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Just War Theory

June 11, 2007

A while back, when I was visiting Lancaster, my most esteemed brother was discussing just war theory, and what he saw as a major problem with it.  In his view (let me know if this is fair, Chris), the prohibition on harming non-combatants was an issue, mostly because in his view, there is really no such thing as a non-combatant.  His argument is that by virtue of being a citizen of a country at war, you are in the war, and should have no reasonable expectation of protection.

I was not comfortable with this, but wasn’t sure why.  After some thought, I think I figured out the reason behind my uneasiness.  Here is my main argument as to why we should spare non-combatants in any conflict: everyone has been created in the image of God.  While it is necessary to wage war at times to protect human life, or to defend our own nation, the taking of lives is always a weighty matter.  God created man in his image – we bear his likeness.  When we see other human beings, we aren’t just seeing people – we are seeing a reflection of God.  I believe that this basic dignity is the reason we should be careful to not wantonly kill those who do not take up arms against us, even if they are in a country where arms are being taken up – their lives are too precious for us to discount.

I will admit that in our modern age of warfare, the lines between civilian and military populations are much more blurred than they used to be.  Because of this, many aspects of just war theory need to be looked at and adjusted, and there may be circumstances where the killing of someone once considered a civilian, while regrettable, is necessary because of who we are fighting.  However, we should make every effort to spare those who are not involved in the conflict because we respect human life, and want to give those we are fighting every chance at repentance.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 12, 2007 9:07 am

    What has blurred in our current age is that we rarely are at war with nation state as much as we are at war with elements sheltered/hidden in that nation.

    With a war against another nation the citizens thought non combatants have no inherent rights to protection. While that is true an attacking army should do it’s best to not harm the citizenry both for moral reasons as well as for common sense reasons. i.e. if you win you want them on your side eventually.

    Your argument for sparing non combatants works just as well for not killing combatants as well.

    Some smart guy once said (Augustine perhaps?) The sin of war isn’t that men are killed, the sin of war is that it promotes hatred for ones fellow man.

    I’m going to have to go with your esteemed brother on this one. Spare the non combatants when it is proper to do so, same with combatants (that’s why we take prisoners) but also there is a time when the citizenry is just in the wrong place at the wrong time and there is nothing you can do about it. e.g. bombing Germany, Japan, Baghdad, You can’t win a war if you are concerned more with the onlookers than the guys shooting back at you.

    Well that was long 🙂

  2. June 12, 2007 10:45 am

    Brother Brando, I’ll respond more in kind later (with a more lengthy response)

    I’ve been chewing on this thought for a while, and there are a couple of scriptures I need to reconcile.

    No one can dispute that humans are made in the image of God, and that we bear His reflection. However, you’re playing with words when you say that it’s a bad idea to watonly kill noncombatants. I’ve never advocated wanton slaughter. My premise is that all members of a country are at war when the soldiers are at war. That’s why we say “America is at war with such-and-such a country.” We are at war, not our soldiers.

    If that is true, then a huge can of worms opens…which, of course, I won’t get into now. Maybe later this afternoon, or tonight, or sometime…

    A sidenote: if the lines between citizen and soldier are able to be blurred, then it implies that there is a connection between the two (i.e. they are not mutually exclusive, as just war theory seems to say)

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