The Just War

Part I:  Justice

How one thinks of justice in regard to war depends on how one thinks of justice.  Buddhism, for example, has no doctrine of the just war because, being entirely a doctrine of compassion, it has no room for a doctrine of justice. Christianity, however, inherited a strong concept of justice from the classical civilisation of Greece and Rome, and with that it inherited the concept of the just war, spelled out notably by Cicero.  For much of human history war has been regarded as something totally outside the realm of morality, a brutal fact of life that just had to be accepted as necessary and inevitable.  Moral considerations, though always present to some degree, were typically dismissed as a threat to survival. The idea that war could be drawn into the sphere of morality and subjected effectively to moral conditions was an important achievement of civilization. It could take place because justice, in its traditional understanding, was taken with exceptional seriousness in Greece and especially in Rome.

In this traditional understanding, justice is a rule regulating how we deal with one another.  This is the idea of justice we make use of every day in our ordinary  transactions with other individuals,  when we make an agreement, pay a bill, buy a car, hire a helper or settle a dispute.  This conception of justice is at least as old as recorded history and is familiar to all people everywhere.  It was explored with great acuity by Plato, Aristotle, Cicero and Immanuel Kant, and was the linchpin both of Roman law and of the English Common law.

But during the twentieth century this traditional conception of justice was largely shunted off to the sidelines.  In its place was set up another idea of justice which is fundamentally different.  The question this new conception of justice attempts to answer is not:  how should we act towards other individuals in particular circumstances?  but: how should power be distributed in society?  This new idea is widely referred to at the present time as “economic justice” or “social justice.”  Its answer during the twentieth century has been that power should be distributed equally.

At the present time American society, like most other Western societies, is deeply divided by these two conceptions of justice.  The division runs through every level of our society, from the Supreme Court down to the factory floor and the voting booth.

The new conception of justice, like Buddhism, has no room for the idea of a just war. If you believe justice consists primarily in equality of power in society, it is difficult to make any sense out of the idea of a just war.  Consequently the first question for many people today has become, not what the conditions are for a just war and whether they have been fulfilled, but whether there can ever possibly be such a thing as a just war in the first place.  If we wish to discuss the just war today, we must begin by grasping the differences between these two conceptions of justice, which I will call the Traditional and the New.

Our ordinary and traditional conception of justice was well defined in Roman law (Preface to the Institutes of Justinian, stemming from the jurist Ulpian) in the terms: Do not cause harm to others, and give to each person what belongs to him.  That is, justice is a quality of a person’s will in regard to other people.  Kant defines justice as the quality of a person’s will by which it is in harmony with the freedom of other wills.  Since our character as a person is defined by our will, justice and injustice are qualities of  persons.  A person’s will is expressed in various ways, in actions, in willful omissions, in negligence and weakness of will, for example, and all such expressions of will can be unjust. This is summed up in the Common law in the concept of mens rea. (A term we owe to St. Augustine.)

There is a big difference between a will and a state of affairs.  The one is subjective and the other objective. In the traditional view, a state of affairs cannot be unjust unless it is the product of an unjust will.  A deliberate unjust action, such as a robbery, can produce an unjust state of affairs, namely the possession of stolen goods, but unless a state of affairs is the product of a deliberate unjust action, unless somebody has done something wrong, a state of affairs cannot be unjust.  If I put in my pocket the hundred dollars you accidentally left on the counter, everything depends on my subjective belief whether it was yours or mine. The mere objective fact of having a hundred dollars in one’s pocket by itself is neither just nor unjust. The traditional view of justice emphasizes the responsibility of individuals for their actions and for the consequences of their actions.

In the view of “economic justice” or “social justice,” on the contrary, justice and injustice are not qualities of people’s wills, but are objective states of affairs in society, namely equality and inequality of power, to which people’s wills are essentially irrelevant.  “The primary subject of justice,” says its celebrated proponent John Rawls, is not individuals and their actions, but “the basic structure of society.”  According to the new theory, it is no longer merely unfortunate that some people should be poor and powerless while others are rich and powerful; it is unjust.  The significance of this lies in the fact that justice is everywhere considered the criterion for the legitimate use of force and coercion.

Now inequality of power can occur in a society by chance, or by a chain of circumstances where nobody has done anything wrong.  Economic inequality or poverty can be the natural effect of inequality of talent, or inequality of character.  There is no requirement of mens rea.  There is no interior dimension of justice, it is not a quality of persons or their characters.  Consequently, the effect of social justice is to minimize, and in fact to eliminate, the idea of individual responsibility.


