"First Trike" Allowed Under "Just War" Theory, Political Scientist Argues

Mar 08, 2003 12:05 PM EST

Much of the criticism leveled by clergy at the Bush Administration for threatening war against Iraq stems from interpretations of "just war" theory that seem to preclude a "first strike" by a nation.

These interpretations are faulty, argues Bradley Watson, associate professor of political science at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA.

"In the context of the war with Iraq, and the war on terror more generally," Watson says, "U.S. Catholic and Episcopal Bishops have been critical of new strategic doctrines, characterized as ‘preemptive strike.’ These positions, framed in ‘just war’ terms, reveal insufficient attention to the importance of prudence, or the proper discretion of the statesman, in matters of war and peace."

"Further, that they do not sufficiently recognize the need for humans to deal with human sinfulness, or the flexibility that ‘just war’ doctrine must and does allow in dealing with this sinfulness in its contemporary manifestations."

"The Bishops (who are critical of the Bush Administration) do not necessarily reflect the ‘Western’ ethical mainstream," he argues. "Classical Western philosophic rationalism was willing to accept war not only as inevitable, but as an ethical good in certain circumstances, and the greatest Christian theologians, including Augustine and Aquinas, support the conclusions of the classical, pre-Christian thinkers."

"The American Founders adopted a synthesis of Catholic natural law teaching and natural rights-based philosophic doctrines as to the nature of just government, which led them also to consider armed conflict to be an ethical good in certain circumstances. Current theological interpretations are therefore in some degree of tension with the Founders’ understanding."

"The classical and Christian thinkers were more realistic and closer to the truth in their assessment of human sinfulness and its implications, than many contemporary theologians."

Watson presented these views at the "Ethics and Terror" Workshop of the Near East-South Asia Center for Strategic Studies National Defense University in Washington, DC Dec. 19. He is now working on a paper on the topic to be titled "Ethics, Religion and Terror: The American Understanding."

By Albert H. Lee
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