The Necessity of Force

When one reads pacifists it is easy to assume they have forgotten about sin. Pacifists tend to downplay sin and how ugly the world gets. They assume that all men are reasonable and therefore violence is never necessary. Andrew Fulford responds to this at the end of his book, Jesus and Pacifism.  In this section he is critiquing Stanley Hauerwas’ critique of C.S. Lewis.

What I will note is a false assumption…the idea that all people ultimately have a good will. That is, some pacifism assumes that all violent individuals can ultimately be reasoned with, and therefore force is never really necessary. But this is simply not true, or at least we have no evidence to think it is. Violent sociopaths are people who violate this stricture: they are aware they hurt people and that what they are doing is wrong, but they do it anyway. And Scripture testifies that our experience is correct, that such rebellious people do exist…So in fact there is no good reason to assume we can always talk violent people out of their behavior, and that deep down they are all just folks like us. Sometimes they not.

Force is necessary at times because some men are so wicked that they will not listen to reason. For most of us this is as plain as the sun rising. But some pacifists cannot see this at all. I wonder if the Anabaptistic view of sin is one reason why they lean towards pacifism? That question will need to be answered another day. For now, it is clear that violent force is at times necessary.

Just War Criteria #1: Just Cause


There are two different types of just-war criteria. First, there is criteria for going to war. What conditions are necessary to enter a war righteously? Second, there is the criteria for conducting a just war. What is righteous when waging war?  It is possible to violate the first,  in other words go to war for an unjust reason, but conduct the war in a just manner. There are three criteria that just-war thinkers use to determine whether or not going to war is just. Here is the first. This entire quote is from Charles and Demy’s book War, Peace, and Christianity. 

Just Cause. To establish the justness of a cause is to make fundamental moral distinctions-for example between innocence and guilt, between the criminal and punitive act, between retribution and revenge, between egregious human-rights violations (“crimes against humanity”) and the need for humanitarian intervention to restore basic human rights. In principle, just cause is motivated by two chief concerns: to rectify injustice or to prevent injustice; hence Aquinas can argue that “those who are attacked are attacked because they deserve on account of some wrong they have done.”

As fundamental as this idea is to Christianity and to humanity, in our age it difficult to swallow. Why? Many people, even Christians, are not sure objective truth can even be discovered. Can we really tell who is right and who is wrong? Aren’t all sides wrong in a war?  Aren’t we just talking about degrees of guilt with no real innocence? Who can even determine if a cause is just or not? Relativity has infected us to such a degree that many Christians not only cannot tell the difference between innocence and guilt, they are not sure such a difference even exists, at least in the practical area of day to day life.

As I read Charles and Demy’s book one thought that struck me over and over again was that just-war thinking only works in a world of objective truth. If we cannot know what is true and good then justice is lost. For just-war thinking to prevail there must be a standard of guilt and innocence and the belief that with time and wisdom we can determine who the guilty party is in a conflict.

True Peace is a By-Product of Justice

I am going to put quotes on my  blog from Charles and Demy’s book War, Peace, and Christianity from time to time. I found the book helpful in giving some of the basics of just war thinking and how it is different from pacifism and war hawks.  In this quote they lay out the idea, which is repeated throughout the book, that the aim of just war thinking is a a peace that comes from justly/righteously ordered human relationships. There can be a unjust peace and a just war. All punctuation and formatting is their’s except brackets.

Just-war thinking is not concerned first and foremost with military tactics and strategy. Nor does it serve as justification for any or all military conflict. Rather, it is an approach to statecraft that view peace as not only possibly but morally obligatory as a by-product of justly ordered human relationships. Peace, in this light, is not to be understood merely as the absence of conflict; it is rather the fruit or consequence-the by-product-of a justly ordered society. At its best, the just war tradition has worked to forge moral and political links between the limited use of armed force and the pursuit of peace, security, justice, and freedom. This linkage rests on a foundational assumption: that morality and politics “do not exist in hermetically sealed compartments of life. Rather, the tradition insists that there is one indivisible human universe of thought and action, a universe that is…inescapably moral and inescapably political.” [Citing George Wiegel]

The just-war position, then, is an account of ordering society in a manner that “places politics within an ethically shaped framework” and commits its citizens to debates “whenever and wherever a resort to force is contemplated.” [Citing Jean Elshtain] As such, just-war moral reasoning can be formulated according to basic assumptions about human nature that guide our social and political arrangements. Just war reasoning

  • promotes skepticism and queasiness about the use and abuse of power while not opting out of political reality altogether in favor of utopian fantasies,
  • requires action and judgment in world of limits, estrangement, and partial justice,
  • fosters recognition of the provisional nature of all political arrangements,
  • advances respect for other peoples and nations, in terms of both autonomy and accountability,
  • acknowledges the necessity of self-defense and intervention against unjust aggression and gross oppression while refusing to legitimize imperialistic crusades and empire building.

