Marc LiVecche’s lecture at the Christianity & National Security Conference 2022.

Marc LiVecche discusses the just war tradition, Christian realism, and foreign policy objectives. The following is a transcript of the lecture.

All right. I have a stopwatch this year to make me honest, if I remember to look at it. If I talk like this, can you hear me? Can I get… Rebeccah, can you hear me in the back? Nobody—yes, said yes. I can’t see anymore. I’m too old. I can’t see you naughty… all right. I just, so I know how to orient my talk a little bit, who is planning this… no pressure, and I’m not going to keep you to this but who is planning on coming tonight to the book launch? You get a rough out… okay, great. So I’m gonna cheat a little bit. That’s going to be my part two, sort of, so here’s part one.  

All right, as Mark said, what I am planning on doing is to talk about just war. You’ve heard a lot about it today. It’s come up a number of times, and so this provides maybe a nice framing between what Eric did in the very beginning and what I’m doing now, we can look back and fill in some of the… the details and different things you’ve heard. And a lot of this is going to orient you for what’s coming tomorrow, and I’ll try to alert you to some of those, uh, talks and where they might fit in if I remember as I go.  

So my basic aim right now is to walk us through how just war or the just war tradition helps us to navigate the moral complexities of high-level human conflict. So, wars between nations, or to put this all a little bit more simply, how does the just war tradition help us think about breaking things and killing people, all right? Because that’s maybe not necessarily as straightforward as it seems. All right. First, to make sure everybody knows what we’re talking about, I’m going to run through the criteria, and it’s not going to be quite a full gallop but it’s going to be at least a robust cantor. So if you have any questions about it, this is just to churn the waters. We could get into the… to the… to the weeds afterwards.  

After having that in hand, I want to identify at least three theater… theoretical assumptions and implications of the just war tradition. And if I’m disciplined and if you… if you’re listening closely, you’ve already heard me do this. If I’m disciplined, I’m going to not call it the just war tradition. There is no “the just war tradition.” There’s several just war traditions, so I don’t want to use the definite article, but I’ll drop in there and it’s okay, because what I’m talking about is in the fact that just war tradition, so it all… be… sort of works out all right. All right. I hope you know, if you don’t, you will know in a moment, that the just war trad—just war tradition is broken typically into two major categories.  

There’s the use of ad bellum, all right? This is just justice toward war. This is basically about when is it right to fight. And then there’s the jus in bello, and this is basically about how do you rightly fight that fight that’s right to fight? Okay. We’re gonna get into those. Both of these have implications for knowing when and how to end a war or for when to stop fighting, and some people have codified this. Eric Patterson has… has codified this into an actual third category, and it’s jus… uh, jus post-bellum. I think some of this is caught up in our criteria of right intent. You’ll see what I’m talking about in a moment. So sometimes, depending on if Eric’s in the room or not, I make it a third category. At other times I just cavalierly dismiss it as a third category and built it into the first two because, if you start adding categories, and it gets really crazy. So some people talk about the jus antebellum, justice prior to war, and there’s a lot to say about that, actually, but I think that’s built into the criterion of last resort. So you’re going to see what all… what I mean by all this in just a moment.  

To give you a little bit of a guide, I want you to stay attentive to a couple of things. I want you to listen for how the just war tradition is motivated by order, justice, and peace. These are some of the three orienting, uh, guides or motivations. Uh, I want you to pay attention to how just war thinking is cognization and subordinate to duties. This will be important, but also, and I don’t necessarily mean this to be in contradiction, but also how just war thinking is chastened and restrained by wisdom, by consequence, and even by mercy. And this gives it a little bit of a realist dimension to it. And lastly, how is just war tradition, uh, concerned about character, right? Because this isn’t just about states stuff or nations stuff this is about human beings, and then, as I’ll argue maybe provocatively, I… I don’t know, uh, the character of the nation itself, all right? 

Jus ad bellum. When is the right to fight? Traditionally, this is broken into three major requirements. These things have to be in place for a war to be correct, all right? So the first thing is right authority. You can’t just have any old person. George can’t stand up and declare war on China, all right? You have to have the proper authority. Who’s the proper authority? In classical language, it’s the sovereign. What is the sovereign? The sovereign is he or they are it over whom there is no greater, charged with the care of the political community. All right. That’s the sovereign. More can be said about that but you… you need to have a proper sovereign in place, somebody who can speak on behalf of the nation and for whom the security, the justice, order and peace of the nation is their primary responsibility.  

In the first place, and this has been touched on in different ways today, the sovereign’s responsibility is to its own people, right? So we call this a special obligation. Uh, any sovereign who isn’t concerned with the welfare of his or her, its own state is… is unkinging themselves. Are… they are not being a proper sovereign in the classical sense. In the second place, however, just war thinking allows for concern for a wider and more capacious sense of political goods, all right? So it doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. If I’m the sovereign and I orient myself toward my international neighbor, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m orienting myself away from all of you, all right? But there is a first and a second kind of case too that the second requirement is a just cause. You actually have to have a reason for going to war that’s proper, right? Shouldn’t be terribly controversial. 

