WarningThis information has been archived for reference or research purposes.

Archived Content

Information identified as archived on the Web is for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It has not been altered or updated after the date of archiving. Web pages that are archived on the Web are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats on the "Contact Us" page.

Book Reviews

War as Crucifixion: Essays on Peace, Violence and “Just War”

Edited by John M. Buchanan and David Heim
Chicago: Christian Century Press, 2002. 42 pages, US$ 9.00 plus postage.

Reviewed by Benjamin Zyla

When God Says War is Right: The Christian’s Perspective on How and When to Fight

by Darrell Cole
Colorado Springs, CO, Waterbrook Press, 2002. 161 pages, C$ 16.99

Reviewed by Major Arthur Gans, ret’d

Print PDF

For more information on accessing this file, please visit our help page.

I decided it was appropriate to review these two books together as they both cover some major ideas in the area of the ethics of warfare. That does not, however, mean that they are in any way equal.

War as Crucifixion is a collection of articles from the Christian Century over a period of some sixty years, from the 1930s when Nazism and fascism were spreading over Europe to the 1990s when the first President Bush was contemplating the Gulf War. For anyone familiar with theology during these years, the names of the authors will ring bells: H. Richard and Reinhold Niebuhr, James Turner Johnson, Alan Geyer, and John Howard Yoder. As one might expect from these, the articles are solid expositions of their respective positions. Five of the articles come from the Niebuhr brothers, Richard taking an essentially Christian pacifist view while Reinhold speaks clearly from a “just war” position. Reinhold’s contribution foreshadows his major work: “Moral Man and Immoral Society”. I find all of these articles interesting, but Reinhold’s more realistic.

The second part of the book, “Morality and War in the Persian Gulf”, brings together three modern authors to discuss just war theory as applied in a post-Second World War, post-Vietnam world. James Turner Johnson is perhaps one of the best scholars in the field, and his books are key texts to any discussion of modern “just war” theory. Geyer brings out a number of facts concerning the decision-making process leading to Gulf War I. John Howard Yoder, representing the pacifist point of view, responds to both Johnson and Geyer.

For anyone working in modern “just war” theory, I would commend this small book as a resource and thought-provoker.

Darrell Cole is a professor of religion at Drew University. His book When God Says War Is Right: The Christian Perspective on How and When to Fight is written from a fairly conservative point of view, and I am afraid that Professor Cole has bitten off substantially more than he can chew, particularly when you look at his subtitle.

Most of the book is a competent rehash of points from the works of Ambrose, Augustine, Aquinas and Calvin. Each of these authors is summarized on the topics. The chapter headings will give a good idea of the direction of the work. Some are: Why Christians use force; Christian Virtue and Warfare; When Christians should fight; How Christians should fight; and then three chapters dealing with the Second World War, Vietnam and the Gulf War; Nuclear Weapons and Deterrence; and finally Just Warfare and Terrorism.

The book is fairly short to cover the territory it stakes out. In the theoretical portions, it gives good summaries both of what classical authors have said and of the major points of “just war” theory. It is unfortunate that Cole seems unaware however of much of the philosophical and military work that has been done in this field in recent years. He is unaware of people like James Turner Johnson, James Toner, Nicolas Fotion, Malham Wakin, to name a few who have worked in this vineyard over the past thirty or more years.

I had a difficult time reading this book. I was constantly saying to myself: “But what about...?” Although I would say that I tend to be somewhat on the liberal side of the continuum, both theologically and philosophically, I do respect the work of a number of conservative scholars. Unfortunately, I cannot say that of this book. It really does not answer a questioning Christian in its presentation of either the classical or the ignored modern positions on Christians and warfare. It does not deal adequately with either the early Church’s rejection of participation in military action, nor does it look at the rejection of war by later branches of the Christian tradition. And because it ignores so much of modern scholarship in the field, it really does not present what modern Christians are faced with when dealing with whether God does say that war is right. And I certainly cannot say it puts the Christian Perspective on How and When to Fight.

CMJ Logo

Major the Rev. Arthur Gans is a retired chaplain with a particular interest in military ethics.