In this introductory edition, Daniel Strand and Marc LiVecche launch a short series dedicated to a discussion of the just war tradition. Over the following episodes, they will discuss jus ad bellum requirements of right authority, just cause, and right intent, as well as the prudential criteria such as last resort, probability of success, and the like. They will then address the tradition’s jus in bello concerns of discrimination and proportionality, and will explore the role that military necessity plays.

This introductory episode discusses the place of just war thinking in Christian thought, its goals and aspirations, and contrary voices.

Rough Transcript

LiVecche: Hello, I am Marc LiVecche. I am the executive editor of Providence: A Journal of Christianity & American Foreign Policy, and I am a Stockdale Research Fellow at the U.S. Naval Academy, and I am one half of True North, a podcast dedicated to helping us find our moral azimuth as we move forward through complicated issues intersecting Christianity and national security, military ethics, diplomacy, and all those sorts of things. The other half of True North is the respected Just War scholar Daniel Strand. Dan, who are you?

Strand: Good afternoon, good morning, wherever you’re tuning in, my name is Daniel Strand. Hello Marc, good to be with you again. I am Assistant Professor of Ethics at the Air War College, and as Marc said, I have similar interests. Those of you who’ve been tuning in to us know we’re here to discuss the topics that often aren’t discussed, maybe are hard to discuss, especially ethics of warfare, which we’re going to be focusing in on for a while now. We’re really going to zero in after our initial kind of episodes looking at various things, and we’ve done some interviews with other people and book reviews and that kind of stuff, we are now going to be focusing on, doing a slow walk through the Just War tradition. And I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to having discussions with Marc, but I’m also looking forward to one of the big motives for us here, to be able to provide what doesn’t seem to be apparent right now, which is just a basic explanation that people in the pews, pastors, people in politics and policy who haven’t spent their better part of the last couple decades studying this stuff will be able to get at least a good introduction, and hopefully more than an introduction, into the Just War tradition. Marc, I’ll pass it over to you.

LiVecche: Absolutely. This is great. This is a, on the one hand, this is going to be significantly less maybe controversial than some of the topics we’ve already covered. We’ve covered the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, things like this, which even within the Just War sort of ideological tribe, if that’s what we are, is a controversial point. There’s lots of bifurcations on how to think about that. We are going to talk about what, if we wanted to put a, what do you call it, not an adjective, not a pronoun, what do you call those things? An adjective, I think it’s an adjective. We’re going to talk about the classical Just War tradition, right. As classically understood. And I think we’ll take that to mean that stream of sort of Christian Realist thought that extends back through Augustine as one of the headwaters of this tradition. Not saying it started with Augustine, so Jim Johnson don’t send me hate mail, but Augustine was a foremost thinker in this. It extends back to the grand thought, extends backwards to classical Greco-Roman thought, and brings us forward not just to Dan Strand and Marc LiVecche, but Nigel Biggar and the old Jean Bethke Elshtain, may her memory be a blessing, Paul Ramsey, even in some ways, though not always, back to a guy like Reinhold Niebuhr, who I think was outside the tradition but he flirted with it, Thomas Aquinas, all of that. So, we stand in a stream of Christian Realistic thinking about the use of force in political life. We thought today we would do an introduction to the Just War tradition as a whole, and then in the next episode we’ll start to walk through as Dan Strand said, a slow walk through the various criteria. So, next session we’ll be looking at legitimate authority, and that will make more sense in just a moment. So, Dan, where are we going with this? What is the Just War tradition, right? I think that’s our opening question. Go ahead.

Strand: I said indeed. Yeah, yep, go ahead.

LiVecche: The way that I’ve often just construed it to try to put together, sort of a pithy introductory statement, is the Just War tradition, and maybe at the get-go we say when we say the Just War tradition, we’re probably overstepping our bounds. It’s probably Just War tradition, because I don’t know that there’s the definite article there, the tradition. There’s at least Just War traditions. And so, I think we would say like Christian Realism, it’s not a firm established doctrinally-based system, it’s a thinking about the use of force.