Classical just war thinking, uh, coming up from Augustine up through Christian realism, through Christian realist traditions that Eric discussed, sees three primary just causes. The first is to protect the innocent, and the second is to require injustices or to right wrongs, and the third is to punish evil. All right. Those… one of those three things or all of them… you can see how they probably overlap in different ways, has to be in place. What you don’t hear is you don’t hear self-defense, right? Which is the number one reason for going to war with an international wall. But if you understand these properly, self-defense uh, if it’s a proper reason for fighting is baked in, so I already hear the qualifiers: protect the innocent, right wrongs, punish evil. Those things are all qualified self-defense, isn’t necessarily sufficiently qualified. If I attack you and you attack me back and get the upper hand and then I shoot you, I can’t claim self-defense, right? I had no right to be attacking you in the first place, so self-defense needs to be qualified. It’s insufficient on its own, um. This is… 

Notice also in the just cause criterion that all of these are responsive. These things are already taking place. Just war thinking will never allow the inauguration of violence as a… as a motivation for going to war, right? It’s always responsive. That’s not to say that force can’t be used preemptively, all right? Which is… which is a different thing we can talk about that. If you want the third thing, that has to be in place is the right intention. All right, and classically with the Augustinian literature, the only reason you go to war, the only reason you protect the innocent, that you correct the wrong or that you punish evil is for the sake of peace. And again similar to the sovereign’s sort of two tiers of responsibility in the first place, this piece is intended for the innocent, right? If at the end of this conflict all I’ve done is to secure their good, that’ll be sufficient, right? Um, but sort of uh, uh, what do I want to say? Yeah. 

There should be a kind of rough dissatisfaction if that’s all I end up with because in the second sense, ideally peace has been found with the adversary, all right? So if you go to war to return the adversary into the community of… of reconciliation, to the community of peace. Right intent can also be expressed, uh, negatively. When you go to war, as Augustine said, you don’t do it with the desire to see the enemy suffer, per se. You don’t do it with an implacable hatred, with a desire for cruelty, these sorts of things. But then, in the positive sense, you war for the sake of peace. 

Now, I’m going to say a… a great deal just in a nutshell. All of this is predicated on the assumption that when you go to war you are actually fighting to win. So if you go to war to protect the innocent, you’re actually fighting in such a way that you end up protecting the innocent. If you’re going to war to right a wrong or to punish evil, you’re going to war in such a way that those things can be achieved. So you go to war for the sake also… or you go to… we’re aimed at victory, all right?  

Um, I thought this was General Pershing. It’s not. If you want to see a picture of Pershing, he’s in the room below us. But General Pershing was frustrated with the end of World War I because he said we’re… we’re allowing an armistice to occur, and the enemy doesn’t know that it’s been licked, and this is going to be a problem. The enemy has to know they’ve been licked. And then you have the Treaty of Versailles on top of that, and you can see that Pershing was correct, right? It’s a kind of grace to fight to win in such a way that the enemy knows it’s time to stop fighting, all right? 

I think… I think a bright connection can be made between, uh, the botched peace of World War I and the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima. World War I taught us that the enemy knows, has to know when it’s time to stop fighting, all right? So this is essential and I’ll say more about this being aimed at victory in a little bit. So those three things have to be in place for war to be just. Those are the first criteria of when is it right to fight. 

There’s a second set of criteria. Depending on who you talk to, there’s three of them. There’s seven of them. There’s six of them. I’m going to talk about three. These are prudential criteria, all right? These are things that help to align whether or not fighting. Even if it’s right is wise to do, I’m gonna name three. The first is proportionality. Some people understand proportionality means like equal for equal, purely eye for eye. If you kill two of my people, I can kill two of yours. If I’ve killed three of yours, that’s disproportionate. That’s not what I’m talking about. 

Um, if we are aimed at victory, proportionality is asking the question and is asking two sides of the same question. It’s asking if I fight this war to win, am I likely to bring about more good than harm? But it’s also asking to reverse. If I don’t fight this war, is it likely to bring about more good or harm, all right? So it’s both what I will do and what I’m considering maybe not doing. All right? Does more good come from it than harm? That’s… I shouldn’t be heard as a tight kind of calculus. An analogy I’ve heard that I like is he could conceive of this like cancer surgery. If I’m trying to remove the tumor, you want the surgeon to aim on the side of wider margins that might be strictly necessary, right? You want to make sure you get the whole thing. 

Um, killing people and breaking things causes a lot of havoc for those people in those things. If you’re gonna do it, make sure you’ve done it sufficiently so that the innocent are indeed protected, the… the evil is sufficiently punished, or the uh, the wrong is… is righted, all right? More can be said about that. I’ll leave it.  