The concept of social justice was first adopted officially in the United States by President Franklin Roosevelt in the policies he implemented during the Great Depression of the 1930s. It took on added force with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in employment on the grounds of race or sex, and the subsequent Civil Rights acts that have extended that. To understand what happened in 1964 we need to distinguish between two different kinds of discrimination: forcible or coercive and peaceful or non-coercive. Forcible or coercive discrimination is the use of force or the threat of force to discriminate.  Slavery was an extreme form of this.  Segregation was another; that was what the Ku Klux Klan practised, and the governments of the Southern states, with their Black Codes and the Jim Crow laws.  Non-coercive or peaceful discrimination, by contrast, consists chiefly in refusing to do business in some way or to some extent with some individual or member of a particular group. Forcible discrimination was always contrary to the traditional concept of justice. But peaceful discrimination was not, for the same reason that boycotts were not. The basic principle was that a refusal to do business could not be construed as causing harm. In a free society everyone had the right to do business or not to do business with anyone else.

The original Civil Rights Movement, from the beginning of the NAACP in 1910, was aimed mainly at eliminating segregation and other forms of forcible discrimination, and that was the purpose of the first six Civil Rights Acts that predated 1964.  But in the Act of 1964 something very different and very significant happened. The concept of civil rights was expanded from the prohibition of forcible to that of peaceful discrimination, or from the Ku Klux Klan and the Jim Crow laws to the peaceful, commercial actions of private individuals. The effect of the 1964 law is to compel persons to do business with the members of certain groups, if they do business at all. It not only prohibits peaceful discrimination on the ground of race, but also on the ground of sex. Unlike the earlier civil rights laws, from the viewpoint of economics the new law was a form of protectionism.   But from the viewpoint of the new theory of justice, it was fair and therefore just.  For the principle of non-peaceful-discrimination is a form of social justice. You will be edified to learn, however, that the 1964 Act makes a special exception for discrimination against communists.  The 1964 law also makes a special exception for religious bodies, which were left free to discriminate in favor of their own members.

With the law of 1964, discrimination as such was implicitly absolutised as an evil, and universalised.  The problem of race the law addressed was a problem of a particular society with a particular history, but the problem of sex was universal. Once discrimination on the ground of sex was prohibited, every other form of discrimination became illegitimate in principle (except, of course, for affirmative action). And this condemnation of peaceful discrimination was soon exported to other countries around the globe.  In remote New Zealand the law now prohibits discrimination on the

grounds of sex, which includes pregnancy and childbirth, marital status, religious belief, ethical belief, colour, race, ethnic or national origin or citizenship, disability,  age, political opinion, employment status,  family status or sexual orientation.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was probably the single step that has most corrupted the sense of justice.   The renowned economist Friedrich Hayek wrote,  “I have come to feel strongly that the greatest service I can still render to my fellow men would be that I could make the speakers and writers among them thoroughly ashamed ever again to employ the term ‘social justice’.”

The Right of Self-Defense

One of the casualties of the doctrine of social justice with its accompanying conceptions of human rights (the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights was heavily influenced by considerations of “social justice”) and civil rights has been the traditional right of self-defense. For certain reasons (such as our constitutional right to bear arms) this problem has been experienced even more in other countries than in the United States. One of these countries is Great Britain.  On the traditional view of justice, as explained for example by John Locke, writing in 1688, the right of self-defense entitles one to kill an intruder who uses force.

 “This makes it lawful for a man to kill a thief, who has not in the least hurt him, nor declared any design upon his life, any farther than, by the use of force, so to get him in his power, as to take away his money, or what he pleases, from him;  because using force, where he has no right, to get me into his power, let his pretence be what it will, I have no reason to suppose, that he who would take away my liberty, would not, when he had me in his power, take away everything else.  And therefore it is lawful for me to treat him as one who has put himself into a state of war with me, i.e. kill him if I can; for to that hazard does he justly expose himself, whoever introduces a state of war, and is aggressor in it.” (Second Treatise, Ch.III.)

And again:

“…force, or a declared design of force, upon the person of another, where there is no common superior on earth to appeal to for relief, is the state of war: and it is the want of such an appeal gives a man the right of war even against an aggressor, tho’ he be in society and a fellow subject. Thus a thief, whom I cannot harm, but by appeal to the law, for having stolen all that I am worth, I may kill, when he sets on me to rob me but of my horse or coat; because the law, which was made for my preservation, where it cannot interpose to secure my life from present force, which, if lost, is capable of no reparation, permits me my own defence, and the right of war, a liberty to kill the aggressor, because the aggressor allows not time to appeal to our common judge, nor the decision of the law, for remedy in a case where the mischief may be irreparable.” (ibid.)

