When is War Okay?

I’m going to open a can of worms with this one.

Let’s take the War in Iraq out of the equation… And the “war on terror” is such a difficult one to define that we should be careful on discussing that one as well.

What I want to know your thoughts on is,When is war okay?

Was World War 1 justified?

World War 2?

Many Christians are against the Iraq war… And I see some of their points, though I haven’t come to a personal conclusion. I know we (US) are there and can’t just run out right now. I don’t know what specific decisions could have been made better. I know that it is good Saddam is gone. Beyond that, we need to defeat the terrorists that are there… but I have no answers.

What about situations like Darfur? What if Iran or N. Korea get Nukes and are determined to use them? What wars were worth it in the past? In both world wars, the death-tolls were incredible!

Check out these Estimates via Wikipedia: (they seem unreal to me!)

World War 1 between 15 million and 66 million (larger number includes Spainish Flu deaths.)

World War 2 between 60 million and 72 million (the deadliest war ever) Included in these casualties is an estimated 50% civilian casualty!

Korean War between 2.5 million and 3.5 million

Vietnam War between 2.3 million and 3.8 million

American Civil War est. 970,000 (including 350,000 from disease)

Current War in Iraq between 214,000 and 655,000 and counting

I could go on….

Every casualty sucks.

So what makes it worth it? At what point is the cause great enough? Was stopping Hitler from taking over the world to form his Arian nation enough?

What constitues a “just war”. I have no clue.




I know that it is a decision you should make with fear and trembling before the Lord, but that’s about all I know.

So for all those Christians that aren’t total pacificts, but are only for “A JUST WAR”, What does a just war look like?


19 Responses to “When is War Okay?”

  1. 1 misi May 23, 2007 at 2:01 pm

    I’m waiting to hear what people say on this one…..

  2. 2 Heidi Jo May 23, 2007 at 3:06 pm

    i don’t claim to be speaking for my church or with a whole lot of research….but my gut says this:

    when all other means of peaceful reconciliation have been exhausted and no other means of negotiations are feasible.

    now, having said that- i don’t know who gets to decide when ‘peaceful negotiations’ are done. but as an american i vote. and i vote for whomever i feel like will do the just and moral thing in this situation and then pray for them to do what is right.

  3. 3 MDBL May 23, 2007 at 3:09 pm

    A just war is a war which is permissible according to a set of moral or legal rules. The rules applied may be ethical, religious, or formal (such as international law). The rules clasically cover the justification for the war and the conduct of the participants in the war.
    Just war theory has ancient roots. Cicero discussed this idea and its applications. St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas later codified a set of rules for a just war, which today still encompass the points commonly debated.

    In modern language, these rules hold that to be just, a war must meet the following criteria before the use of force:

    War can only be waged for a just cause. Self-defense against an armed attack is one example that is considered just cause.
    War can only be waged under legitimate authority. The sovereign power of the state is usually considered to be legitimate authority.
    War can only be waged with the right intention. Correcting a suffered wrong is considered a right intention, while material gain is not.
    War can only be waged with a reasonable chance of success. It is considered unjust to meaninglessly waste human life and economic resources if defeat is unavoidable.
    War can only be waged as a last resort. War is not just until all realistic options which were likely to right the wrong have been pursued.

    Once war has begun, just war theory also directs how combatants are to act:
    The force used must be proportional to the wrong endured.
    The acts of war should be directed towards the inflictors of the wrong, and not towards civilians caught in circumstances they did not create.
    Torture, either of combatants or of non-combatants is forbidden.

  4. 4 mommyzabs May 23, 2007 at 3:41 pm

    Great stuff HJ and Mdbl.

    HJ, Sounds good for sure. But what wrong suffered entails those efforts to start. I guess that is where I am lost. I’m completely agreed that it should be a last resort.

