Question: Is Just War Theory Impossible in Practice?

Question: If just war theory acknowledges that not all military action is justifiable or acceptable, then how does this get worked out practically for individual Christians involved in military service.

It would be (at worst) naive and (at best) presumptuous to assume that one’s nation and military will, without exception, engage in actions and ventures that are deemed allowable according to the strict criteria of just war theory. Inevitably, some things (more likely: most all things) will not meet just war theory’s rigorous criteria.

If this is the case, then how can the just warrior participate in military service if it will potentially (likely; assuredly?) mean becoming complicit in unjust military action? Can you conscientiously object to certain actions, missions, wars, and tactics and not others, i.e., only the ones that you deem “just”?

How does this get worked out? Or is just war theory just an ideal, and we admit we are willing to do unjust things, or at least become complicit in them, because “It’s better than the alternative”? (Honest question)

People often point out the perceived practical problems with pacifism; but the difficulties — as far as I see them — seem to be of equal opportunity.

War is Atrocious

Christian, war is stupid and atrocious. And yet many arenas and features of our culture (I’m particularly looking at entertainment and nationalism here) glorify it.

Christian, don’t contribute to or take part in this glorification of war. It’s a reprehensible thing.

At best war is using lethal force to stop evil, an evil we should wish didn’t exist and need to be met with such force in the first place. At worse it’s a feud that gets taken to a sinful level where we are actually willing to kill because of it (think about that; it’s crazy!) In either case, it is the taking of precious life and is, without exception, outside of God’s original design for this world, i.e., not the way things should be, and, thus, not something we should find in any way attractive or be mesmerized by.

War, in at least certain circumstances, is a definite ethical quandary or dilemma. And I’m not trying to simplify or ignore that reality. In fact, if anything, I’m trying to do the opposite here.

So please, before anyone bombards me with any vicious comments or notifications of their offense, this post isn’t intended to discredit or dishonor servicemen and -women or necessarily to throw out any idea of just war theory or any potential cases of so-called just war (I will leave the pacism v. just war debate to another time and place).

I will just say this: the fact that we as Christians historically have felt the need to engage in such serious reflection about what–if anything–constitutes a just war speaks volumes in and of itself about the nature of war. As I like to say to my more firm just war theory friends, If you’re not at least sympathetic to pacifism, you’re probably not even a just war theorist.