Justice and the Just War Tradition: Human Worth, Moral Formation, and Armed Conflict.
War presents many opportunities and temptations to do wrong and to choose injustice and evil over good. How are we to know how to act when situations are not black-and-white, or when emotions cloud our judgment? These questions are not new, and the discussion surrounding them has been going on since Saint Augustine of Hippo penned the first recognizable form of just war theory in the fifth century. Philosopher Christopher Eberle brings his clear thought and humble wit to the discussion using his particular viewpoint as both a professor at the U.S. Naval Academy and a Christian.
Viewing the just war tradition as the best available framework for reflecting on the morality of war, Eberle aims to "provide a conceptual and prepositional resource that citizens, soldiers, and statesmen can employ as an aid to moral formation." This book is a natural outgrowth of his weighty responsibility to form the morals of the nations future warrior-leaders. What makes his voice particularly worth listening to about this topic is that, while he is a philosopher interested in discussing ideas, he translates these ideas into practical wisdom using historical and generic examples that are easy to follow for anyone interested in the topic. This book is valuable to a range of people, from undergraduates through adult learners who have a basic familiarity with just war theory to seasoned experts in the field. Dr. Eberle brings a Christian element into a discussion that is often bereft of it, as well as an examination of the interior mind and intent, which also are often ignored.
Eberles Christian faith is valuable in that he presents just war theory from the perspective out of which it was created: the heart of Western Christianity. This brings us to his second aim: "to provide an understanding of the morality of war that is open to religious contributions both to the justification and limitation of military violence." This is particularly important given how Osama Bin Laden framed the events of September 11, 200f--as religious "just war." It is only by considering a just war theory reunited with religion that one can meet these claims accurately and reveal them as false. This reunification of just war theory and religion is the raw material that forms the core of what Eberle uses to guide all decision making with regard to right action in war.
In his discussion, Eberle focuses narrowly on the justificatory and motivational core of just war theory. These are the main concepts that draw the boundaries or build the framework for any discussion about whether a war is just. Their purpose is to shape the way we perceive and discipline our minds and hearts about violent communal conflict so as to conduct ourselves justly when we find ourselves involved.
One of the basic elements of Eberle's application of just war theory is the idea that every human life has great and equal worth. Human beings are created as moral agents who naturally want to be good and to do good in their moral relations with others. However, every human being is also a sinner who at times chooses evil as a "good"--resulting in acts of violence around the world. Morally speaking, any violence that kills a human being deprives him or her of this inherent worth and must be seen as a moral wrong. And just as violence by one human being against another is morally wrong, organized violence by one human community against another is morally impermissible.
There are times, however, when this can be overridden, including when one community commits an act or a series of egregious acts that seriously injures another community. According to Eberle, the victimized community can incur an obligation for war to correct the moral injustice. This obligation can be overridden, however, when the evils the war would cause or create exceed the moral good sought.
Eberle shows how just war theory can be used to determine the threshold for egregious action that gives justification for war; what constitutes a proportional response; what actions, thoughts, and emotions in warfare are and are not morally permissible; and when warfare must be stopped. His discussion of each of these topics is tidy, conversational, and a delight to read--fulfilling the book's goal of being a practical handbook to guide citizens, statesmen, and soldiers in making right moral decisions when it comes to war.
The book's most controversial aspect is its conclusion. After artfully building the case for a just war theory, Eberle muddies the waters by writing: "Reliance on the [theory] tempts its adherents to amplify the destructiveness of war in morally troubling respects. When ... human beings are caught up in violent communal conflict, their adherence to the just war theory can render them less likely to fight in accord with the demands of justice than would otherwise be the case." He continues, writing that "this deficiency is not merely a contingent fact about the uses to which some bad actors happen to put the just war theory. Rather, it derives partly from enduring facts about the human condition and partly from the just war theory's core justificatory requirements." Eberle does allow that a just war could be escalated by adding additional war aims. However, given human nature, this also becomes a temptation to misuse the theory to seem to justify escalated warfare and carnage under the guise of avenging the now-exaggerated precipitating moral wrongs.
Here I believe Dr. Eberle overburdens his analysis of just war theory with the problem of human nature. According to traditional Christian doctrine, humans are sinful beings who often choose apparent "goods" over actual goods. As such, people can choose to misuse or abuse any doctrine, theory, or instruction, no matter how ironclad. Still, I do not consider a just war theory that is open to abuse to be a defective theory; if anything, because of that potential it is a realistic one. I highly recommend this work as a useful resource for practical moral formation in just war theory.
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|Publication:||Naval War College Review|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2017|
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