    MDBL, Thanks so much for the thorough answer, very well mapped out. I will read the article you emailed me for sure and try to go into it with no political bias. Only spiritual bias, because I take that with me everywhere 🙂

    Now on torture. In theory I find that to be the right answer, to never tortuer. But in the fallen world we live in… if torture WOULD bring about knowing where someone like Bin Laden and other highly wanted terrorists, is it then warrented, is it then ‘what is the lesser of evils?’ I know, that quickly could get into a debate of the effectiveness of torture… which is a whole other bag of worms and I’m not sure i want to go that far off topic. I could probably argue each way simply for argument sake, but not because I really have concrete knowledge of if it works or not. I think it would be best to just catch these people with their laptops and blackberries so we can get info that way. But I’m no expert. I have to rely on what people say… and trusted people vouch for both methods, no torture, and torture… and of course then you have the arguement of what IS torture.

    If some sick man had taken your wife and you found his buddy and knew that you could extract info from him if you burned him badly… would you?

    I’m obviously not arguing ANY side of this. Because I don’t know the answers.

  5. 5 wytammic May 23, 2007 at 4:11 pm

    I’m for torturing terrorists to get information. They are not fighting for a particular country and have not signed on to the Geneva convention. Torturing them to save the lives of innocent is a worth while investment. I know that sounds harsh. Sorry.

  6. 6 mommyzabs May 23, 2007 at 4:15 pm

    No need what-so-ever to apologize Tammi. I value your opinions. And I’m asking for everyone’s input 🙂

  7. 7 the Grit May 23, 2007 at 4:25 pm

    Hi mz,

    There is no “just war,” only necessary war. If justice actually existed in the world, people would be wise enough to come to non-violent solutions to the inevitable conflicts that arise between peoples and nations. However, since the world is far from perfect, there are times when words don’t work, and the choice becomes either giving your lunch money to the bully, or kicking his ass after school.

    I’ve always liked to eat far too much to skip lunch.

    the Grit

  8. 8 MDBL May 23, 2007 at 4:52 pm

    Just the type of dialogue you were looking for right Zabs?

    When did you serve Brit? I’m sorry… Grit

    Sounds like you come from a long line of soldiers.

    War can be waged for a just cause… You wanna call it a necessary cause, that’s cool too.

  9. 9 missy May 23, 2007 at 6:29 pm

    I gotta tell ya, I wrestle with this one all the time. I personally don’t LOVE the war we are in right now (although I do NOT support a withdraw at this time), but I also think that there are other wars we should fighting that we aren’t.

    Frankly, I have to say I agree with Grit up there. True justice would be no innocent deaths and compromises always found. In a fallen world there are, however, difficult choices to be made.

    I would never support a war for possessions or financial gain, only to defend the innocent and our country. Terrorism makes this hard though. How do you defend the entire world from an enemy who is scattered and hidden?

    I wish I knew how God truly felt about war. I know there are a ton of times in the Bible when He commanded men to fight, but for some reason it doesn’t make me feel any better. Every time I hear a story of how one of our soldiers died and left behind small children, I know in my heart that isn’t God’s will. So what is the answer??

    You got me.

  10. 10 nicole fortunato May 23, 2007 at 7:34 pm

    so i’m wanting to answer from my understanding as it comes from “Kingdom Ethics” by stassen and gushee because i agree and they definitely write better than i! the chapter i sent you a couple of months back addresses this. MDBL mentions 5 of the 8 rules mentioned in KE.

    here’s a snippet from the intro. to the 8 rules and then the 8 rules with an explanation for the 3 additional to MDBL’s list:

    “… just war theory, rightly understood, ‘is grounded in a strong presumption against the use of violence, a presumption established for the christian by the non-resistent example of jesus and for the rational non-christian by prudent concern for order and mutual security. this presumption against resort to violence may be overcome only by the necessity to vindicate justice and to protect the innocent against unjust aggressors.’ all christians- and others- need to know and remember the eight criteria of just war theory. only if we know the rules that determine when war is just or unjust can we exercise our conscientious responsibility in deciding whether to support or oppose a war which a government proposes to wage on our behalf. the first seven rules concern the need for justice in deciding to go to war, while the eighth concerns the need for justice in the methods used to wage war.

    1. just cause
    2. just authority
    3. last resort
    4. just intention
    5. probability of success
    6. proportionality of cost – ‘proportionality requires that the total good achieved by a victory will…outweigh the total evil and suffering that the war will cause. no one should prescribe a cure that is worse than the disease.’
    7. clear announcement- the government that is about to make war must announce its intention to make war and the conditions for avoiding it.
    8. the war must be fought by just means- in a pragmatic culture like the US, a frequent error is to emphasize the justice of the cause but then overlook the requirement that the means of fighting must be just. to correct this error, we need to emphasize justice in war, or the traditional latin, ‘jus in bello.’ the rule of proportionality of cost must be applied not only to the decision to go to war but also the means used in the war…all members of an enemy nation retain the sanctity of their lives, for they were created in the image of god.”

    i know that’s a lot, but if you get the chance to read Kingdom Ethics, or at least the chapter i sent you, it’s really good at outlining just war as we see it (as christians with jesus and his life as our example).

  11. 11 totaltransformation May 24, 2007 at 9:47 am

    Revolutionary War- Justified. Waging war against a tyrant who is oppressing you is in almost all instances justified.

    War of 1812- Justified. Ditto.

    Mexican-American War- Not Justified. Just a good old fashioned land grab.

    American Civil War- Justified. Absolutely necessary and unavoidable. It was the only way to prevent the expansion of slavery and ending up being the end of slavery.

    Spanish-American War- Not Justified. Just an excuse for territorial expansion.

    World War 1- Not Justified. United States had no dog in this fight and only joined out of some odd loyalty to Britain.

    World War 2- Justified. A true tyrant that posed a real threat to the whole world. I shudder to think what this world might look like today had we not been involved.

    Korean War- Justified and Poorly fought. A necessary step to halting the advance of communism. All the explanation you require can be seen in the miserable existence of the North Korean people under their leftist dictator.

    Vietnam War- Not Justified. Ho only became a communist because we refused to support him against our allies- France. We should have ignored the French and supported Ho.

    First War in Iraq- Justified. Saddam destabilizing a region that is a vital U.S. interest (oil production) produced a borderline justified war. When can we get rid of oil and not have to worry about this kind of stuff anymore? I will be doing my part by using as much solar and wind power on my farm as possible.

    Current War in Iraq- The jury is still out.

  12. 12 robberfly May 24, 2007 at 9:50 am


    i haven’t read the other comments so i may be repeating something someone else has said.

    personally, i feel war is sometimes justified. God calls on the Israelites (David especially) to go to war on multiple occasions.

    i think when you look back and WWI & II you could make the argument that they were justified…in that American involvement was justified and necessary in order prevent another nation and/or madman from taking over the rest of the world.

    the thing that i see about those 2 wars that is different than our current war in iraq is that the US involvement was part of a greater whole (and that US involvement came much later after the wars had been going on for awhile). i think that is my major issue with Iraq. i do believe Saddam Hussein was a madman and i do believe he was a horrible person and should have been taken out of power, however i don’t believe it was the sole responsibility of the US to do so.

    i’ve argued this point before and i think the US taking matters into their own hands and not letting the UN deal with the specifics or create a task force to take Saddam out was a turning point and really hurt our relations with the rest of the world because WE as a nation didn’t and wouldn’t follow the rules that WE expect every other nation to follow.

    now is the UN completely irrelevant and should be done away with? I don’t know and that could be an entirely different discussion. but i think the important issue is that the US didn’t follow protocol set up by an organization that we helped create.

    now in terms of Darfur or the other potential conflicts you mentioned I definitely think that most if not all of these are important issues that should be dealt with. However, I do think that like Iraq, these are issues that are not the US’s sole responsibility to figure out. we should be a part of the solution either as a UN task force or as a collective agreement between multiple nations where we have equal involvement.

    anyways, it’s tough to try and write something so detailed in just a few paragraphs. i hope this made sense.

    good post EJ.

  13. 13 Randy May 24, 2007 at 12:00 pm

    Your question “what is a just war” and then references to WW I and WW II miss an important point. The USA did not start those wars, it only chose when to get involved.

    Maybe a better wuestion is “When should a country take up arms against another country or another people?” Then you can look at each war individually and say yes or no, we were right or wrong.

    WWI and WWII – definitely right, maybe late in both cases.

    Korea & Vietnam – I’m not sure. Part of me wants to play the ever-conservative and say definitely right. Another part wants to do more research.

    Civil War – hey, I’m a southerner. Proud of it. States rights and all that. But I think secession is a bit much. Not sure if there was a better way to resolve the issues at hand. One class from high school said that slavery was only part of the issue and that slavery would likely have ended without the war. The war was more industrial states vs agricultural. I wasn’t there, I can’t say.

    Iraq & Afghanistan – Much tougher question. The issue here is that the current administration doesn’t see this as war against Iraq & Afghanistan, it sees a war against evil. Terrorism, whereever it exists must be wiped out. And if we don’t do it now, it will only get worse (reference WWI and WWII). Part of me agrees. Part of me says the Taliban needed to be wiped out and Saddam needed to be wiped out. But I’m not sure all of me thinks the reasons given are all the right reasons.

  14. 14 the Grit May 24, 2007 at 3:17 pm

    Hi MDBL,

    I passed on my opportunity to serve in Vietnam, and a spot at West Point, a decision that still holds conflicting emotions for me. Of course, now that we have a descent war to fight, I’m too far past prime for the military to be interested in me. My ancestors, from one branch or another, have served in every war reaching back before there was an United States. The first recorded mention of my family name was the granting of land to my very distant relative for fighting at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. I’m still tickled that he picked the winning side 🙂 Maybe it does run in the blood…

    the Grit

  15. 15 MDBL May 24, 2007 at 3:58 pm

    Hahahahaahaha… Excellent

    Practically as I’d pictured.

    Post on Grit, post on.

  16. 16 mommyzabs May 24, 2007 at 4:20 pm

    Great answers!
    MDBL sent me an interesting article written in 2001 before we went to war in Iraq. He didn’t post it so I will. I just thought it interesting in a prophetic sense.
    Defining a Just War

    Also, to clarify (randy) though we didn’t start ww1 and ww2, i would apply the same question on to whether or not we should of entered… which you answered already.

    My dad, who is a.w.o.l. on this post 🙂 Told me last night that he agrees in theory with a lot of the Just war stuff…. but he did point out a flaw in #5, probability of success. Saying that there were many cases in the Bible where Israel was outnumbered and the prospect of the win looked impossible yet were called to go.

    My response was, (playing “devils advocate”) was that we aren’t living in a theocracy, so does that apply. His response was that it is a secular response to say we only go when win is inevitable and that many unforeseen things happen in war-that is the nature of war… and that if the cause is one that is strong enough to mandate a way, you need to go whether or not it looks like you will win. I THINK I am representing him correctly. He made some other points but I don’t remember them… so Dad, you can jump in at anytime.

    On another note-
    IN this discussion there is a lot of agreement… little changes here and there, but no pacifists, no war-mongers either. Isn’t it amazing that we don’t see more of that on Main Stream Media? They always show us the people on polar opposite points… i think it polorizes us all and deteriorates the discussion process. And on a topic SO important as this, i think that they should maintain a level of responsiblity as to facilitating healthy discussion and trying to find a common understanding. Their will always be people on the extremes, but my hunch is there are a lot more that are not… yet we are forced to think we have to choose sides.

  17. 17 avoiceofreason May 24, 2007 at 4:57 pm

    I’m not sure if this will be a long reply or a short one.
    First off I have to state, I honestly feel that those who want to bring in the Bible as a basis for foreign policy and as a basis for governance are asking for trouble. Our government is a secular establishment, and the framers, most of whom were Deists, had the good sense not to bring in relgion other than as a sense of virtue and a belief in God as a general principal rather than as an arbiter of state policy. With that out of the way….

    When is war justified? From a moral ethical standpoint one can argue and try to validate or invalidate claims. Candidly put most nations can put up a valid arguement from their interpretation of the facts and circumstances. The American Revolution was a rebellion if you were a Loyalist, and was fought over reason which were as much to do with monetary and fiscal freedom as theoretical freedom.

    Von Clausewitz wrote that War is merely an extension of state policy by overt means. While this sounds harsh, it is in essence the truth, and states have interests, and in reality the means typically justify the ends to those interests. In essence, this may render the question, which has ethical value, of little practical value. Warfare is a fundamental human occupation, and either war, or the threat of war is typically the underlying coin which makes any negotiation or settlement between states possible. When nations act against their interests, it is not typically out of a sense of humanitarianism, but is based in a practicality that the costs in both human and real capital would be too great for the securing of their own interest.

    Sound cruel, well it gets worse. If one honestly considers human history, one must reach one obvious conclusion. The gathering principal of mankind is warfare. That is historically the only reason why people have banded together is for mutual security and the mutual cooperation towards securing their own interests. This concept is found in the writings of antiquity of every civilization of the planet’s history, and one can’t but hope to understand the concept of nationalism and/or patriotism without the infusion that at the very core of these concepts is the idea that the individual desire for a life of peace and happiness must be subverted to the interests of the state, even to the cost of one’s life. Simply and brutally put that is the price that one pays when they join or are born into a society – which has national interests.

    So, with that view, how nations act within their own interests, let’s quickly examine the wars declared and not declared that the US has involved. Again, justification is really an exercise that is done to try and cleanse the soul from guilt for an action that while unsavory and in many ways depraved is in many ways one of the core behaviors of humans – to act forcefully in support of their interests.

    Revolutionary War – I see as primarily a war of the landed class who wished to have greater political and economic independence. What did John Q. Colonial working on a farm or a shipyard benefit by the changing of allegience from a monarch with a Parliment to a new Republic which was founded by the patricians of the Americas – very little. Rich man’s war – everyone’s fight. Was it in the interest of the US – well, there’d be no US if it weren’t fought, but make sure you know it was about the money as much as the hyperbole.

    War of 1812 – A rather foolish venture where we had our butts handed to us, and were lucky to get out without losing anything. The conflict was economically based, the boarding of our ships, impressment of crews and confiscation of cargo, but was opposed by the leading industrial centers who were effected the most by England and France’s policies. Interestingly, we declared war, and likely was over principal. Was it justified, both sides could claim justification. Our policies hurt England much more than France, even though they impressed our ships too, and England’s claim was that we were siding against her in a “continental” matter.

    War with Mexico – I’d love to bring in Texas as that was really a war about keeping slavery intact, but I won’t. Mexico was pretty much a land grab based upon unresolved issues from Texas’ independence. We chose to fight rather than talk because we knew we could win. Were there issue that caused the war, of course, but the opportunity was too good to resist. Was it just, irrelevent; it served national interest (Manifest Destiny) and if you feel that God has a sense of humor, maybe the Mexicans will have the last laugh with the ruckus over illegal immigration, one can hopefully see my point.

    Civil War – most ridiculous war that was ever fought in our nation’s history, and the bloodiest for us. The war was really fought over whether this nation was primarily a democracy or a republic, and we’re the latter. Slavery being abolished was a happy result, and in my humble opinion the South got off easy. I would have hanged every one of the governor’s and assemblies that had voted for treason – then again – Lincoln wouldn’t have. Please don’t misconstrue, I love the yarns about General Lee and Stonewall Jackson et al, but they were all traitors. This was by far the greatest example of a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight, and one would have hoped it would have resulted in a levelling of the classes in the nation, but it’s amazing what the 95% of those who get the scraps will do for the 5% of those who have the two hams under their arms. Populism did grow a bit in the 1870’s and 1880’s, but by the 1890’s the lessons learned from the war were quickly forgotten.

