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Book Essay

war after september 11

edited by Verna V. Gehring
Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. 99 pages, $20.95 pb


the just war: an american reflection on the morality of war in our time

by Peter S. Temes
Chicago: Ivan R. Dee. 217 pages, $US25.00
by Major Arthur Gans, ret’d

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The two books listed above recently crossed my desk. Both deal with the question of whether 21st century warfare is going to be different from warfare in the 20th century, and both are extremely important for anyone studying the ethics of the use of force in our time.

This topic will continue to be essential for members of the military, for politicians, and for the general citizenry of the nations of the world. Despite the fact that many people wish that it would go away, war will continue to be a part of the lives of people, now, and in the years to come. The question then arises: How and under what circumstances is a nation justified in either going to war or refraining from participation in military actions?

For soldiers, this is a vital question, particularly as the way they answer it will determine how they feel about their profession and their own actions as a member of that profession. For the politician, it is critical because the decisions of the politician in a democracy are the ones that ultimately determine the use, or not, of the military option. Moreover, politicians are finally responsible for both the expenditures of material treasure, and, more importantly, the expenditures of the irreplaceable treasure of human lives. And lastly, the general citizenry are responsible for selecting politicians who will make those decisions and for supporting, or refusing support for those decisions once they are made.

War after September 11 is a collection of short articles written largely by members or former members of the School of Public Affairs at the University of Maryland. There are six chapters, each by a different author, divided into three groups: Traditional Paradigms and their Limits; The Moral Hazards of Military Response; and Looking Ahead: The Possibility of a Comprehensive Approach.

The first group, “Traditional Paradigms and their Limits”, includes “The Ethics of Retaliation” by Judith Lichtenberg, and “Terrorism, Innocence and War” by Robert Fullinwider. Lichtenberg deals extensively with the questions of what she calls forward-looking and backward-looking retaliation. Backward-looking retaliation is, quite simply, “making the perpetrator pay”. Forward-looking retaliation, on the other hand, has as a goal the idea that, by doing so, one can prevent or deter further violence. One might guess that the ‘Bush Doctrine’ of preventive war was following this paradigm. Lichtenberg points out that two elements are necessary for retribution to be respectable – first, that whatever the punishment is, it must fit the crime; second, that the punishment not exceed the crime in severity.

Another element in Lichtenberg’s article is the question of non-combatant immunity. She joins with fellow author Fullinwider in examining the question of why non-combatants should be exempt from attack. She also has an extensive section on the doctrine of Double Effect. Her last two sentences sum up the tenor of her article:

It is crucial that our conduct not blur the line between ourselves and those we condemn. If we abandon the moral high ground, we risk corrupting the standards that render our country worth defending. (Gehring, p. 19)

Fullinwider’s article, “Terrorism, Innocence, and War”, is particularly interesting because it closely examines the concept of “innocence” in relation to non-combatant immunity. Fullinwider deals with one of the most disturbing questions facing a military member in a combat situation: How do I distinguish between the non-combatant and the guerilla in a fluid situation where both may be present in the same group? Some military people have answered this with a resounding: “You don’t. Just kill them all.” Examples of this were given in the recent McKenna series on the Korean War shown on TVO around Remembrance Day. Recently declassified documents showed that orders were given to American pilots during that war to treat all refugee columns as hostile. Such an order is, on its face, a war crime, though one which has never been prosecuted. It violates both the Refugee Convention and the Geneva Conventions dealing with Non-Combatant Immunity.

In a situation such as Iraq, such incidents are more and more likely to happen as guerrilla operations mask themselves in the clothing of their surroundings, and military personnel lose the sense of discrimination that is demanded of an occupying force. As you read Fullinwider’s article, you are faced with all the problems of discrimination that confront combat troops in Iraq, and the answers are not simple.

The second section of the book, “The Moral Hazards of Military Response”, contains two articles: Paul Kahn’s “The Paradox of Riskless War” and David Luban’s “The War on Terrorism and the End of Human Rights.”

Kahn’s article examines in detail the growing problem of asymmetry in warfare. He starts out by saying that non-combatants will be victims in times of war. But the problem that he brings forward is the fact that when warfare becomes as totally asymmetrical as the Second Gulf War, or even the First Gulf War, then those countries with the power to wage this type of military action will have little reason to avoid war. The costs to themselves will be so small in comparison with the costs to the enemy. As Kahn says:

...Riskless warfare, which increasingly characterizes US military policy, pushes up against the limits of the traditional moral justification of combat. If it passes those limits, as arguably it did in Kosovo, warfare must become policing. Policing is the application of force to the morally guilty. The moral difference between policing and warfare requires not just different rules of engagement but different institutions to control the decision to use force” (Gehring, pp. 37-38)

Kahn’s argument throughout the article echoes the feelings of many about the War in Iraq, in particular about the deliberate misleading of the government in regard to weapons of mass destruction, and the connection of Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda.

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BookcoverLuban’s article, “The War on Terrorism and the End of Human Rights” deals with the very real differences between functioning in war and functioning under the rule of law. In the immediate aftermath of 11 September, President George W. Bush spoke of bringing the perpetrators to “justice.” But as time went on, the idea of justice was changed to a “War on Terrorism.” As Luban points out, there is a vast difference here. In war, but not in law, one can treat all combatants as equally guilty, and as targets of lethal force. In war, but not in law, “collateral damage” is permissible. And, finally, in law, evidence and proof are required, while in war, as the saying goes, “the first casualty is truth.”

Luban’s basic argument is that the kind of hybrid proposed by the “War on Terrorism” is dangerous both to those who propose it and those who feel its results. Most serious will be the ultimate collapse of what most of us ‘of a certain age’ have fought for much of our lives, a rule of law, a means to bring both individuals and governments to the bar of justice when they engage in the wholesale violation of human rights.

“Looking Ahead: The Possibility of a Comprehensive Approach” again consists of two articles, Lloyd J. Dumas’s “Is Development an Effective Way to Fight Terrorism?”, and Benjamin R. Barber’s “The War of All against All: Terror and the Politics of Fear.”

The Dumas article spends some time looking at what terrorism is. He defines it in this way: “It is the nature of terrorism to encourage public vulnerability, insecurity and helplessness.” Not all acts of violence, even in a disorganized society, are terrorism. Terrorism has a purpose quite different from most violence. At least some examples could be drawn from the reports from Iraq. Blowing up a mosque to kill a major religious leader is an act of terrorism, but the robbery of a bank, even though accomplished with some serious violence, is not. Unfortunately, many of the reports from Iraq have equated the two and made them almost, if not, equal.

Dumas goes on to suggest that one of the most powerful ways to defeat terrorism is to provide development, which increases the security and political well-being of the society while, at the same time, cutting off the source of recruits for the terrorist groups. Dumas admits that development is not the sole answer, but stresses that it has an important role to play in increasing both security and trust in the population. The nearly total lack of planning for after the war represented by the Pentagon’s approach to Iraq is a strong reason to look more carefully at the question of what you are trying to do when you decide that military action is the simple solution to the problem.

The last article, by Barber, is an analysis of terrorism that looks at how it works, namely by using the “propaganda of the deed” to instill both fear and a sense of loss. Barber’s analysis can be summarized as follows:

There are two democratic deficiencies worth noting, deficiencies that make many people feel like they already live in the state of nature where there is neither safety nor liberty, neither justice nor equality to be had. The first is America’s (and the West’s) democratic deficit: our failure to live up to our aspirations, to encompass and include all of our citizens in the noble formula promising liberty for all. The second is the global democratic deficit: the absence of democratic regulatory and legal institutions at the global level to contain and domesticate the anarchy of international markets, an anarchy that serves terrorism all too well. (Gehring, pp.77-78)

War after September 11 will spark a number of ideas among those who have studied the ethics of war, as well as ethical implications of national security policy. It is written from an American point of view, and does not always recognize that there are others besides the Americans who are concerned about these matters. Nevertheless, I would strongly recommend that this book be added to your professional library; it is one to come back to, several times. Perhaps the most important article for me was Fullinwider’s examination of innocence and non-combatant status. I think he has pinpointed a common misapprehension, and has provided some information and direction at a possible solution.