The second is sort of built into that, is probability of success. So I’ve got a proper cause, I think I can do it proportionately, but do I have any real chance of actually protecting the innocent, righting the wrong, punishing the guilty, right? So Ukraine comes back into view, right? There’s a lot that we should do. We also shouldn’t blow up the world, right? So this acts as something of a… of a constraint. Uh, so probability of success… Can I actually achieve the kinds of things I’m wanting to achieve? This shouldn’t be made into a fetish. There may be all sorts of times where we think even though we don’t know that we have a likelihood of success, there’s other reasons for doing this thing. This is certainly true in particular battles. So you think of the Alamo. They knew they weren’t going to win, right? They had no chance of success. But it was important for a variety of reasons to fight that fight anyway. There is a real question whether or not at the level of an entire war that would ever be the case, right? But we shouldn’t make it a fetish, necessarily, out of success in part because there times where a negotiated truce might be better than the status quo prior to going to war. Again, more can be said about that later. 

And the last one is the just last resort, and this is often misunderstood. But I’ve got to right cause, I can be proportionate, I think I’ve got the… a good opportunity for success, but if I haven’t really tried some things short of killing people and breaking things, that might actually be equally effective. And I should probably try those things, right? So the resort to war isn’t the first course, but neither does this mean that we should actually literally try every conceivable thing we can do before we pull the trigger. This is just saying using wisdom and common sense, is anything short of war likely to bring about, uh, you know the protection of the innocent, the righting of the wrong or the punishing of evil?  

Here’s where they, jus antebellum can kind of come into it a little bit. If war is a last resort, have I done those early things as a nation diplomatically, economically, through international aid, or what have you to prevent wars from becoming necessary, right? So you think of, uh, the case in Somalia when Somalia fell apart. We ended up with, you know, the sea lanes being overrun with pirates. Well why were the sea lanes overrun by pirates? One reason as human beings are, you know, uh, parasitic and opportunistic, they saw an opportunity, they took it. Others were poor fishermen who could no longer fish because other nations’ fishing boats came into their waters because Somalia had fallen apart. Their navy was now gone.  

Nobody’s protecting their territorial waters, so other nations come in, steal their fish. I’m a fisherman, I want to feed my kids. No, I can’t because you took my fish so I can take your boat. All of a sudden I’ve got your boat, and then I realized I could put you up a ransom. Well that worked well, right? So could things have been done early to prevent those kinds of things from happening, right? Maybe we send a destroyer into their waters and we say keep out of their territory, right? Little things like this, like what could we do short of war, and if you’ve seen the movie Captain Phillips, which I encourage you to. It’s a wonderful, it’s a terrible movie, but it’s a very well done terrible movie, um, if you know what I mean. Uh, this is all about the last resort. Sort of failing, right? And we ended up having to kill a bunch of people who… who were liable to be harmed because they were harming other people, but who should never have been brought to a point where they were desperate enough to warrant being harmed, right? Say more about that later, all right. 

That’s when it’s right to fight, okay. That’s the jus ad bellum in noose. There’s more to be said. There’s the second criteria of how do you rightly fight that fight that’s right to fight? This is jus in bello, all right? And there’s three categories classically, though there’s… in Christian just war thinking, and in most just war thinking broadly speaking, there’s really only two, but I, and Eric… I’m gesturing here. Eric’s not here but if Eric were here, he’d be standing here in solidarity.  

We’ve added a third, um, where we’ve added back a third. The second and the third things that have always been there is proportionality and discrimination. I’m going to talk about the first thing in a moment. Proportionality here is similar to what it is in the… when is it right to fight proportionality claim, but here it’s a proportionality of means, right? So, are the means that I’m using to fight this war toward victory likely to do more harm than good? If I don’t employ these tactics that seem to be necessary for victory, am I likely to do more good than harm? So again, you’ve got both ways of looking at this.  

The third criteria is discrimination. I can only harm those who mean me harm. I have to make a basic distinction between combatants and non-combatants, and if Nigel Bigger were here, he would call them competence, and for the longest time I thought the English couldn’t kill incompetence. Michael, but if the enemy’s incompetent, all the better. But he meant combatants, so that’s… anyway. So those are the two things. Proportionality and discrimination. We’ve entered into this, uh, a first criteria that you’ll find an international wall. And it just belongs in just war thinking, and I think the reason it’s not here is in one sense, it’s common sense, and that is whatever tactic you’re considering doing should be militarily necessary. So it’s a necessity requirement. Like, don’t do something if it’s not necessary to secure victory. If it is necessary to secure victory, then you do that thing so long as it’s roughly proportionate and discriminate. 

All right. So these three things come back into it. Now what I want you to hear in both of these criteria are both… a lot of people… there’s been a huge dispute, uh, that’s ongoing about whether or not just war thinking is oriented, um, with a presumption against war or with something else. A presumption, say, against an injustice, all right? Some people who hear the just war criteria and they think it’s a leash, right? It’s preventing wars, but if I’ve talked about these requirements, some of them being required, right? Authority, just cause, right intent… And all these different things, these aren’t necessarily restraints alone. These could also be spurs or goads toward conflict if the innocent need to be protected, if a sufficiently grave wrong needs to be corrected, if sufficiently grave evil needs to be punished, do it. That’s the spur. A 

And then you have these prudential criteria that say, okay, but hold on, are you going to do more good than harm? You know, killing people and breaking things has unintended consequences. Are you ready for those, right? So our council’s restraint, so it’s both and intention. All right. That’s a rough overview of just war thinking. One thing I will say about the jus post bellum, justice after war, is when you’re done killing people and breaking things and the manner in which you fight through killing people and breaking things as that orients towards peace, you have to have some conception of when it’s right to stop fighting, all right? Um, and when you move into the post-war state, it’s probably a rarity. Where if I’ve broken it, I no longer have any responsibility to help fix it. Sometimes that’s the case.  