    Spanish American War – talk about taking advantage of an opening. You would have thought that the Spanish would have learned from the Mexicans that the US – who had interests in international expansion were just itching for the opportunity to grow. The “blowing up of the Maine cough cough..” provided just the excuse we needed. Purely unjustified in the moral sense and perhaps one of the biggest bargains our nation accomplished.

    The War Against the Natives – hardly just. They were in the way and wouldn’t acclamate. Again, interests over justification.

    WWI never should have been fought by anyone. Read the Guns of August, this war was a total clusterF*** from the assassination of Ferdinand. The US was pushed into it, due to the “Luisitania and the Zimmerman Incident”. Also, as was pointed out due to our shared interests, and I would actually state that a “Friendship” with England – and this is one of the big exceptions to the maxim that states do not share friends, only interests. Rarely will the UK and US not act in solidarity – and sometimes not within their own intersts.

    WWII There are more than a few documents out there which state that Pearl Harbor was a ploy by FDR and they are about as plausable as Bush knew about 9/11. There are also some pretty intersting – and actually well documented sources of German intelligence frantically trying to warn the US about Pearl Harbor as the Abwehr didn’t share Hitler’s optimism about the idea of facing the US in a war. However, we were attacked and damned if we’d stand by. If for a moment though you think that ethical issues are considered heavily, the policy of the US/UK and URS concerning the bombing of trains to the concentration camps, after they were fully known about in ’43 – which arguably would have been from a humanitarian perspective, most just – yet was never acted upon. It simply was not in the interests to divert bombers from hitting the industrial centers of Germany and in the end it wasn’t worth it. Pretty harsh, eh?

    Korea – Vietnam – Gulf I and Iraq Phase II all fall within the interests category, although from a policy standpoint Vietnam was a mistake. We should have said Ho Chi Minh was the Asian George Washington, but some bright eyed analyst thought that supporting the French would endear us to DeGaulle. Kind of makes you wonder about military intelligence.

    So – is war justified? Yes, if it is within the interests of a group. The problem is that every group has their interests and they will collaps.

    Sorry if this sounds cynical. It is actually a bit depressing, but there’s the way things should be, and reality. War is reality.

  18. 18 avoiceofreason May 24, 2007 at 5:07 pm

    I forgot about Darfour.

    IF involvement is within US intersts, we’ll be there.

    If intervention for “humanitarian” purposes is important we would have been in Rwanda and would have stopped the Killing Fields. Personally, I would have supported US intervention in both, but I don’t have a problem with nation building.

    While humanitarian interests are cited as pretext for any war as part of the equation, the reality is war is brought about as an extension of state policy by overt means.

    God, I feel like such a wet blanket.

  19. 19 Jim May 25, 2007 at 10:09 pm

    Another question is can a war even be justified? This is a question I think more Christians should ask, but sadly don’t. How did Jesus support war anyway? This is where all you justifiers go running to the OT and find instances of Israelites going to war as sanctioned by God. One major difference being left out is the fact that the US is not Israel. Another fact is Israelis actions were under an old covenant. The new covenant under Jesus is radically different. Love your enemy, turn the other cheek, be willing to die even for those who are enemy to you, etc. How is killing your enemy loving to them?

    Back to just war theory. The list of 8 items mentioned above are so relativistic. Especially in today’s culture of double speak and manipulating words. I can very easily make a very strong case that the US falls way way short on the just war theory for each item with the exception of clear announcement. Because people like to believe authority figures are telling them the truth and the fact that people in the US are so knee jerk defensive of there political ideology, it makes it very easy for people to cherry pick the information they want to believe and ignore other information or dismiss it as spin.

    The neoconservative philosophy is not compatible with the Christianity. Preemptive war can’t be just. Preemptive war is a thought crime. We totally dismiss thought crimes as being a way to manipulate a population. We say that hate crimes are thought crimes because it requires a determination of intent. Sometimes intent is clear, many times it isn’t. Preemptive war is similar but worse because intent is even more difficult to determine and there are too many variables at play.

    Enjoy and God bless.

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