Strand: Yeah, and I think the other thing, you said traditions, I think it’s, just to put a fine point on it, we are working out of a specific Just War tradition, or traditions, which is developed in Latin Christendom, if you want to call it that. Europe. Has its origins, it’s pre-Christian, drawing upon Roman law. And there is a Roman Just War tradition. It’s a little more, is less formalized. I mean, it actually had a legal form to it, processes that the Romans would engage in, many of them were actually religious traditions. And as you know, we’ve learned, I think it’s been very interesting in the last of war is you see that there’s an Islamic war tradition. Maybe it’s not called Just War, but there is. And it’s a big tradition. It’s not small. There’s not just one position within it. You find a Chinese Just War tradition. It’s the belief that Christians share in common, even though I think our justifications and our reasons are different, that war can be a moral undertaking. I mean, that’s at the most basic level, and it’s animated in the West primarily by religious thinking, like by Christian thinking. Though we’d also want to say Judaism plays a, I mean that Judaism is the forebearer of Christianity. It’s interesting to know that Jews really don’t think about Just War. So, that’s, I mean, that’s a question people like Michael Walter, contemporary secular Jew, has made this point many times. He has found it interesting that Jews have none. That could just be the position of Jews. Anyway, yeah.

LiVecche: And it’s not to say, you look at contemporary Israel, and you look within their rules of engagement, the way they conduct combat, you see what is recognizably the components of the Just War tradition. So, is it blatant? Is it just a tacit understanding? Is it a part of the outworking of a simple Hebraic worldview? I think Dan’s point about across cultures, you find something that resembles Just War thinking, it might not be called that, but it seems to indicate, shockingly, that we all come from one reason, one source. All right. We’re all made in the image of God. And we all recognize that killing people and breaking things is weighty moral business, and that it needs both a goad to tell us when to embark upon those kinds of actions, but it also requires constraints to tell us how to limit those kinds of actions, when to exhibit them, when to restrain them, how to prosecute them, all of those sorts of things. So, it’s a working kind of definition. I think the Just War tradition is that moral framework by which a sovereign, who is that person over whom there is no one greater charged with the care of the political community, and the maintenance of justice and order, and therefore peace. It is a guide to that person to know when to resort to force in the last resort when nothing else will protect the innocent, take back what’s been wrongly taken, or punish the guilty, and how to do so using discriminant and proportionate force. I think that’s a core. What would you add to that?

Strand: No, I think that’s a good definition of what we would say eventually becomes the classic. I mean, what Marc just enunciated is the classic position.

LiVecche: It wasn’t birthed that way.

Strand: Right, yeah. It’s developed over a long period of time. That’s why it’s important, I think, for our listeners to know that it’s a tradition. And Protestants usually don’t like that word; it can be a dirty word. Catholics are much more comfortable with it. I think our Catholic brothers and sisters are probably on firmer ground here. Just the reality that it’s an accumulated body of wisdom, I think that’s the way to think about it. For people who don’t like the word tradition and view it as sort of the ways of man sort of impeding themselves onto pure ideas, it’s just the idea that people think about this stuff for millennia, and it’s just, for whatever reason there’s lots of very interesting reasons why it takes long. And the different streams, you have a more legal stream, you have a more ecclesial stream that focuses on repentance, you have theologians formulating, you have different schools of jurists, you have Roman, I mean, you have canon lawyers. It’s fascinating just to think wow, all this stuff kind of comes together over a long period of time.

LiVecche: Well now, Dan, let me let me just put a fine point to this. You say that we’ve been thinking about this for millennia, and I’m sure that’s true, but point of fact really the millennia begins with a Constantinian compromise, right? When Constantine finally has power? Because the early churches we all often know was pacifistic because they were following Jesus, right?