But in other times, it’s at least prudent to assist where we can, right? Because failing states that, you know, are disordered tend to cause havoc. So the post-bellum state is concerned again, about order, justice, and peace. Probably in that order, right? You need some basic order to be in place in a broken nation. Otherwise things are going to… to really fall apart. More can be said about that. All right. I’m at twenty minutes so I’m going to say three, uh, implications in theater… theoretical assumptions about just war.  

The first thing is that I hope you see that the just war framework um, is really about trying to figure out how to navigate the tension that sometimes exists between faith and responsibility. Or, you could call it duty and wisdom, right? Just how did… how can Christians be faithfully responsible in our world? All right, so within the framework you should see the great moral traditions. You should see the Kantian dimension right in the… in the required criteria of proper authority, right intent, and… and, uh, just cause. And these three things are in place that have to do something right. There’s the imperative. There’s your duty.  

But then there’s the consequentialist dimension which is found in the prudential restraints, right? Now, hold on. What are the consequences of doing this? What are the consequences of not? All right, and then the just war tradition itself presumes that if tis is what a just war looks like, only just people are going to fight proportionately and discriminately, right? We see all sorts of examples of indiscriminate and disproportionate fighting going on right now, right? They are not just war-oriented people who regularly do these things. So just war is also concerned about virtue and character. So the three great moral traditions are all baked into the system. 

The second thing, it’s deeply… and this is related to the first, it’s deeply concerned about human flourishing. Human beings flourish in a fairly limited ecology, right? We can’t be happy. We can’t be, you know… we can’t enjoy, eudemonia in the Aristotelian, Pauline sense in any old way, right? There’s a very limited way in which we can be truly happy, and that’s if our loves are properly ordered. Just war thinking is an effort in helping human beings in conflict moments rightly order their loves as individuals can. I’m going to submit, but I’m not going to defend it unless you want me to in the Q&A that nations too can flourish or not flourish. Nations too can properly order their loves and act on those properly ordered loves, or they can disorder their loves and act on those disordered loves. Okay. Nations, like people, um, and here probably much more analogously, not literally, um, can develop a taste for Heaven, right?  

The acquisition… acquisition of virtue is a… is habituated. We grow into it from doing the next right thing after another. We either develop a taste for heaven, a place that is roughly characterized by, obviously, love of God and relationship with God, but by a people who are oriented toward other people. In acts of self-donation or if we habituate ourselves away from virtue, then we develop and cultivate a taste for hell. We want to be in a place where God might be known, but he’s not worshipped, right? Where we orient toward ourselves and we donate other people for the sake of ourselves, right? So that’s either… that’s the difference between charity or cupidity, right? Two kinds of loves. One rightly oriented, one disordered. All right. 

And lastly, this I’ve said it a couple times, as with individuals so too nations. Here’s the question. I’m going to frame this as a question. The question is because one can effectively prevent or stop a sufficiently gross injustice or harm to an innocent person or a nation, all they… and I’m going to collapse a whole large argument into one word, yes, they should right content. 

 Okay, and then all the prudence is going to follow, but it could go something like this: You could imagine a scenario in which you are a competent swimmer. If you’re like me, then this has to be a mental imaginative exercise, because I’m not a wildly competent swimmer, but imagine you are… you’re walking along, you know, the proverbial beach and in the water, fairly calm, is a person drowning. You’re the only person on the beach, and you know that you’re the only person that can help that person. But you can help them, ought you too, right? And I think most of us would say yes and, and baked into that assumption of yes is probably a series of factors. They might run something like this. First, someone is uh, in sufficiently grave need. Two, that need uh, is morally illicit. What they need is… is permissible. They ought to be able to have it. Three, I can meet that morally illicit need. Four, no one else can do so. Five, no one else… if no one else helps, then the innocent person suffers some major harm. Six, my meeting their need will not unduly hamper my ability to meet my other responsibilities. Seven, I am confident that I can succeed. Eight, I can expect more good than harm to come from this. 

All right. So this in, in one sense is just a set of the factors baked into just war tradition. Now, you change any of those factors and the whole thing becomes more complex. Right? What if I’m walking on the beach with my toddler, right? Do I jump in the water if it’s rough? And maybe the chances of me sufficiently or successfully recruiting them are small, or the harm to me increases. And what about my toddler on the beach? In the meanwhile, you start changing things and… and the scenario changes. But the basic imperative, I think, remains in place. Foreign… It has something to do, we’ve heard it said a lot today, but this idea of national interest… So I’m going to close with this.  