The second book in this extended review is Peter S. Temes’s The Just War: An American Refelection on the Morality of War in Our Time. Temes is the head of the Antioch, New England Graduate School and former President of the Great Books Foundation. The book is a direct result of a course on the morality of war that he taught at both Harvard and the University of Chicago. His own religious background is Jewish, but his approach to Just War thinking is tempered by a thorough knowledge of the classical materials from Western thought, as well as Jewish and Islamic concepts.

Following an extensive Preface and Introduction, the book is divided into eight chapters and an Afterword. The first four chapters are devoted to covering the history of Just War thinking – from Greek and Latin philosophy, through Augustine and Aquinas and down through the early moderns including Kant, Hegel, Hobbes, Grotius, and Lieber. He also gives a pretty thorough introduction to the major areas of Jewish and Islamic thought on the subject. This introduction to Just War thought is, in my opinion, as good as any I have seen in nearly 30 years of working in this subject area. Temes does not fall into the trap of long and complex quotations from the source materials, but gives enough of the original material to allow you to follow the argument. His language is not technical, but allows the lay person who has not studied the original documents to understand both the direction and the flow of the classical arguments. Indeed, if I were teaching a course on Just War Theory, I would be strongly inclined to use Temes’s first four chapters as a text.

But to limit the book to the first four chapters would be a major mistake. For it is in the last four chapters and the Afterword, that Temes makes his greatest contribution, in my opinion. And it is here that I will concentrate the balance of my review.

Chapter 5, “The Questions of Sequence and Scale”, begins by calling to mind the fact that Just War theory most effectively serves its purpose when it is used to guide policy before a crisis. Temes looks at questions like ‘self defence’, but in a far broader way than those of us in the West have traditionally done. He looks, for example, at the decision-making process in the White House during the First Gulf War, and he asks some very telling questions about both timing and facts that were part of the decision to enter that war. He moves from Gulf War I to September 11, and looks not just at the actions of the attackers, but also at the motives expressed by them. And he raises some questions about the ‘Whys’ behind that terrible event. Following this analysis, Temes writes:

This is the existential moment of war: we do not begin at the beginning. We begin in the middle. As soldier, as head of state, as citizen, we become aware at some point that we are facing dire decisions. Whatever causes we can name for the horrors we can see unfolding will be inadequate to the task of making moral sense of the choices that face us. They will be stories we tell ourselves about why we contemplate doing the awful business of war, but they will be inadequate and incomplete. (Temes, p.135)

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He goes on to ask:

How do we balance the bad motives with the good? How much stain does the soldier or the statesman bear for the base motives and the bad acts that come bound together with the noble motives and good ends that represent the goals of a given war?

Temes does what good Just War philosophers have always done. He asks questions but does not give easy answers. Indeed, he rarely gives any answer. But his questions stimulate our own moral thought.

BookcoverChapter 6, “Saying No and Saying Yes: Protest and the Integrity of Language in Times of War”, deals with some of the most difficult problems that anyone can deal with during the process of deciding to go to war, and during wartime itself, namely, Pilate’s eternal question: “What is truth?” This chapter specifically deals with the problems of the protestor against any specific war. It also looks at the mechanisms that governments use to convince their populations that a particular war is the right action at a particular time. Most of the wars of my lifetime have engendered some form of protest, even that so called “good war,” the Second World War. Temes, in this chapter, helps us see why protest is an essential element of societal thinking about war, even the wars that on their face appear to fulfil the requirements of ‘The Just War’. He also deals in this chapter with questions concerning those who wage war in ‘irregular’ ways. And in a world where the balance of power is essentially one sided, this is a factor that will probably continue to be an essential part of the discussion of warfare in the future.

