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  • Reverend James Squire

Jus Ad Bellum Just War Theory and Afghanistan

President Biden has called for an end to our troop presence in Afghanistan, America’s long war. The response has been mixed depending upon your political persuasion. Important questions have been raised such as how our allies in that land should be admitted to the United States to avoid killing by the Taliban. There are also concerns about how women will be treated after all of our troops have left since the Taliban views women as having one function. That one function is child bearing. The Taliban is against women’s education and their holding office.

Then President Trump started the call to remove our troops and Biden is now finishing that process. It is a difficult decision. Biden has always been against our never-ending presence there. No one has mentioned an ethical theory that would help bring together the different views of staying or leaving.

The ethical system that could help the American public to understand Biden’s decision is the Just War Theory. It is a theory that has stood the test of time. There are different views of when this theory was first introduced but many ascribe its steps to the Roman, Cicero, and St. Augustine.

Just War Theory is based in Natural Law which is also the philosophical underpinning for Roman Catholicism. However, the Law transcends any religious foundation.

For those of you who have taken a course in Geometry, you can see this Law as proceeding in steps such as a geometric proof. First, you have the assumption that war is a necessary evil. When you come to the decision to go to war, there has to be some intervention to permit you to do this. In between the assumption of war being evil and the act of declaring war, there must be a “justification.” This justification is the Just War Theory which has several criteria that would justify an act of war.

I will simplify the multiple steps that one must have to go to war. First, the war must be fought out of self-defense that is a serious threat to the nation that wants to go to war. Second, only conventional warfare can be used in a war. Civilians need to be spared. Third, and perhaps an important issue that President Biden has mentioned is that there has to be some manner to bring about a successful outcome.

Before we look at the war in Afghanistan, let’s apply this standard to other wars in which we have been involved. The first and second World Wars would qualify and meet these criteria. Some people don’t agree to this conclusion because of the unconventional use of mustard gas in the first World War and the attack on Pearl harbor and dropping of the bomb in the second World War. The war in Vietnam would not qualify because of the gorilla-warfare where a warrior and regular citizen could not be distinguished plus the use of Agent Orange. We were also lied to about the war by Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense about the progress of the war.

Returning to the war in Afghanistan, we entered war with that area after we were attacked on 9/11 with the specific goal of killing Asama Bin Laden and to root out terrorist cells. The war was out of self-defense that morphed into nation building. For the most part, it was fought in a conventional fashion like a football game where two sides of varying strengths go after one another. Biden’s key statement brings us to that point where we can no longer identify what would constitute success after twenty years of being there. That should be his key argument. However, the Just War Clause may also work against him if he is not able to produce a process that gets translators and other allies out in a systematic way. Yesterday, one translator was killed on his way to get his passport. How we help civilians after we leave is also part of Just War Theory. If he fails to do that, we will not be able to help him with Just War Theory.

Notice that he has moved to a different perspective of Utilitarianism in his recent remarks. How many more American lives should we lose before ending this. He appealed to the greatest good for the greatest number of America soldiers. Keep in mind that President Truman did the same thing to explain his dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima. Truman said that many American lives would be saved from an enemy that refuses to give in or give up.

The validity of any ethical argument is based in the criterion that “it has stood the test of time.”

Just War Theory does just that.

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