National interest is more for the Christian realist than simply power, security, and wealth. It is those things and if you don’t like that fact, then I would say, grow up but that would be rude. Um, grow up, all right? Uh, my PhD supervisor, I mean, stupefied a room of you know, fairly liberal PhD students by saying well, any U.S. president who doesn’t, this was her voice: “Any U.S. president who doesn’t care about the cost of oil should be impeached,” Right? And that was just like that… that didn’t sit well with almost anybody. I’m in the back, you know, pumping my fist but what she meant is like, you know, among other things, like who suffers most when the price of oil is high or the poor… right? The people who can least endure these things, right? So power, security, and wealth are goods, and they should be preserved, um, we should prevent, deter, or reduce military threats whether they are conventional, nuclear, biochemical, cyber… 

We should prevent those things. Um, we should protect them when these things threaten us, when they threaten our forces abroad, when they threaten allies, when they threaten defense-packed partners, we’ve heard this today. We should protect global trade, financial energy, environmental systems, all right? So all those things are our national interests. So it is that, but it’s more than that. I think national interests for the Christian realist, at least has to encompass this pursuit of virtue that I’ve been talking about. Nations can develop habits of, and a reputation for, virtue. We can develop our military, our financial, our cultural, our diplomatic, our scientific, our industrial, or technological powers, and where we can, we should develop them. We should increase the capacity for these things. We should do it at part, not just for our own welfare, but in order to deploy that power when duty and prudence align to the good of our international relations. Like, we should seek the capacity to do that. 

So, to use the beach analogy, if I’m not a great swimmer, become one just in case I happen to be walking down the proverbial beach and somebody needs my help, right? So I think we should acquire the power to do these things so long as we’re still responsible to other responsibilities, all right? So I end with this, um, I think it’s even right to do this. If that sometimes requires that we hazard American lives or American treasure to do this, even when power, security, and wealth are not directly threatened. And when that happens and when that’s warranted is… is much more complex, but I will say this.  

Um, several people have argued today for American hegemony. Somebody’s going to lead this world, um, when I canvas the available options, um, I vote for America. Uh, I think that we have developed this reputation roughly speaking for virtue. Um, I could defend that if you want me to but, but I think this, um, a good America, active in the world, uh, rebounds not just to the world’s good but to our good. It makes the power that we have cultivated sufferable to those who are beneath that power, right? Um, it makes much of the world, not all of the world, friendlier toward us rather than hostile. All right? So it does rebound to our interest, um, in both indirect and direct ways, all right? But I’m going to end with that.  

10 minutes over my 20 minutes, but we’re still well within time, so if you have questions, comments, complaints, or whatever, please. You know the routine. 


Question: Hi. Good afternoon. My name is Joey, I’m with Patrick Henry College. Thank you so much for your talk, and please forgive my ignorance that comes with my age as I ask these questions. Um, so you posed a question to us that just because one can, we ought to, and your answer to that was that yes, because we can, we ought to. But the nature of just war theory and application to the actions we take in war is because we often take preventative actions, um, in a global international scale, so that we can protect from something bad happening. However, just because that we are created, our fallenness, we tend to make mistakes, and I don’t think that… and I know that Augustine talks about that as well as his fact that the war’s goal should be peace, so I think I can argue that the United States has made mistakes in the past, and engaging itself in wars to prevent something that wasn’t actually there, for example, like in Vietnam, they did not pose a threat to us, and obviously it’s in the context of communism, in the Cold War. But I can pull other examples such as, like, the war in the Philippines when they did not pose a threat to us, they were not interested in us, but we involved ourselves for the means of a greater good. So as Christians, when we are faced with the fact that we have, um, an openness and a vulnerability to the incorrect intelligence or incorrect information, and we mistakes like these, and we haven’t done just war justly, what are the repercussions and how do we respond in context of scripture?  

Answer: Okay, good. Um, I’ve heard a lot of questions there. The… the question you ended up asking somewhat surprised me. Um, so let me take a stab. Where’d you go? I looked down and then you sat down. Oh, you’re there. Okay. Um, so first this is… this is going to sound glib, and so I’m not going to end it here, but abuse, of course doesn’t abdicate proper use, right? So of course we’ve… we’ve abused criteria on all sorts of criterion for when it’s appropriate to fight, and even on occasion, uh, other occasions on how to fight that fight, right? So even a war that lights up, and right to fight, we’ve misfought, um, I don’t know maybe over the last twenty years we could find maybe two really solid examples. 

Um, so abuse doesn’t… doesn’t you know, prevent us from… from using things better. Uh, so that… that’s the first thing, and that sounds good, but there’s actually quite a lot to that, right? Because baked into it, we know, I mean Eric Patterson talking about Christian realism, we know that one of the problems with human beings is that we do suffer perpetually from disordered loves. Sometimes that’s ignorance, sometimes that’s willful, sometimes it’s both. We respond out of fear and lust rather than virtue, right? So all of that is… is a given, so in my own life how do I account for those things? Um, well, accountability right? Um, trying to elongate the time you have, you know, that might call this left of boom, right before things really blow up. Um, you know have… have… do I have an accurate description of the facts on the ground that I think I have right? So any Christian realist, before they can do anything, they have to have the facts on the ground, um, solidly in hand. And that’s going to be a mixed bag. Some of it right, we’re going to get some of it wrong, as you know. 

