Second, I know.
And third, that’s just life.
It is clear to me that humanity has a problem with violence. Not in the sense that humans are against it, repulsed by the mention or act of violent men and the ramifications of their violent deeds. Quite the opposite. I believe humans look forward to violent days wherein they lust, yes, have an insatiable inner drive, an unquenchable thirst for blood. Blood, in particular, of people they believe are deserving of the most disastrous and prejudiced annihilation imaginable.
It is 2023 and we’ve read of the advent of germ warfare, chemical warfare, atomic and nuclear devastation, white phosphorus and napalm bombings. Consider also medieval Europe’s Vlad III of Wallachia who had the tendency of impaling his enemies and littering his surrounding kingdom with their impaled corpses as a warning to all potential and current enemies. He’s known to us as Dracul, the Dragon, or simply, Satan but in his day he was just Vlad the Impaler, not Vlad the Childcare Specialist or Chef Extraordinaire. The Romans liked to line their roads with crucified dissidents. A reminder to all who treaded their roads that in Rome, dissent of any sort, gets one impaled to a tree to decorate the countryside scenery.
Humanity has a corrupt sense of justice. We not only want to see our “enemies” destroyed but also humiliated. Not only humiliated but also dehumanized. Not merely dehumanized but their dehumanization and ensuing annihilation via warfare justified.
Some of us heard rumors of a video where ISIS militants captured opposing combatants, bound and then threw these prisoners of war in a cage, then lowered this cage with the assistance of a tractor into a pool, drowning the men for no other reason than they could. Others yet, hands bound behind their backs, blinded folded, and marched up to the rooftops to be pushed off the edge. Once their bodies crashed to the ground below, shouts of joy erupted, ecstasy of blood, of gore filled the air as Jihadist celebrated the death of “infidels.”
Humanity has a corrupt sense of justice. Yes, I mean it. We not only want to see our “enemies” destroyed but also humiliated. Not only humiliated but also dehumanized. Not merely dehumanized but their dehumanization and ensuing annihilation via warfare justified. It’s a collective coping mechanism that helps us move on with life.
But what is a “just war” and who gets to provide the definitive answer on when a war, its ensuing strategies, and consequences were, indeed, justified?
Just War: Defined
The Carnegie Council provides us with definition of this theory:
“Just war theory presumes that there are legitimate uses of war but also sets moral boundaries on the waging of war. It deals with two fundamental questions concerning the ethics of war and peace: When is it morally and legally justified to go to war? What moral principles should we follow during war? Jus ad bellum (moral justifications for going to war) requires that the cause for war is just; the right authority makes the decision; the decision is made with the right intention of bringing about peace; the war is a last resort; the overall evil of the war does not outweigh the good. Jus in bello (moral principles to follow during war) governs the treatment of prisoners; requires the protection of civilians, and prohibits the disproportionate use of force. A third part of just war theory is jus post bellum, denoting justice after war.”
Just war theory presumes that there are legitimate uses of war but also sets moral boundaries on the waging of war.
I love this wholesome and effective definition. It’s broken down into three parts.
Jus ad bellum — justification for war.
Jus in bello — how one behaves and enacts throughout the war.
Jus post bellum — how one behaves or what he (and his nation) do the war.
We can take, for example, the contemporary situation involving the nation of Israel as it has justified or seeks to justify its war against Hamas while obliterating untold numbers of civilians in the process.
Israel claims that their justification for war; or rather, their incessant bomb strikes in Gaza, is that on the morning of October 7, Hamas militants entered Israel to kidnap Israelis, kill non-combatants, and terrorize their nation’s southwestern region. In retaliation, Israel’s defense forces have declared war on Hamas.
This is their jus ad bellum, their justification for war.
Now, Israel has gone about their war in an unquestionably questionable fashion.
Consider again, Carnegie Council’s definition of how one behaves in a war:
…(moral principles to follow during war) governs the treatment of prisoners; requires the protection of civilians, and prohibits the disproportionate use of force…
I estimate that Israel has captured Hamas militants and is holding them captive, under arrest, to be precise, as they, Hamas militants, await trial for charges of terrorism and murder. That is honorable in any nation as it captures non-combatants who have surrendered mid-skirmish or, as is the case in many wars, the combatants in question are injured, incapacitated, or near death and are rescued, treated, and then incarcerated.
Now, how about Israel’s mindset regarding Palestinian civilians in Gaza who are caught between Hamas and Israel’s rockets?
I can’t emphasize enough just how evil, yes, because we’re speaking of war in moral and ethical terms here, for without these categories, we would not be able to distinguish between a just, unjust, good, bad, right, wrong, or evil war.
Israel’s tactic in this war has been condemnable, horrific, devastating, and demoralizing.
I’ve seen countless videos of dismembered children, pulverized flesh, carbonized men, women, and children, rubble-covered bodies, headless corpses, limbless torsos, bloodless sacs of flesh spread over building debris, and heard countless, countless, cries for help, for peace, for a cease fire, for calm, for warmth, for mom, dad, daughter, son, brother, sister, and humanity.
I’ve seen videos of whole apartment complexes disappear from the horizon as Israeli missiles toppled them, one or two at a time, with the residents still inside.