But from the perspective of “social justice,” the criminal should also be considered a victim, namely of disadvantaged societal and perhaps biological circumstances. This entails a very different and much weaker view of the right of self-defence, which tends to defend the rights of the criminal as ardently as those of his victim, and construe strictly the penalties that can be levied against him. The Court of

Appeal in Britain has formulated the rule of self-defence as follows:

“It is not, as we understand it, the law that a person threatened must take to his heels and run.., but what is necessary is that he should demonstrate by his actions that he does not want to fight. He must demonstrate that he is prepared to temporise and disengage and perhaps to make some physical withdrawal. This is a necessary feature for the justification of self-defence, whether the charge is a homicide charge or something less serious.”

The following cases illustrate the new and very diminished right of self-defence in the United Kingdom. In 1973, a young man running on a road at night was stopped by the police and found to be carrying a length of steel, a cycle chain, and a metal clock weight. He explained that a gang of youths had been after him. At his hearing it was found that he had been threatened and had previously notified the police. The justices agreed he had a valid reason to carry the weapons. Indeed, 16 days later he was attacked and beaten so badly he was hospitalised. But the prosecutor appealed the ruling, and the appellate judges insisted that carrying a weapon must be related to an imminent and immediate threat. They sent the case back to the lower court with directions to convict.

In 1978 a man named O’Shea feared he was about to be set upon by a gang of youths. While defending himself he accidentally killed one. The court rejected his plea of self-defence and sentenced him to four years imprisonment. On appeal his sentence was affirmed.

In 1980 a man by the name of Shannon was attacked by a bully – a heavily built man who had previous convictions for violence and had threatened Shannon’s life. Shannon fought back and witnesses described the fight (evidently one-sided) as “pretty frightening.” Shannon testified he was held by the neck and was being dragged down and “kneed.” He lashed out with a pair of scissors and inflicted a fatal blow. The jury heard a great deal of questioning about how Shannon happened to be carrying scissors, an issue irrelevant to the charge.  In the event the jury found him guilty of manslaughter. The Court of Appeal reversed the decision, not because of the verdict, but because of a fault in the judge’s charge.

In 1987, two men assaulted Eric Butler, a 56-year-old British Petroleum executive, in a London subway car, trying to strangle him and smashing his head against the door. No one came to his aid. He later testified, “My air supply was being cut off, my eyes became blurred, and I feared for my life.” In desperation, he unsheathed an ornamental sword blade in his walking stick and slashed at one of his attackers, stabbing the man in the stomach. The assailants were charged with wounding. Butler was tried and convicted of carrying an offensive weapon.

In 1994, an English homeowner, armed with a toy gun, managed to detain two burglars who had broken into his house while he called the police. When the officers arrived, they arrested the homeowner for using an imitation gun to threaten or intimidate. In a similar incident the following year, when an elderly woman fired a toy cap pistol to drive off a group of youths who were threatening her, she was arrested for putting someone in fear. Now the police are pressing Parliament to make imitation guns illegal.

In 1999, in a celebrated case, Tony Martin, a 55-year-old Norfolk farmer living alone in a shabby farmhouse, awakened to the sound of breaking glass as two burglars, both with long criminal records, burst into his home. He had been robbed six times before, and his village, like the majority of rural English communities, had no police presence. He sneaked downstairs with a shotgun and shot at the intruders. Martin received life in prison for killing one burglar, 10 years for wounding the second, and a year for having an unregistered shotgun. The wounded burglar, having served 18 months of a three- year sentence, is now free and has been granted ?5,000 of legal assistance to sue Martin.

The foundation of the concept of the just war is the right of self-defense.  But this right exists only from the point of view of the traditional concept of justice. From the point of view of social justice and civil rights, wars, like individual acts of aggression, break out because of inequality. If one nation carries out an act of aggression on another, the root cause of this is a state of unfairness between them.  The fact that one is an aggressor and the other is defending itself against aggression is a minor consideration.  It may be necessary from a purely practical or political standpoint for the side that is attacked to engage in some self-defense, but it would be misguided to place too much emphasis on that. The side that is carrying out the aggression should not necessarily be considered to have any special responsibility, and may even have right on its side because the other side is very much wealthier or more powerful.  True justice consists in the creation of a basic state of equality of wealth and power between the contestants.  The concept of a just war, then, has no real meaning.  If we wish to have a strong concept of the just war, we must resolutely abandon the idea of social justice and its accompanying concepts of human and civil rights.