So you need accountability, which is going to come from partnerships and allies and, and you know, uh, people making the case for not going to war… all of what you’re going to find in any administration worth its… it’s salt, what are the reasons for going? Now, somebody speak against me, right? And you’re gonna, you’re gonna, you’re gonna fight it out, so those are some practical things, um, illustrating the complexity of all of that, you know? If we had time, I could just point you to Eric Patterson’s… he’s got a book called maybe… Just American Wars, or Just and Unjust American Wars? I can’t remember exactly what it’s called, but he makes a case for, and Providence has an issue if you’re… if you are coming to the office tonight for the book launch.  

Okay, um, if you do, we… we have an issue on Vietnam, uh, where we make the case for why Vietnam was a justified war. That doesn’t say it was fought entirely justly, etc. Etc. Um, Eric Patterson in his book makes a case for the Philippines being a just war, uh, so all these things are complex, right? Where do we… where do we land? Was it just, was it unjust, was it just? They thought. Was it not just? They fought, uh, as with anything you… you do the best you can do with the information that you have as you are given to see the right trying to, um, not doing something in almost all of these, if not all of these situations, is doing something because there are consequences of inaction, just like there are consequences of action.  

So that’s all taken for granted. And then, then, you… the question you asked, though, was what are the… what are the… how did you phrase it? What… what are the ramifications, that’s not the word you used, but we’ll… repercussions of all of that? Some of it should be a chastening, right? Um, if we get something wrong today, then what are the lessons that we can learn from that? The problem with human beings. You know, we… we often will say you know, he who doesn’t learn from the lessons of history is bound to repeat them. That’s true. But if we do learn from the lessons of history, we’re bound to make equal but opposite errors, right? So like, there’s no way out of this, like, everything is going to be a struggle as we try to learn from what we’ve done wrong and correct. Sometimes we could correct mid-stream, sometimes we can’t. 

Um, adding any answer I give you should be unsatisfying, because whenever we make an error, when it involves killing people or breaking things, um, there’s… there’s not a lot that should be satisfying in any answer about that, right? But what I don’t want to see is for Americans to lose confidence that we have a role to play in the world, both because of providence and… and the kind of country that we were able to make, given geographical proximity and the mix of people we have. And all those things, but also by the willing intentional choices that we’ve made as a nation. They’re growing to a kind of nation that has the capacity to do enormous good and therefore the capacity to do enormous harm. Right? I don’t want us to lose confidence that we’re that kind of nation and that we have a role to play in the world.  

Um, the other thing I would say, like one practical things would be this. Um, I think Matt touched on this when I talked about my beach scenario. I said, and there is no one else who can help this person, right? Um, America is not alone in the world. And one of those things we should do, um, antebellum is cultivate alliances and make those allies and partners stronger, right? So the regional partners can take care of regional problems, because I am likely to get something wrong in the Middle East. Someone who’s in the Middle East is less likely to get something wrong, right? Because they know the culture, they know the people, they know the interaction of religion, uh, national policy, and all that. So where we can simply aid and support and step back we should do that. Like, that should be a no-brainer. So there’s some practical things we can do to prevent us being that bull in the china shop. So all that is totally dissatisfying and I understand that earlier… that the purpose of just war is to preserve order, promote justice, and protect the innocent. So how does that impact when we’re looking at, say, the ability of nations to have self-determination? If we’re going to be going to war with them, uh, and on the flip side of that, as the people who might be engaging in just war, uh, how we have a view, uh, political perspectives such as imperialism and a benevolent America. All right. 

So the first question about what does that do to self-determination. Remember that just war is always responsive. It never inaugurates the violence. So if a nation has self-determinedly decided to harm the innocent, to do it wrong, or to do evil, um, we’re simply allowing them the consequences of their free decisions by responding to that, right? And that should always be the case, uh. If by self-determination, you mean something like, and I suspect you don’t, but some do, um, look, uh. It’s a sovereign nation. If Assad wants to burrow bomb his own people, he should have permission to burrow bomb his own people. Uh, a sovereign is… he or she or it or they over whom there is no greater and charged with the care of the political community with maintaining the justice, order, and peace of that political community. If a sovereign freely decides to abandon that responsibility to care for the good of his own people, then they have a whole kingdom to themselves, and if there is somebody internal to, in that nation that can unseat them and properly realign the nation, they should. If they can’t, and we can, we should seriously consider doing so. So that’s how I’d answer that, and that’s… and that’s by the way if that sounds judgmental to you, it’s because it’s horribly judgmental right? It’s an ad… it is absolutely, uh, hubristic. Absolutely. But you know, I do it with my kids. I… they weren’t punishment, they… you know it’s… you can’t avoid it.  

Question: Lee Sheffy from Baylor University. Uh, the just war tradition seems to be duly focused on consequences doing more harm or doing more good than harm, um, and almost deontology making sure that we have the right intentions. My question is, how does it tell us how to navigate the tension between our Christian desire to see good consequences, to lift others out of suffering, right? Um, but not to do harm onto others.  