Israel’s jus ad bello (justification for war) against Hamas was definitely on the table. We can discuss Israel’s racist apartheid is condemnable on one hand — on how such mistreatment, prolonged, can birth an insurgency within its borders — and also discuss how Israel’s jus ad bello against Hamas is justified on the other. Both are deserving of discussion and both require solutions. But Israel’s jus in bello, their disproportionate use of force has been evident, and undeniable, and has drastically shifted how Israel’s national partners, sans the USA, view it and assist the nation at this time. Many of its current patterns are striving to provide humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza as I write. Israel, or rather, its national defense force, wants to prevent such aid from reaching the Palestinian people.
But war should be undertaken in such a way that it may seem nothing else than a quest of peace.
Lastly, what of jus post bellum? Namely, justice after the war?
Regarding this war, Israel vs Hamas (and the Palestinian population as a result), we do not know what the end will entail. If the strategy remains, without international interference, I believe it is safe to say that Palestinians residing in Gaza will be further displaced, dehumanized, and deported to the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, or Egypt. There is also a chance that they will seek refugee status in Europe and North America.
Israel will, as it has, continue to justify its war and ensuing war crimes, namely, the murder of civilians, ethnic displacement, and the use of chemical weapons on combatants, non-combative militants, and civilians, and God knows what else.
We do not have the prescient knowledge of how this war will end and how Israel will comport itself as the victor once it does. It is fair, however, to assume that no matter how much horror it dispenses on innocent people, Israel will sadly justify its evil tactics.
I hope to be wrong. I hope to be ashamedly wrong. I want to be. Time, this mischievous agent of truth, will tell.
A History of Just War Theory
Roman philosopher and statesman, Marcus Cicero (106–43 BC) instructed his tumultuous nation to avoid the impractical and often disastrous warmongering that was prevalent in Rome at the time by providing his constituents with a just war theory that focused on restoring peace rather than exploiting it.
“Wars, then, are to be waged in order to render it possible to live in peace without injury; but, victory once gained, those are to be spared who have not been cruel and inhuman in war,” wrote Cicero in De Offices, 44BC.
“It may be understood that no war is just unless after a formal demand of satisfaction for injury, or after an express declaration and proclamation of hostilities. … But war should be undertaken in such a way that it may seem nothing else than a quest of peace.”
St. Augustine or Augustine of Hippo (354–430 AD), famous for authoring The City of God, On Christian Doctrine, and Confessions, amongst many other works, was an African church father and theologian heavily influenced by Cicero’s writings. In turn, he influenced Roman leadership as the empire transitioned from its varied religious practices to a Christian-centric empire. Simply, he Christianized Cicero’s writings and implanted them into the ethos of Roman rules of engagement.
“We do not seek peace in order to be at war, but we go to war that we may have peace. Be peaceful, therefore, in warring, so that you may vanquish those whom you war against, and bring them to the prosperity of peace. … True religion looks upon as peaceful those wars that are waged not for motives of aggrandisement, or cruelty, but with the object of securing peace, of punishing evil-doers, and of uplifting the good.” AQUINAS
St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274 AD), an Italian Dominican friar and philosopher who delved into the just war theory discussion by focusing, as Cicero and Augustine had, on peace as a motivator for and object of a necessary war.
“Peace should be the object of your desire; war should be waged only as a necessity, and waged only that God may by it deliver men from the necessity and preserve them in peace. For peace is not sought in order to the kindling of war, but war is waged in order that peace may be obtained. Therefore, even in waging war, cherish the spirit of a peacemaker, that, by conquering those whom you attack, you may lead them back to the advantages of peace…”
Cicero, Augustine, and Aquinas sought to enshrine just war theories in their respective times because they were witness to a continued effort and use of war not for peace or the preservation of life but as a weapon of devastation and expansionist greed. While Cicero introduced a theory devoid of religious affiliation, originating in natural law rather than spiritual law to attain peace for all involved; vanquished party included. Augustine and Aquinas on the other hand promoted a just war theory that, although focused on the same end, namely, peace, introduced their theories from a Christian perspective.
Whether a naturalist or spiritual origin, just war theorists want a world where peace reigns over war, not the other way around. Mind you, each man mentioned above wrote their musings while their respective worlds were at war.
Cicero: Third Servile War 73–71 BC, Caesar’s Civil War 49–45 BC
Augustine: Gothic War 376–382, Roman Civil War 406–413
Aquinas: Battle of Pelagonia 1259, Campaigns of Licario 1272–1280
To name a few.
When Peace Isn’t The Point Of War
Israel isn’t at war for the sake of peace and stability in the region. Had that been the case, their resolve would have been different on how they approach jus in bello, namely, the way Israel has gone about its war against Hamas. Civilian casualty en masse has been their strategy. There will be no peace as a result of this war because, in the end, those who remain will want restitution and retribution, none of which Israel will offer to appease the very people they have dehumanized for the sake of pulverizing them.