A Presumption Against Injustice, Not War


One of the key insights from Charles and Demy’s book is the shift in just-war thinking since World War II. The just war tradition used to proceed on a presumption against injustice. When injustice occurred coercive force could be used to correct that injustice. The use of coercive force would not only be just, but a necessary act of love. We all understand this in domestic situations. If a man steals another man’s car an injustice has occurred. Force could be used to correct that injustice. To allow the thief to go free for the sake of peace is morally repugnant.

But since WWII there has been a move or rather a subversion of just-war thinking where now the presumption is not against injustice, but against force, violence, and war itself. The authors spend quite a bit of time addressing this shift. They do not see it has  good one. It is not in keeping with just-war tradition and most importantly sides with the oppressor and leaves the weak trodden underfoot. Here are a few quotes from early in their book which address this shift.

Thus already in 1960, Roman Catholic theologian John Courtney Murray could write that the use of force was no longer considered a moral means for redress of violated legal rights. The justness of the cause, he worried, has become “irrelevant, ” and [the words in quote marks are from Murray. Bold mine]

“There simply is no longer a right of self-redress; no individual state may presume to take even the cause of justice into its own hands. Whatever the grievance of the state may be, and however objectionable it may find the status quo, warfare undertaken on the sovereign decision of the national state is an immoral means of settling the grievance and for altering existing conditions.” [End Murray quote]

What Murray conceded is applicable to the present day. There exists today-perhaps less so among laypersons but overwhelmingly so in academic circles and in many religious circles-a presumption against war and force in general rather than a presumption against injustice. 

After citing numerous sources that agree with this shift, including the 1983 statement by the U.S. Catholic Bishops The Challenge of Peace, Charles and Demy say this

The authors assume that peace is the starting point for thinking about justice and that force cannot be a moral entity…the just-war tradition, however, proceeds on a different assumption. Without justice, peace itself can be illegitimate. Again, in the words of Aquinas, “peace is not a virtue, but the fruit of virtue.” The animating spirit of just-war thinking, properly understood, is that “social charity comes to the aid of the oppressed.” [Citing Paul Ramsey] Therefore, if we categorically rule out the possibility of war or coercive force, we then categorically rule out intervention, which may on occasion be an requirement of love rightly construed. The just-war tradition, hence, strongly qualifies “peace” by acknowledging that if this “peace” is not justly ordered, it may well be illegitimate, even oppressive…As thinkers such as Aquinas and Suarez argue, those who wage war in just manner are not opposed to peace, unless, of course, it is an evil peace.

The authors of these sundry statements [denominational papers against war] mistakenly assume that the just-war tradition begins with a presumption against war; however, this reveals a basic misunderstanding of the tradition.  In its moral justification, the classic just-war position issues out of a presumption against injustice and evil…The just-war position proceeds on the assumption that coercive force per se is not evil and that its application depends on the moral character of those employing it. Correlatively, it understands that there are occasions arising from gross injustice in which, reluctantly, we may need to apply coercive force, even if this means going to war, for the protection and preservation of a third party.

Opposed to Injustice, Not Force

The heart of just-war moral reasoning historically has been its opposition to-and, hence a basic presumption against, injustice and oppression. Recent reinterpretations of just-war thinking however, particularly in religious circles have tended instead to proceed on the presumption against war itself. This mutation-and indeed we are justified in describing this shift as a mutation-has led to what James Turner Johnson, perhaps the foremost contemporary authority on the just-war tradition, properly calls, “the broken tradition.” What Johnson is reiterating is simply that the mainstream of classic just-war moral reasoning historically has stood first and foremost against injustice and oppression, not force per se.  Charles and Demy in War, Peace, and Christianity.