The Just War Theory

"How can you have a war on terrorism when war itself is terrorism?" - Howard Zinn


Winning the battle not the war is not enough. Another battle may turn things around totally - and you may be on the losing side!  War is not about battles but about war.  Be warned!


Waging war is consistent with being a person of peace for if evil got running riot and was not met with war there would be no peace.  This brings us to the concept of the just war. In reality, there is no such thing for it is always grey and such a huge complexity.  Kings and presidents act but only on the best advice they think they have.  To celebrate peace is to indirectly celebrate the war or wars that preceded it.

Let us introduce the Just War Theory. It is about countries that face attack that need to defend themselves by war. It demands that there be a just cause (broadly speaking it should be self-defence ONLY but it never is. Most want it to be about more than that!), that war be a last resort, that war be declared by a just and valid legal authority, that there be a probable chance of success, that no force must be used than deemed strictly necessary and that it must end as soon as possible.

The theory says that you can go to war for a just cause and only with good intention. Broadly speaking, war should only be about self-defence not punishment or about getting the assets of another country. For the believer being fair to God matters and being fair to man does not if you have to choose one or the other. So why are Christians not honest? If they were they would say, "War should be about self-defence not because self-defence benefits us but because God is good and wants us to do it!" If soldiers had to fight for God that would put them off. But if God comes first then it follows that their ungodly reservations are not even to be considered.

Christianity has never really been pro-life though it pretends it is. Christianity only kept out of the military in the first few centuries for the fear of being led into idolatry. Then it brought its teaching about war to fruition and rivers of blood began to run.  St Augustine was one of the major formers of the Church and influencer and he dared to say that a just war is "not merely excusable but also praiseworthy".   He said it is an act of Christian charity so he made it sacred as did the entire Church.  To celebrate an evil is the mark of an evil religion.  War should be seen as a horrendous thing even if necessary.  Praise and honours for fighting should be rudely rejected.

There are two sides to every story but your side must suffer the most before war in self-defence can be contemplated. This is the principle of comparative justice. The problem with this is that if you have to wait to the enemy do their worst then how do you know you can win the war? And what if you win the battle but not the war?

Every war seems to start with an idea that is emphasised. A nation may think it should own other nations as it is the best nation. Their patriotic idea makes them wage war. A war against Nazism is never really won. Winning a battle is not winning the war. A war against Islamism is a war against an idea and such a war cannot be won. If the idea vanishes it is not down to the war. Thus there is no such thing as a just war when war boils down to trying to fight an idea. The peace that comes after war is shallow for the idea is still there and people are waiting for the next opportunity to serve it even at the price of human life.

Valid authority must declare war for the war to have a chance at being just. Only public authorities who hold their office through justice can declare war. This excludes dictatorships. Monarchs would also be excluded for democracy despite its flaws is the best way to work within the framework of justice. Religion says it is ultimately God that puts governments in place to govern us. This does not sound very credible considering how most governments do not care about God and are secular. And if you fight for your nation you do fight for its right to govern itself meaning that if you think God sets up the government you are really fighting for God!

David Eller mentions in Christianity is Not Great how it is Christian teaching that to be justified "a war had to be authorised by a proper governmental authority". Who says the authority is a proper one? It is the Church and its moral theologians that decide what a proper authority is and they get it wrong just like everybody else.  Often the true story about a ruling body's status may come out a century later.  Or it may never be clear.  It is a political matter. Even today it is hard to get it right - in the past much of the time it was impossible but that did not stop Christianity encouraging war and blessing the arms.  Those who win wars win the power to erase the real truth and the real history.  Or they can turn a fact into an opinion by getting rid of the evidence or planting it.  It was one document the Donation of Constantine, a fake, that gave the pope his bloodletting power.


A man-made civil authority remains a man-made one.  Unless God expressly authorises the state in writing there is no proof that any revolutionary organisation that claims to rule and claims the right to wage war is in fact really illicit.  Really what is happening is that people of faith are just pretending that a war is justified and its soldiers potential heroes in the eyes of God.  It is an abuse of God and of man.  It is an insult to the victims whose blood runs in the streets.

Governments tend to create many laws just for their own sake - they are arbitrary laws. But these laws wreck lives and cause resentment and a sense of injustice among the people. It is insane to speak of a government that is trustworthy when it claims the right to send you to war.

The state has rights as a state. These rights depend on whether or not it upholds the basic human rights of its people and alien nations. The right to life implies a right to defend yourself against an unjust attacker. But if the Church is right that God and faith in religion and the Church is a basic human right and the state doesn't think so then what? It must follow that the state is not really legitimate and competent. It cannot fight not even in self-defence.

Probability of success is important. There is no point in declaring a war you will probably not win or which will make things far worse. And you cannot send people to die for nothing and to kill for nothing. If you believe in God is the probability of success doctrine sensible? Not if you believe that prayer has the power to change the course things are taking. Not if you believe in miraculous and supernatural intervention.

Everything must be done to avoid having to declare war. If you believe in God, can you be sure that war really is a last resort? No. He might intervene.

Considering that we have had only a few decades of peace in the last five millennia, war is really not about winning but fighting in some form indefinitely. And the times of peace have mostly been cold wars.

There must be an exit strategy - the war has to be fought fairly and with plans in motion to end it as soon as possible and with as little death and injury and destruction as possible. You can intend that but putting it into practice is impossible for you have to expect the unexpected. Fighting in self-defence is fighting violence with violence and violence is guaranteed to cause uncontrollable chaos. Wars are always about facing the uncontrollable and hoping to contain it and end up ending the chaos. You cannot really know all the outcomes - if you say you do you are appealing to some form of supernatural guidance. So fighting for God comes into it again! The Christian has to feel that God is calling him to war. Suppose self-defence is necessary. The Christian must realise it is called for. He sees this realisation not as justification in itself that war is needed. He sees it as a message from God to act. It is not really then about the self-defence.

The just war doctrine is official Christian teaching and is proof that religion is not without risks. It shuts up the liars who say that Christianity is harmless - it is not necessarily harmless. If you agree with the just war theory, you cannot agree with God or religion getting involved in the theory. Also, the believers in the just war theory allow for pre-emptive strikes. They allow or encourage you to attack a country that would invade you before it invades in the guise of self-defence. It does not bother them that this contradicts their claim that war has to be a last resort! There is no concern if the attacking country has its army made up of conscripted soldiers who are fighting against their will. Your war against them is proclaimed just despite the killings of those innocent men.

St Thomas Aquinas taught that killing another in self-defence is only right if you intend to defend and not to kill the attacker. This principle applies in war too. But it is hard to believe that Thomas who believed God commanded the murder of homosexuals and idol worshippers in the Bible really cared that much about human life!

Now just to list what makes a just war. Just cause. Right and competent authority. The end result in terms of justice must be worth it. The intention to be right and fair. Reasonable chance of success. Last resort. As little death and destruction as possible. For believers in Catholicism that has to be the sequence. They believe the first few are what matter most. They say the other criteria is not worth looking at if the first few in the list are not there. That is a Catholic scam to get you to think that just cause as understood by a competent authority (meaning one that is informed by the Church!) is what ultimately matters! And we are asked to believe Catholicism is a religion of peace? It is not for the just war doctrine is not about self-defence though it can be at times. It is about war.

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