Answer: Okay, if I’m tracking with the question, it’s a great question. If I’m tracking with it, it in part aligns us back with this other question about self-determination, right? So it may be the case that I look at primitive pre-industrial country x and I decide they would really benefit from our invading and bring you know, Tupperware, Netflix, and you know whatever else to them. Wouldn’t that be swell? Just war, it’s just causes right? Or protecting the innocent, righting wrongs, and uh, punishing evil. Um, even though we can do, or think we could do some enormous good, if we just like take them over or invade or do whatever, um, unless we have sufficiently substantial just causes already in place. You can’t do that, and the right intent criteria also says now, I see what you’re doing, you’ve got to… just cause, and you’re going to use it as an excuse to roll in and bring them Tupperware, Netflix and all the rest? You know, no. Um. You do what is… what is proportionately sufficient to right these wrongs. Um, and you do nothing more. 

That’s the… the proportionality thing, baked in um… what I am continually amazed by, with just war thinking is, is just how incredibly comprehensive it is, because as soon as I think I have found an out, oh you know, I couldn’t do this but now that they’ve done this I can do this, I discovered proportionality. Or I discovered the right intent, and I realized, you know, no I really… I really can’t. I have to stay oriented on the just cause and on overturning it and it alone. Um, and you know, and I can’t just go… I can’t use this as an excuse for adventuring, or you know, promoting democracy or, you know, taking their oil, or, you know, avenging that guy trying to kill my dad, or whatever it happens to be. I’m not saying that’s why we did that, right? 

Question: Good afternoon. I’m Kirkland from the Institute of World Politics, a doctoral candidate there. One of the things that I’m struggling with is the verse from Matthew that says I’m sending you among wolves, therefore be shrewd as snakes. Yeah. The paradigm that you just presented for jus ad war, uh ad bellum, and so forth, fits squarely in that Christian realism perspective. If we’re among wolves that do not see, or they have a different paradigm as to what just war is, and on the base, how are we to be shrewd but maintain that… that fidelity with the Christian realism?  

Answer: Right so again, if I’m tracking the way to the question, um, great question, uh, horrible answers, right? So, uh, Vettel in… when was Vettel, right? 18th Century, 19th Century, 18th Century? I can’t remember what, um, he had a comment where he said you can only fight justly if the people you’re fighting are fighting justly, right? If they’re playing by the rules, um, this all works if everybody plays by the rules. And as soon as somebody stops playing by the rules, things really begin to fall apart, and then your best intentions and your… your piety and all the rest go to hell in a handbasket.  

And for an example of this, one could think of, I don’t know, uh, the South Pacific, in you know, 1944, right? Where by the summer of 1944 Japan knew, absolutely knew they had lost that fight. Absolutely knew it. Um, and… and we know they knew it because we intercepted their diplomatic and military, um, uh, communications. So we know they knew they had lost that fight and they at that point, right? If you were to look at the just war criterion, and remember you don’t just go from the… when is the right to fight into the how do you fight the fight that’s right to fight. Never look at this again like the moment of probability of success falls away, right? And all the rest um, in most instances, it’s probably time to stand down, right? Um, they know they had lost. They continued to prosecute the fight for their… their self-confessed reason of making us achieve a victory so bloody that we would sue for terms, uh, more favorable to them. 

Now, we have a series of choices. We can collude with them in their delusion and their refusal to fight justly. And we could continue fighting the fight as we’d been fighting it, um, and maybe that meant invading the island of Japan, the homeland, but probably it meant standing offshore and starving them until they had had enough. And we decided obviously, everybody knows this, to not play that game anymore. And we did something that was morally horrific, but it was morally horrific. I think it was the… it was a moral horror, and I mean that in both senses. It was a horror, and it was a moral one. Um, only because they had made a series of choices, um, that set a context in place in which a mushroom cloud was the most moral think we could do. 

I’m not a lesser evil. It was the greatest possible could we could do to achieve an unconditional surrender as quickly as possible for the sake, not simply of… of our lives, but for Japanese lives, for Chinese lives dying under Japanese occupation, all the rest. So if the weight of the question is like when, when the enemy doesn’t play the game, how do we fight justly? Um, it becomes incredibly complex, and I think… I think you still always try to do… you always aim at the greatest good you can do, and I don’t mean that in a utilitarian sense only. But consequences do matter, and not all consequences is consequentialism, and all the rest is that… is that going in the direction of…? He’s going to say no, that’s not my question. Precisely, no. We want to… we want to fight our adversary before we have to. We have to win. We want to win before having to fight. That’s right. 

So if we have an adversary like the Russians, that have no value of individual rights or individuals that doesn’t, which is contrary to all the… all the paradigms that you presented, how do we shrewdly interact with the… with those spiritual and also practical or real world, um, entities, right? So I mean, so and here we’ve… we’ve reached the extent of my competence. The only thing I can say is that you got to find the things they value and you’ve got to threaten them, right? So how do you deter somebody, um, if I don’t know you… I don’t… I don’t immediately know how I deter you. Um, so I… I have to understand the things you value, um, and I have to convince you that I’m willing to take those things away, and then you might be deterrable. So to hear Matt say that Putin might be deterred is saying, you know, there are going to be grievous consequences, warms my soul. Because I’m… I’m not sure, right? Like I’m… I’m hopeful that he’s not apocalyptic, right? Um, somebody who’s apocalyptic, I don’t know how you deter them, right? Um, so I don’t know how you win that fight before you fight, but um, and that… that sounds grim. Uh, that you threaten the things they value but the only reason that sounds grim is it’s, it’s grim, right?  

