What Would A Just War Look Like?

“What would an American foreign policy determined by just war principles look like? What would a just war Petagon look like? What kind of virtues would the people of America have to have to sustain a just war foreign policy and Petagon? What kind of training do those in the military have to undergo in order to be willing to take casualties rather than conduct the war unjustly? How would those with the patience necessary to ensure that a war be a last resort be elected to office? Those are the questions that advocates of just war must address before they accuse pacifists of being “unrealistic.””

-Stanley Hauerwas (War And The American Difference, p.26)

If you believe in just war, how do you answer these questions?



16 thoughts on “What Would A Just War Look Like?

  1. Excellent questions…and here I am without answers. Of course, I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a “just war” advocate…but I’m also not necessarily a pacifist…I think God uses what God uses (or allows to happen) based upon his eternal wisdom. Will that use war? Possibly.

    For myself, I take a stance of personal conviction without trying to figure out what to do on national levels…I cannot justify, myself, taking the life of another human, made in the image of God.

    Now, as I’m writing this, something came to mind…justifing war on a national level presumes, on some level, that the given nation is God’s chosen instrument…that seems rather presumptuous and proud. God certainly has used national foreign policy historically for his purposes, but I can’t think of any time when it ever turned out well when someone, at the start, claimed holy justification…after the fact, yeah, we can see it…but up front? Again, that presumes a lot.

    • Mike Friesen says:

      Thanks Robert,
      It would be hard to ignore Romans 13. But, if we are going to claim Romans 13 as Christians in gov’t, then we have to use, I believe, Romans 12, as the baseline for ethics (do not seek vengeance). The only other option is to keep Christians out of politics all together.

      • I wonder if “just war” is really seeking vengeance… For example, Rwuanda…was it seeking vengeance if we went in to stand in the gap and protect the innocent from slaughter? Or is that “greater love has no man than to lay down his life for a friend”? That’s where my tension point is…yes, there’s mediation and arbitration, but while negotiations are happening, assuming you can get them to the table, what is to be done about the continued loss of life from open genocide?

    • Mike Friesen says:

      I think that’s the slippery slope. I don’t think you could get a gov’t to agree on what is just. So the question is then, for Christians I believe is, can I participate in a non-just war gov’t?

      • If for no other reason than to make my voice heard…I don’t think I could hold public office, at least on the national level, for that reason…but in our style of government where participation is available to all, I think we should still speak and vote, but perhaps not much more…

    • Mike Friesen says:

      Have you read Boyd’s Myth of A Christian Nation?

  2. ryanjpugh says:

    I don’t believe there is such thing as just war so I am pretty much asking the same questions as Hauerwas here. I’m also not a pacifist. Not in the way most understand pacifism, anyway. I like the label “non-violent activism”. There’s nothing passive about resisting violence and injustice with love.

    I don’t give much time to thinking about nations. Obviously I recognize that nations and government exist, but I would rather pour myself into the Church and how she can be the counter-cultural society that lives the kingdom of God, on behalf of the world, showing the world a better way to live.

    I think it’s really hard, if not impossible, for a follower of Christ to be in government/military and not be conflicted with serving worldly kingdoms and the kingdom of God. How does one serve both nation and God when nation says to kill? How does one serve both nation and God when the way of nations is to hold power over others?

    • Mike Friesen says:

      I don’t think I could be in any more agreement with you. Did you have some experiences or teachers that helped you come to these conclusions?

      • ryanjpugh says:


        It’s been mostly things that I have read – gospels, Claiborne, Boyd, Hauerwas – that have shaped my thinking on this. I also think in some ways it’s a by-product of falling love with Jesus and his coming kingdom.

        Thanks for getting the conversation going here.


  3. Scott Boren says:

    When I think about what “just war” is, I have to ask “based on who’s standards of “just.” According to American standards, anyone who threatens America, deserves our retribution. Or anyone who does not line up with our capitalistic values—which we call democracy—should have our experience. Rarely do we do to war trying to understand where the enemy is coming from. But that’s not the nature of the American story, the American practices of what it means to be American.

    So “just” war is “just” according to the American “story.” We just change what it means to be “just.”

    That being said, I don’t think it’s possible to do “just war” because war, whatever it is called, runs according to it’s own set of practices. This is not a statement about whether or not a country should or should not go to war. But when 18 yr olds are trained to kill, without any training in things like “seeking first to understand and then to be understood,” what can you expect but killing. The two approaches are mutually exclusive.

