government, as well as al-Qaeda, on account of ‘the 9/11 attacks and the explicit threat of more to come’. But do we address the cause by punishing the attacks or curing the threat? And how could a war that would inevitably kill many civilians as well as destroying so much in an already desperately poor country, be justified for either reason? Even the capital punishment of those directly responsible for the bombings would not be allowable in most democratic countries, by way of punishment. The implication that the war was undertaken to guard US citizens against the... Show More

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