Chapter 7, “A Just War Theory for the Twenty-first Century”, looks at some of the major ideas of Just War theory in the past, and suggests how they need to be applied in our present century. The first classic idea is that it is essential to reaffirm the idea of non-combatant immunity. Recent military actions have been marked by the fact that there have been a disproportionate number of casualties among the non-combatant populations of the countries where fighting has occurred. Temes goes so far as to suggest that it really is necessary to protect the non-combatant and minimize the harm to the civilian. He moves on from there to suggest that the classic question of legitimate authority needs further reinforcement. As he puts it: “...who exactly is choosing to make war and what the status of the individual soldier is.” Other classic doctrines that he re-emphasizes include “Last Resort” and “the Likelihood of Success.” But he also raises some other important questions as well.

Temes suggests that a much greater emphasis needs to be placed on the questions of the idea of safe passage, and of the duty of warring parties to have some consideration for the environment. The whole question of “Safe Havens” that was important in the War in Bosnia, is critical when considering non-combatant immunity. And the question of the environment is demonstrated by the terrible prevalence of the use of mines in modern warfare, particularly in their use to prevent non-combatants from utilizing agricultural lands. Much of Africa, as well as many other combat areas, are covered with indiscriminately laid and unmapped mine fields, often in the best agricultural lands. And it is not only Third World countries that suffer. I read recently that the French government estimates that it will be more that 100 years before some parts of France will be safe for normal agriculture as a result of unexploded munitions left over from the First and Second World Wars.

A greater emphasis must be placed on the sanctity of all human life. Temes points out that both Judaism and Islam in their classic resources emphasize this principle. “To save one life is to save all mankind,” is common to both traditions. The fact is that much of modern warfare seems to assume that anything goes as long as it is done to “the enemy.” The problem with this is that it becomes entirely too easy to use such an idea to justify non-combatant casualties.

Temes also suggests that individuals’ experiences of war must be respected, He points out that the very lack of respect for war experiences of those who have served their countries in recent and unpopular wars has caused great harm to the soldiers and to the communities they have served. Another point raised is that basic human rights must be respected at all times, not just when it is convenient. Just War is not about the past, but about the future. Too many of the wars of recent years have had their origins in past history rather than in the realities of the present. This would include, for example, the war in Bosnia and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict of the past 50 years. The final points of the chapter are that war should not be about apologetics, as the beginning of Just War Theory was, but about restraint. This will also require us to examine closely our uses of language and justifications.

Chapter 8, “Three Concluding Principles”, examines several experiences of war for some lessons to be learned from them. Here again, Temes’s broad background brings insight to the conduct of Just War – from the American Civil War and Lincoln’s dilemmas, to the experience of Vaclav Havel of Czechoslovakia, and Martin Luther King, Jr. in the American civil rights struggle. In international conflict, he raises the example of the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan, and the Russia and Chechnya.

From all this, he draws three major principles:

  • First, that a Just War sanctifies human life, and treats all life as equally precious.

  • Second, that a Just War is a war about the future, not the past.

  • Third, that a Just War preserves and strengthens the principles of individual rights, based on the notion that the legitimacy of government derives from the consent of the governed.

In the final section of the book, “The Afterword: On the Second Gulf War”, Temes looks at the beginnings of the “War on Terror” and the invasion of Iraq. The last lines, I believe, sum up his opinion at the point of writing:

The American military proved brilliant in the war against Iraq as it exercised force. But the morality of the equation will become clear only when we have discovered over time, what exactly we have forced Iraq to be. (Temes, p. 206)

The book, as its title says, is written from an American point of view. This, in my view, does not lessen its validity. It is, to put it succinctly, the best single work on the subject of Just War that I have read in the past 20 years. I think it should be in the library of every thoughtful soldier who has an interest in the rationale of his profession.

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Major the Rev. Arthur Gans is a retired Army chaplain who has a special interest in military ethics.