Question: Brian Burton, Regional University. Um, quick question, I hope. Uh, so just war here and, and gives the… the Christian, it language that they can use to express national security concerns. And so my question is, how do you use that framework and talk to people who are not Christians? They don’t see the world the same way, knowing that like, law of armed conflict is based upon just war theory, but how do you approach them in such a way that they’re not immediately put off by you looking at the world through faith? 

Answer: Sure, that was a great question. I, but… But I think the answer is in the question, right? Um, just war thinking has funded international law, law of armed conflict. It has funded rules of engagement and all the rest. So you know, when I go through just war criteria at the military academy, I get zero pushback except in you know, I mean obviously, if I’m talking about groundings and you know, the theological underpinnings. Maybe, maybe yes. But when I just get the framework, there are maybe two points where people will push back. One is where I talk about us having positive duties, um, so the… the almost the Kantian bit because, for whatever reason, a lot of people insist no. No we only have negative duties, right? You can’t, you know, unjustly harm someone. You can only harm those who are liable to harm things like that. When I talk about positive duties, to protect the innocent, some people get a little freaked out; mostly the civilian moral philosophers, not just the war fighters.  

Um, so there and then, when I talk about a cause of war being to punish evil people go, ooh right… secularists because that’s a little freaky, like what’s that mean? And frankly, Christians do too. And so, um, I think most of the language is baked in. I think it’s… it’s… it’s there… there’s… there’s fairly little, I think that, um, I mean, you know, in fact sometimes it’s… the it’s… the restraint language that is maybe the most difficult, um, and if you come tonight, I’ll talk about how they’re… there are Christian traditions, one of which has sort of funded Providence ideologically, but against which we also push, um, which counsels a lack of restraint. But I think, I think maybe… maybe that’s another point where just… where council’s more restrained than some version of where I had sometimes at international Walmart. But I… I haven’t found too much of a problem with translation. 

Julie, can be done… we have more questions. Excellent. 

Question: Um, thank you for your talk. I’m Gentry Shannon from Patrick Henry. Henry, who’s kind of intrigued by your mention of the fact that under just cause, preemptive force is not necessarily excluded, um it can still fit under just cause even though all the other examples you gave were responsive. I was just wondering if you could briefly expound on that.  

Answer: I… I might not have heard the first, sorry. Repeat it.  

Response: Um, talking about how preemptive force is not excluded under just cause. I know the rest are responsible. 

Answer: Yeah, so good. Thanks. Uh, preemptive, not being preventative. So a distinction there, and I might fudge on. Preventive, but I… I think I wouldn’t uh, pre… preempt it. So the distinction, um I know you don’t like me and maybe you’re dislike for me someday will lead you to punch me, and so I’m gonna, I’m gonna pick up the podium and hit him. Now that would be like preventive. Um, preemptive is you’re really angry at me for… let’s just assume I’m the innocent party here. You’re really offended. I got the girl, you didn’t. Whatever it happens to be. Um, you… your fist back and you’re about to punch me. I know he’s gonna hit me with a practical certainty, and I punch him first. That’s preemptive.  

So when Egypt masked on the Israeli border in 1967, and they hadn’t yet crossed the trigger point, but Israel knew well if we alert them, we’re in the ocean. So they hit first. That’s preemptive. And they had every reason to believe that they were facing a just cause. They were the innocent party. They were about to be aggressed with a practical certainty. The enemy had made all sorts of, um, signals that they were going to do that. In fact, when they blockaded the port, that was the cause of war, but um, that was preemptive. And just war absolutely allows that because, you know, the just cause is still in place but you can’t invent a reason. Bringing you Tupperware, Netflix… you might hurt me someday. It’s like… Hey. Hi. Um, is the sun… Oh, okay. 

Question: I’m Deborah Weiss, uh, formerly adjunct with the Daniel Morgan school and substitute for the Institute of World Politics. I have to confess I’m Jewish so I don’t know a lot about this, but I’m very interested in the moral and ethical framework in which we design our national strategy and go to war. So my question is about your comment that the goal of war is always peace. But how often have I heard that surrend—that we should surrender with the goal of peace or not get involved with the goal of peace. And it seems to me that the goal should be freedom, um, even if it’s at odds with maintaining the peace. And I was wondering if you could comment on that. 

Answer: Yeah, my guess is, we don’t disagree. It’s just how we’re catching what peace is… I don’t think peace is simply the absence of conflict. A lot of my friends seem to, um… I think peace is the existence of justice and order, um, which you know, would include things like liberty. Um, so you fight for the sake of justice in order without which you can’t have peace. So in order to shoot peace, you have to have order and justice. Good question, though, because it’s clarifying because other people might hear something else. So thank you very much.