History and time afford us the clarity of thought when it comes to just wars and just how unjust many of them were in their time. This, too, we will see, has the semblance of a just war in theory but in practice it is a criminal enterprise supported by complicit allies and greedy weapons manufacturers. With every bomb that implodes a residential building, hospital, school, or humanitarian aid facility in Gaza, dozens, if not hundreds of insurgents are made from them who will grow to want nothing more than to destroy Israel.
And this just-turned-unjust war case isn’t unique to Israel vs Hamas.
The United States of America declared war on Japan in World War II as a result of Japan’s surprise and unprovoked attack on Pearl Harbor. The United States was within its right, as a nation, to seek peace for its borders and the Asiatic world by repelling Japanese aggression. But, as time has shown, the US’s jus in bello, namely, how they behaved in the war against not just Japanese combatants but also against civilians whose nations were under Japanese imperialistic rule and then under American occupation suffered greatly. Tokyo was firebombed. Two Japanese cities, filled with innocent civilians were atomized off the face of the earth because the Americans discovered a new way to exterminate people through scientific novelties previously relegated to producing energy turned into weapons of mass destruction. Japan soon after surrendered and the Americans justified their firebombings and use of atomic weapons without hesitation.
Before the Rwandan genocide began, before the Hutus used machetes to hack nearly a million of their Tutsi neighbors to death in 100 days, they considered themselves the victims of their victims. They painted a picture that the minority group in their midst was a festering wound, an invasive species set out to harm the national well-being and ethnic existence. Their jus ad bello, their justification for “war” against the Tutsi was preemptive in action and “redemptive” in nature. Hutu propagandists began calling the Tutsi population Inyenzi (cockroaches) before they went about ridding Rwanda of people they considered insects, one hack at a time. History has shown us that simply having a just ad bello does not merit that the justifier be right in their cause and their actions throughout such a cause.
We can go on and on for centuries if needed, via Hitler’s just war theory against the Jews, Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Yugoslavia, and Greece before and during World War II.
China’s Prince Dodo of the Qing Dynasty conquered the Ming Dynasty in 1645, later justifying the murder of some 800,000 civilians in Yangzhou in just ten days. He justified his efforts because the inhabitants of the occupied territory, previously loyal to the Ming Dynasty, refused to bow a knee to their new ruler thus sealing their fate. Some estimate that deaths could be upwards of two million people killed in those ten days, making this massacre the worst of its kind and size in recorded history.
In 1995, the Bosnian government justified the liquidation of its Muslim population, killing somewhere between 7,000–8,000 Muslim people to achieve ethnic-religious purity for the Christian population of Bosnia.
In 1830, American President Andrew Jackson authorized the Indian Removal Act, justifying the displacement of untold numbers of First Nations peoples from the Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Ponca, and Ho-Chunk/Winnebago nations to make space for white American settlers as they expanded their properties westward. Upwards of 14,000 native American men, women, and children were killed as a result. In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln was the orchestrator of the largest mass execution by the US government in American history. He signed the death warrant of 39 members of the Dakota tribe in Minnesota after the US-Dakota War. Their trials lasted no more than five minutes. The men were left to hang by the neck until dead for half an hour, as some 4,000 spectators gathered around to watch.
Even Just Wars Become Unjust With Time
I’m not promoting a worldview or ethical framework where we allow Nazis to kill Jews, homosexuals, political dissidents, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and people with mental health issues indiscriminately and unimpeded. Nazis must be stopped. Peace and stability, the sanctity of life must be restored and upheld. War was the only way to put a stop to their horrible devastation.
And I’m not promoting a world where American chattel slavery could run its course until the end of time. At least in the United States of America, the only way to bring the slave trade to an end was through a civil war without which we might still have a form of chattel slavery in place to this day.
Just wars are required, yes, in the framework in which they are argued for, where peace is the aim, not just for the victims of war but also for the perpetrators once the war concludes. But seldom do we fight for peace. Colonization, imperialist expansion, resource theft, racial superiority, irredentism, revanchism, religious hegemony, etc. tend to be the main justifications for so-called just wars around the world, and we see just how problematic and corrupt intentions are by not only how jus in bello, namely, how disastrous certain nations and peoples go about enacting their “just wars” but also how miserable everyone involved is at the end of said wars, jus post bellum.
Victors end up writing, promoting, and mythologizing the just causes for their wars. The necessary executions post-war as a means to prevent further insurgencies, incursions, aggressions, and retributions.
But if that is the case, as it has been, and I believe it will continue to be, there may be a time wherein we will no longer go about justifying our wars but, in a rather pompous way, develop the most sophisticated way of excusing unjust ones.
I believe we are there now with mass media misinformation at plat, numerous proxy wars — corporate oligarchies financing them — military-industrial complexes, preemptive strikes, fear-mongering, and warmongering with publicity specialists, formerly known as ministers of propaganda, ready to excuse any war crimes not if but when needed.
There are and will be just causes for wars, yes, but the nature of that cause will be judged by how the parties involved go about the war and how they behave once the war ends.
Hamas must be stopped, but not at all costs, for the costs in question are millions of innocent civilians.
Regarding Israel, today?
Jus ad bello? The argument is there.
Jus in bello? Reprehensible. Evil.
Jus post bellum? Time will tell.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. — Proverbs 31:8 NLT