Strand: Yes, Stanley. Marc doing his best Stanley Hauerwas impersonation. Yeah, and so let’s talk about this, because this is, whenever you talk, especially I mean, I always wonder, Marc, whether or not this we overplay the pacifism stuff. And I think probably yeah, because when you talk to normal, say every run of the day Christians, whether Catholic, Protestant, or whatever, they don’t really mean pacifism, rather just isn’t much on their mind. I don’t think many Christians do around the world honestly, but because they are overrepresented, way overrepresented, in positions of church leadership and theology ethics, you’d think it’s like the dominant position. But it’s not. So, at least we need to address that for some of those who wonder why Marc and I always are getting at this passivist bug. I think it’s because those are the reasons why. So, Marc points out that Constantine, this is the simple narrative if you haven’t heard the narrative. It goes something like this, the Emperor Constantine who comes to power, he’s not actually a Christian at the time, it’s debatable. People have debated and do debate to what extent he was a Christian. He’s baptized before he dies. But it is not debatable that during his reign he claims to see a vision before one of the most famous battles, Battle of the Milvian Bridge, and I think 313. And he has this vision of a cross. And the vision is, different accounts of it report different ways, but believes that God gives him assistance. He ultimately interprets that to be the Christian God. And from that point on, Christianity becomes not institutionally, because paganism and Christianity basically coexist for a while under Constantine and under other emperors to lesser extent. The relationship is not just automatically just switched on, but the narrative that Marc’s alluding to, the pacifist will say Constantine perverted the church. He made the church militarized. He made the church a political church. He co-opted the radical. Church was uniformly pacifist and now Constantine, with the spoils of state and the allure of power, seduces the church into buying into this vision. So, that the Just War tradition, which is a developed system, entirely, or at least begins to, kind of percolate at this moment in the late fourth century, is an outworking of Constantine. The desire for political control, political power I mean, I think it’s interesting. And I hear it, when I hear Christians today railing against people, Christians in political power and political places grasping after authority and power and money, it’s similar in, and I think that’s actually going on in the background. I think that criticism, at least from pacifists, that’s where it starts. That’s the narrative, and we should be pushing that away. That’s not what Christianity is about. Now, I think there’s something to that. I don’t want to say it’s completely wrong, but I mean, I think there’s a place for criticizing Christians for being too power-hungry. So, it’s not to say they don’t have a point in some respects.

LiVecche: What about the question of the early church, the first three centuries say, uniformly pacifist? Do you use that phrase?

Strand: Yeah. Yep, I mean, that’s the de facto, I think. That’s a de facto belief. I would say the interesting thing is when you talk to say theologians, ethicists, and kind of intellectual types, that’s the narrative that they have going in the back of their mind. I don’t know where it came from. It was not the prominent narrative I would say prior to, I mean, I don’t know when it began, but in the 18th and 17th century, you don’t see that as the dominant narrative, “The early church was uniformly pacifist.” And so, somewhere along the way that narrative comes about. And who knows, I mean, I’d be interested in kind of figuring out when that narrative comes to be.

LiVecche: What is the counter evidence? What is the pushback, historical evidence?

Strand: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s primarily amongst historians. So, when you talk about, so, if you talk to kind of the most famous figures like John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, Richard Hays, and their disciples, more popular versions of them, which are less intellectually capable, they recite this. And the counter evidence is that historically it’s become indefensible. There’s just too much evidence to the contrary to say that. Did Christians uniformly not serve in the military? No. Some of the early martyrs we have evidence for were people who served in the military, and they were martyred not because they wouldn’t take up the sword, though in some cases it might have been the case, it was much more complex than that. It wasn’t simply, “Christians don’t fight. We put away the sword.” For instance, often times at least in martyrdom accounts, we see that people refuse to say, worship the standards or the gods associated with particular legions or their sub units. Which I mean, the military, people don’t appreciate, was just how religious the ancient world is. It just suffuses every aspect of life. It’s different than Christianity, Judaism, monotheism, and it’s a different world view. So, you just have to appreciate that. But offering sacrifices, spirituality in a way, let’s just, we won’t go down that rabbit hole, was just suffused through life. And what many Christians objected to was they began to stop participating in that stuff. They went off for incense to the picture of the emperor, called the Genius of the Emperor, that was a big one, and they were killed for it. So, they weren’t killed because of what Hauerwas, and Yoder, and sort of the whole narrative would like you to believe, though they were martyred. They were martyred for the faith. And they were, it’s just become much more complex. In other instances, we found the recent archaeological dig in Germany has turned up that they found what looks to be like a church in this particular military base in Germany. And so, we have evidence that the Roman army accommodated to a certain extent Christianity. Now people might say well it’s water down Christianity, or compromise Christianity, or whatever. Fine, I don’t know. We can debate that out, but you actually have to deal with the evidence. And it looks like there was practicing Christians, and that the Roman army to a certain extent accommodated them. So, that bursts this sort of purest, what I would say sort of purest notion that everything’s pure and radical and everybody’s kind of against the state and violence and all this, and then Constantine comes and flips the switch. And I think like his, I mean, that just I think in general history is so much messier than that. So, that messy narrative now is puncturing that hole, but I mean, when you talk to people who are sort of acolytes of pacifist thinkers, they’re not interested in having that discussion.

LiVecche: Right. So, we talked about what the Just War tradition is. We talked a little bit about where it’s come from. We’ll get more into that as the sessions continue. One of the things we wanted to discuss is what is sort of the why question? Where is Just War tradition heading? We’ll see in a few days, or in a few sessions, that one of the causes, or one of the ways of adjudicating whether or not the use of force is going to be justified, is to examine your own intentions. And we’ll point out that the justifier intention is always aimed at peace. And can that be pushed further? How does, what does peace look like when we talk about the Just War basic orientation? I think what we’ll argue over the coming sessions is that intrinsically that the Just War tradition is aimed at human flourishing. It’s aimed at eudaimonia, right. That in a political order, which is necessary to accommodate the conditions of history, things like order and justice are simple goods without which no other political good, like health and life, can long endure. So, these are political worlds. When we talk about Just War being oriented toward human flourishing and then you imagine a scenario in which there’s an aggressor victimizing a victim, when we talk about human flourishing in that context it becomes self-evident. “Oh okay. I see how the Just War tradition aims at the flourishing of the victim.” If you go and try to rescue the victim from their oppression, that makes perfect sense. But we want to push it further. We want to say it’s not just oriented toward the good of the victim. We would want to say that the person doing the rescuing, right, recognizes their own moral responsibilities and is one made in the image of God, which we will argue later. We are all called to be peacemakers. I mean, you begin to ask well what does a peacemaker look like? You begin to recognize a moral responsibility to protect the welfare of your neighbor, which may at times tragically, not through any choice of our own, require the use of lethal force. When somebody takes up those moral responsibilities, we want to suggest that they are cultivating virtue. They are shaping themselves into something that eventually will look like a child of God. So, the Just Warrior by taking up their Just War responsibilities is aiming at their own flourishing. It is to their own good to develop virtue. It doesn’t add money to their pockets or territory to their land, but the acquisition of virtue is its own good. And maybe even more controversially, we would say, “Well, the victim’s flourishing is in view. The rescuers flourishing is in view. But also, the assailants’ flourishing is in view.” Because if we’re Christians and we take seriously the idea that ultimately the person most affected by sin is the sinner, and if a Just War is only ever launched against an injustice, then absent omniscience and recognizing we may be wrong on occasion, the only time we’d fight is to punish an evil or to protect somebody from that evil. And if that’s the case, then when we restrain our enemy-adversary now from the doing of their unjust actions, then we are aiming at their own good. It is good for them to be stopped, right. I think it’s, Augustine says, “There’s no tragedy bigger than the happiness of sinners.” So, Just War in its basic orientation is aimed at human flourishing, and that may sound crazy and that may sound controversial and counterintuitive, but I think over the next few sessions we’re going to try to demonstrate how that’s the case.

Strand: Yeah. No, I think you touched all the kind of basic impulses behind it. And I think that’s great just to think about it in those terms. The basic understanding of sort of the victim, the aggressor, and then the person charged, either the government, a government defending its own people, or a second party. A party not involved directly. And that brings in the complexity of interventions, right. So, does a more powerful political party or a state have the duty to intervene and stop aggression in the act? So, we would say the example one of the pertinent contemporary examples which Western governments have lamented was Rwanda. You saw genocide taking place. Bill Clinton said it was one of the greatest mistakes of his administration not doing something. Whatever that would have looked like, but Western governments more or less just sat on the sideline and watched that taking place. On your account, we, maybe there was the requirement for us to intervene. We didn’t. So, anything else you want to add?

LiVecche: We’re probably pushing the patience of our viewers, so we should probably end now. But that’s a rough overview. Next session we will give a very brief introduction to the Just War framework as a whole, and then we’ll probably launch into a discussion of legitimate authority as the first criteria.

Strand: All right.

LiVecche: All right. Dan, thanks.

Strand: Thanks, Marc.

LiVecche: Thank you. That was True North.