Part II:  The Just War

As we have now seen, the idea that a war can be just rests on certain presuppositions.  In particular it presupposes our ordinary or traditional conception of justice, which asks how individuals, and by extension nations, should treat one another. From the perspective of what is known today as “social justice,” it is difficult if not impossible to make out any concept of a just war, because social justice is concerned instead with how power should be distributed in society.  Although many people appear to assume that these two conceptions of justice are compatible with one another, this is demonstrably not the case, for both their fundamental principles and their necessary consequences contradict one another.  We shall proceed, then, on the justified assumption that what I am calling the traditional conception of justice is in its general outlines correct.

Justice in its traditional conception prohibits us from causing harm. However, this is not absolute, but conditional, namely, on not having already been harmed or threatened with harm by the other. Force can legitimately be used to prevent or to punish the unjust use of force. This rule also applies to nations. Do not cause harm to other nations, and give to each nation what belongs to it.  But harm can be used to prevent or to punish the unjust infliction of harm.

The question of justice arises within this framework in regard to war in two ways:  in regard to the initiation of combat, and the conduct of it.  Here we will be concerned mainly with the former.  Under what circumstances can a nation be morally justified in going to war?

St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica (IIa IIae, 40, 1), taught that three conditions are necessary for a war to be just: it must be waged by legitimate authority, there must be a just cause, and it must be waged with a right intention. For Aquinas the legitimate authority was the prince.  We can see the reason for this, that only the ruler should have the right to commit a whole nation to war against another nation.  However, Aquinas does not discuss other kinds of case that are also possible,

for example civil war and wars of independence such as the American war against Britain.  Unless we are willing to say that all such wars are unjust, it is clear that the requirement of legitimate authority cannot be absolute.  At the present time some have argued that, given the existence of the United Nations, there is no legitimate authority to wage any war without its approval.  But it is fatuous to attribute such authority to the United Nations, as the current conflict between Russia and Georgia shows, since Russia, being a permanent member of the Security Council, has the power to veto any action by the United Nations,.  Furthermore, to attribute anything more than moral authority to the United Nations is effectively to deny that sovereign governments have sovereignty — a viewpoint more in accord with “social justice” than ordinary justice.   The Spanish theologian and philosopher Francisco de Vitoria, writing around 1532, argues that “anyone, even a private person, can accept and wage a defensive war…without authority from anyone else,” since “force can be repelled by force.”  This position seems to me to be undoubtedly right.

The second condition and the third laid down by St Thomas are two sides of the same coin, since they are both concerned with the reason for the war. The second condition is that there must be a sufficient justification for inflicting the horrors of war on a population. The third condition, right intention, requires that that justification be a form of self-defense:  the war must not be waged for ulterior motives such as increase of territory or self-aggrandizement.  These provisions are at the heart of just war doctrine.

Other writers have added other conditions, that there should be probability of success, that war should be used only as a last resort after all other means have been tried, and that the damage to be inflicted by war should be in proportion to the wrong that is to be righted. But while these additional conditions may seem plausible in the abstract, there have been counterexamples to them that are recognized as unquestionably just.  The probability of Britain successfully resisting Nazi Germany looked at one point, during 1940, to be very low, but few people now believe their resistance was unjust.  Again, if all other means have to be tried before going to war, the offending side may use the time while negotiations are being conducted to arm or re-arm.  And again, if the damage to be inflicted by war must be in proportion to the wrong that is to be righted, while this calculation may perhaps be easy to make long after the event when both amounts of damage can be known, at the time when the existence of each nation hangs in the balance such a calculation may be impossible. At the time the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, there very few, if any, on our side, I believe, who considered them disproportionate, and with good reason.

The one condition that is clearly and undoubtedly valid for a war to be just is that it must have a just cause. But what constitutes a just cause?

A chief difference between those who oppose and those who defend the Iraq War concerns its relationship to the earlier Persian Gulf War. Those who oppose the Iraq War tend to see it as essentially separate, as a new war.  The Gulf War, which was caused by Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 to occupy its oil fields, a blatant act of unilateral aggression, ended in 1991 with the Cease-fire Agreement between Saddam Hussein and the United Nations forces, and eleven years passed, so that, from that viewpoint, a new situation prevailed when the United States invaded Iraq in 2002, and that invasion has to be justified on its own terms.  If Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, the invasion was justified, it is argued; but if not, then not.

The fact is, however, that there is a decisive connection between the two wars, namely that the origin of the second came directly out of the failure of the Cease-fire Agreement that was supposed to end the first.  The Gulf War did not end, but was only suspended, subject to Iraq doing what it had agreed to do.  Saddam Hussein flouted that agreement, producing a situation that, especially after 9/11, could not be allowed to continue, whether he had weapons of mass destruction or not.

The difference is important because of the question of preemption. Saddam Hussein did not attack the U.S.  Therefore, the question is asked, how can the U.S. justify its attack on Iraq?  It might seem it could be justified only as an act of preemption.  In order to have a just cause, moral authorities agree it is not always necessary to wait till one is attacked, but it can be permissible to attack first if it is clear the enemy is seriously preparing to attack us.   But the question of preemption arises only in regard to the first act of war.  It does not apply to the case of the continuance or resumption of a war that has already been in place.  Those who view the Iraq war as a new war consider that the U.S. engaged in a preemptive attack, which requires a special justification.  But if the Iraq war was a justified continuation of the Gulf war which was justly begun, there is no question of preemption.  What are the facts of the matter?

The United Nations forces, led by the U.S., could have removed Saddam Hussein from power in 1991.  But President Bush Sr decided instead to accede to the demands of the Arab nations and leave him in power, and to require him, as the price of this concession, to accept certain conditions designed to ensure that his future behavior would be peaceful. These conditions were spelled out in the Cease-fire Agreement, signed in the Iraqi town of Safwan on March 3 of that year.    The text of the agreement constituted Resolution 687 of the UN Security Council.

The main conditions for the cessation of hostilities were:

— that Iraq would unconditionally accept the destruction of all chemical and biological weapons and facilities supporting them; and of all ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150 kilometres.

—  that it would submit to the Secretary-General, within fifteen days of the agreement, a declaration of the locations, amounts and types of such weapons, and agree to urgent, on-site inspections.

—  that it would unconditionally agree:

 not to acquire or develop nuclear weapons or the facilities to make them;

to submit to the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency within fifteen days of the agreement a declaration of the locations, amounts, and types of all nuclear weapons;

to place all of its nuclear materials under the exclusive control of the International Atomic Energy Agency;

to accept…urgent on-site inspections and the destruction, removal or rendering harmless of all related materials; and to accept the future ongoing monitoring and verification of its compliance.

—  that it would not commit or support any act of international terrorism or allow any terrorist organization to operate within its territory,  and would unequivocally condemn and renounce all acts of terrorism.

These conditions were simple and straightforward. Did Iraq fulfill them?

This question was answered strongly in the negative in the Iraq Liberation Act, a law passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Clinton already in 1998.  This Act ought to be playing a central role in the current debate, but has been strangely absent from it.  Section 2 of the Act presents twelve official Congressional “findings” of fact, and Section 3 gives the conclusion which Congress and the President drew from those facts.  The conclusion was that Saddam Hussein should be removed from power. The first four findings refer to the demonstrated bellicosity of the Iraqi regime before it signed the Cease-Fire Agreement. The fifth refers to the Agreement itself. The sixth and following findings point to Iraq’s subsequent failure to fulfill its promises.

(1) On September 22, 1980, Iraq invaded Iran, starting an 8 year war in which Iraq employed chemical weapons against Iranian troops and ballistic missiles against Iranian cities.

(2) In February 1988, Iraq forcibly relocated Kurdish civilians from their home villages in the Anfal campaign, killing an estimated 50,000 to 180,000 Kurds.

(3) On March 16, 1988, Iraq used chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurdish civilian opponents in the town of Halabja, killing an estimated 5,000 Kurds and causing numerous birth defects that affect the town today.

(4) On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded and began a 7 month occupation of Kuwait, killing and committing numerous abuses against Kuwaiti civilians, and setting Kuwait’s oil wells ablaze upon retreat.

(5) Hostilities in Operation Desert Storm ended on February 28, 1991, and Iraq subsequently accepted the ceasefire conditions specified in United Nations Security Council Resolution 687 (April 3, 1991) requiring Iraq, among other things, to disclose fully and permit the dismantlement of its weapons of mass destruction programs and submit to long-term monitoring and verification of such dismantlement.

