Justice and the Just War

A strike against Iraq is unjustified under the Christian theory of just war.

BY: David P. Gushee

 

There is no room for illusions about Saddam Hussein. His rule has brought little but misery and oppression to Iraq. He suppresses every civil liberty that constitutes life in a free society. He imprisons, tortures, and murders those he finds threatening. He has created a cult of personality around himself that rivals those of the worst dictators of the 20th century.

The Bible teaches that government authority comes from God, for our good--but also that rulers can turn evil and bring tremendous suffering to innocent people. As an example of how governmental power can go wrong, Hussein is all you could ask for.

The status of his weapons programs is sobering indeed. While much about his current efforts remains uncertain, Iraq has clearly had extensive biological and chemical weapons capacity. Before the Gulf War, he very nearly had a nuclear weapon built. Hussein used chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds in 1988.

The issue facing Americans isn't whether to believe the best about the sweet reasonableness of Saddam Hussein, however, but what we should do about him. What our government is considering--in perhaps the least secret military planning in history--is an unprovoked preemptive attack on another nation due to the potential threat it poses to our national security. This is really quite novel, and the burden of proof for such an extraordinary action will be very high indeed.

President Bush speaks often of his Christian faith. It would be significant to hear him articulate how that faith is helping to shape his thinking about a possible war with Iraq. If he is not using just war theory, is his faith providing any substantive content to guide his actions?

For Christians such as myself, the moral justification for any attack is the theory of just war. Just war thinking doesn't absolutely rule out resort to force. It does disapprove of preemptive military action on the basis of a theorized future threat or the mere existence of threatening weapons. It also imposes a series of tests-a kind of moral gut check--that must be met before war can be waged. Among the most germane here are three: just cause, competent authority, and last resort.

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