    • Mike Friesen says:

      I think you are on about the narcissistic entitlement that we have in America. If someone attacks us and we attack back, we deem our actions morally acceptable (yet we would call there’s evil. And, this is a contradiction for a people who supposedly claim Christianity.” Hauerwas once said that if there is no such thing as a just war, then we should call war what it is…. slaughter.

  4. Tim Sams says:

    Thanks Mike for the opportunity to engage with this issue. I appreciate how the others have approached this. I think Scott Boren and Marty Troyer (@ThePeacePastor) are much more qualified to answer this from the seeking peace/pacifist point of view. But I’ll throw out a few considerations.

    From what I can gather, many throw the origin of “just war theory” at Augustine’s feet, but the more I look into it, it seems that Aquinas was more responsible for articulating what a just war would like. And frankly, were you hold your nation to the criteria of just war, you’d be hard-pressed to justify most of the wars fought. (The Wikipedia article mentioned earlier summarizes the criteria well).

    I guess what I’m more interested in than defending war is defending the need to be peacemakers and in the name of building the Kingdom. Understanding and engaging with our role to actively pursue peace among all peoples is not some neat idea mentioned only in the Sermon on the Mount but a movement of God throughout the whole Scriptures. This is what makes me a pacifist.

    Nations are going to do what nations do though what makes our nation unique is that we do have a say in what it does collectively. Peace is not something that comes without great sacrifice and I’ll be the first to confess that were the USA a pacifist nation that we might just not be where we are today materially nor have the security to engage in the “pursuit of happiness”.

    Like Greg Boyd however, I would assert that this nation is not a Christian nation because the two can’t go together (he quips it’s like having a Christian bicycle). A nation can act in ways that help build the Kingdom but first and foremost, that is not how the Kingdom of God is built (through nations). Nations are meant to have a Power-Over relationship with their people (laws, government, etc.) and the Kingdom of God is built only through Power-Under relationships, coming under people, loving, witnessing and serving.

    Throughout the last 2 millennium we sought to build the Kingdom of God through government–i.e. Christendom. I would offer that while some good things did happen under Christendom, it was not the way of the Kingdom.

    Which gets me back to your question: I think just war theory was meant to help nations act “Christian” without being Christian and so I think it’s a mission that fails ultimately (not the least of which because a nation can’t really be Christian!). On the face of it, it’s a pretty good system and rigorous as well. And that’s probably also why it has been seldom followed.

    Like some of your other contributors here, I have focused less on our nation acting in a pacifist action (or in a just war action per se) and more on building the Kingdom right here in front of me. I have not reconciled what a nation of pacifists would look like, other than a sacrificial state.

    A couple of good resources that I’ve found helpful are the following:

    -Covenant of Peace (The Missing Peace in N.T. Theology and Ethics) by Willard Swartley
    Profound work outlining the peace witness contained within New Testament (essentially a book by book study). This is an important work in the area of peacemaking in terms of foundations.

    -Christians and War, by A. James Reimer
    One of my favorite Mennonite theologians who is regrettably passed away a few years ago. Google his name for other things he has written. This is well written defense that wrestles honestly with how pacifism works and doesn’t work in the real world.

    -The Original Revolution, by John Howard Yoder
    Very important work in this area. Hauerwas felt this book was very important (according to his lectures and writings). I have been through it several times as it’s not an easy read, but I would agree with Hauerwas that Chapter 3 (Peace without Eschatology?) is a foundational chapter for Yoder’s thinking. He is of course an important voice in the Mennonite church in terms of the peace witness.

  5. Tim Sams says:

    A follow up to this discussion is an interesting post by Ted Grimsrud, a theology professor at Eastern Mennonite University entitled, “Was WWII an Unjust War?” at the link below.


    It’s pertinent because he wrestles with how WWII held up under just war theory. You may not agree with his conclusions, but the analysis is worth doing. Ted’s post is part of a series he’s working on for this topic.

    Note if you’re interested in peace studies, he has another blog site called, “Peace Theology” that’s worth visiting:


  6. Mike, I cannot answer any of your questions. I have considered it long and cannot believe that any war is “just”. All wars involve the killing of innocents, not just non-combatants, but children. Of all those who die in war none are the policy makers who bring us into these wars. There is no justice in that. It is the aristocracies sitting back using the proletariat as fodder to further their agendas. How can that ever be just? If I can get my poor to kill more of your poor then I win. It’s a bunch of bull. Let the leaders, the policy makers battle each other and leave the people out of it.

    Sorry. all that incoherent rambling to say, There is no such thing as a just war.

  7. […] What Would A Just War Look Like? (mikefriesen05.wordpress.com) Share this:ShareEmailPrintFacebookTwitterStumbleUponDiggLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. By FmH 0 […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: