Rethinking the Concept of a ‘Just War’

November 23rd, 2004 - by admin

La Civilta Cattolica – 2004-11-23 09:18:38

(November 18, 2004) — Perhaps the clearest sign of the reappraisal of the just war theory came after the Persian Gulf war, on July 6, 1991, when La Civilta Cattolica, the Italian journal which usually reflects Vatican positions on significant issues, came out strongly against the just war theory and for a deeper commitment to peace.

Its editorial, “Christian Conscience and Modern Warfare,” declared that the destructive force of conventional and nuclear weapons makes the just war theory “outdated”and that from now on, Christianity will stress that “modern war is always immoral.”

All war, including “holy wars,” are condemned as immoral. This editorial points to a new understanding of peace in church teaching, to the day when the just war is officially abandoned and the Gospel’s way of peace is officially embraced.

There Are No ‘Just Wars’: All Wars Are Immoral
The 4,000 word editorial cites the Persian Gulf war as an example of the destructive power of modern weapons and how wars are “irrational,” creating more problems than they solve.

“Modern warfare is radically different from wars of the past,” the editors write, “and therefore the theoretical categories and moral judgements which applied to past wars no longer seem applicable to modern warfare.”(8)

“War is always an evil. But its wickedness becomes so much more evident when one looks at modern warfare,” La Civilta Cattolica noted. “If wars of the past, because of the relatively limited losses involved, could be justified–by some–as the lesser evil, this can no longer be said of modern warfare.”

Modern Warfare Is ‘Total War’
Modern warfare is always “total.” The Gulf war is a clear example. In that war, thermonuclear weapons were not used, though at times the employment of tactical nuclear weapons was being considered and it was feared that the Iraqis might have recourse to chemical weapons. But the weapons used were so terribly destructive and lethal that — according to reliable sources — 175,000 soldiers [indeed, well over 200,000] and 30,000 [actually, more than 100,000] Iraqi civilians were killed.

There was also the almost total destruction of the civilian infrastructure (roads, bridges, irrigation systems) as well as the economic and industrial complex of Iraq…. Iraq has been pushed back into a pre-industrial era. Unquestionably, a dramatic change — indeed a radical reversal — in the very nature of war is taking place. “Modern warfare” is radically different from war in the past.(9)

“Today, Christian conscience must deal with the problem of war in a manner radically different from the past,” La Civilta Cattolica continues. “A war cannot really be conducted according to the criteria required for a just war.”

The conditions are unattainable because modern war by its very nature, they point out, is “waged with brutality. It always produces harm that far exceeds any advantages that may accrue in terms of justice and right, and it tends to inflict on the enemy damages much more serious than the good which is being sought and which would otherwise make the war a just war.”(10)

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