Principles of a Just War

Have you ever examined the concept of whether or not a war is fair – or just? What makes a war just? These principles have developed over thousands of years of warfare – and they make a great lens for examining ANY war!
      In my class, I have used the concept of a Just War to examine the Texas Revolution. We begin the unit with an opening activity where students examine the principles of a Just War.  After this lesson, my students are able to examine both the causes of the Revolution and the events during the Texas Revolution through these principles.
What exactly is a “Just War”? Basically it helps clarify the questions of “Is war the right choice?” And are we “fighting fair” during a war.  These two questions have been asked over the course of thousands of years and across the globe. 
The theory of a Just War goes back thousands of years! Augustine of Hippo (354-430), was one of the first to claim that a Christian could be a soldier who serves God and country honorably. He claimed that, while individuals should not resort immediately to violence, God has given the sword to government for good reason. Nonetheless, he asserted, peacefulness in the face of a grave wrong that could only be stopped by violence would be a sin. Defense of one’s self or others could be necessary, especially when authorized by a legitimate authority.
While not breaking down the conditions necessary for war to be just, Augustine nonetheless originated the very phrase, itself, in his work.
“But, say they, the wise man will wage just wars. As if he would not all the rather lament the necessity of just wars, if he remembers that he is a man; for if they were not just he would not wage them, and would therefore be delivered from all wars.”
Nine hundred years later, Thomas Aquinas (1275-1274) used the authority of Augustine’s arguments as he laid out the conditions under which a war could be just.
·       First, just war must be waged by a properly instituted authority such as the state.
·        Second, war must occur for a good and just purpose rather than for self-gain or as an exercise of power.
·        Third, peace must be a central motive even in the midst of violence.
Out of years of tradition, the Just War Theory developed. The purpose of the theory is to ensure war is morally justifiable through a series of criteria, all of which must be met for a war to be considered just. The criteria are split into two groups: the first establishing just cause “the moral right to go to war”, and the second ‘’right moral conduct within war”. Just War theory proposes that war, while very terrible, is not always the worst option. There may be responsibilities so important, atrocities that can be prevented or outcomes so undesirable they justify war.

           Try applying the Principles of a Just War to your next unit. You could get assignments like these!


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