(6) In April 1993, Iraq orchestrated a failed plot to assassinate former President George Bush during his April 14-16, 1993, visit to Kuwait.

(7) In October 1994, Iraq moved 80,000 troops to areas near the border with Kuwait, posing an imminent threat of a renewed invasion of or attack against Kuwait.

(8) On August 31, 1996, Iraq suppressed many of its opponents by helping one Kurdish faction capture Irbil, the seat of the Kurdish regional government.

(9) Since March 1996, Iraq has systematically sought to deny weapons inspectors from the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) access to key facilities and documents, has on several occasions endangered the safe operation of UNSCOM helicopters transporting UNSCOM personnel in Iraq, and has persisted in a pattern of deception and concealment regarding the history of its weapons of mass destruction programs.

(10) On August 5, 1998, Iraq ceased all cooperation with UNSCOM, and subsequently threatened to end long-term monitoring activities by the International Atomic Energy Agency and UNSCOM.

(11) On August 14, 1998, President Clinton signed Public Law 105-235, which declared that `the Government of Iraq is in material and unacceptable breach of its international obligations’ and urged the President `to take appropriate action, in accordance with the Constitution and relevant laws of the United States, to bring Iraq into compliance with its international obligations.’

(12) On May 1, 1998, President Clinton signed Public Law 105-174, which made $5,000,000 available for assistance to the Iraqi democratic opposition for such activities as organization, training, communication and dissemination of information, developing and implementing agreements among opposition groups, compiling information to support the indictment of Iraqi officials for war crimes, and for related purposes.”

Section 3 of the Act states that “It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.

This seems to me about as clear as it would be possible to be. Yet the popular press, in a display of curious ignorance, has repeatedly accused Mr Bush’s government of “intending to change the Iraq regime even before the events of 9/11,” as if that were palpable proof of his bad faith.  Consequently, very few people seem even aware of the existence of this act of Congress.

As if this were not sufficient, the question whether Saddam Hussein carried out his promises was also answered strongly in the negative by Congress, in the Joint Resolution Authorizing the Use of the United States Armed Forces against Iraq, of October 11, 2002, which contains 23 paragraphs setting forth the grounds for the resumption of hostilities.   A similar statement was made by the United Nations in its Resolution 1441, of November 8, 2002, before the US resumed hostilities.  In four detailed paragraphs the UN deplores the fact that Iraq has not done what it promised to do.  Now if you sign a truce requiring you to fulfill certain conditions and you flout those conditions, you place yourself back in the state of war that previously existed. Having nullified his truce with the UN, Iraq was again in a state of war with it and the US.

Why has this not been recognized?  It might be thought that the reason lay perhaps in the length of time that elapsed, the eleven years during which Saddam Hussein taunted and rejected the United Nations and the United States and nothing was done about it.  But this lapse of time did not materially alter the situation at all.

Thomas Hobbes, the great English philosopher, gives an explanation of what it means to be in a state of war which is relevant to this situation between Iraq and the US in 2001.

“…war consisteth not in battle only, or the act of fighting, but in a tract of time wherein the will to contend by battle is sufficiently known. And therefore the notion of time is to be considered in the nature of war, as it is in the nature of weather. For as the nature of foul weather lieth not in a shower or two of rain, but in an inclination thereto of many days together, so the nature of war consisteth not in actual fighting, but in the known disposition thereto during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary.”  (Leviathan, Ch. xiii, 8. 1651)

The true reason why Saddam Hussein’s responsibility for incurring the war of 2003 has been minimized and discounted by large numbers of people and especially the press is that large numbers of people and especially the press have become infected with the virus of social justice.

Just as those who oppose the Iraq war see it as a distinct and separate event, unconnected to the Persian Gulf War, so also they tend to see it as unconnected to the events of 9/11.  One of the accusations against Mr Bush has been that since no causal connection has been shown between Iraq and al Qaeda, there is no reason to suppose that Iraq was in any way responsible for the events of 9/11.  Mr. Bush’s actual argument, however, has been different. It is concerned mainly not with the past, but with the future, namely with avoiding a repetition of 9/11.

A first thing to notice in this connection is that Saddam Hussein had declared himself an enemy of the United States. Of all the governments around the globe, his alone (so far as I have been able to discover) publicly praised the attacks of 9/11.  This attitude made it perfectly plain that there was no “assurance to the contrary” regarding Iraq’s warlike intentions in 2002.

Let us review some of the other elements of the situation that confronted President Bush at that time, and that are explicitly mentioned in the resolutions of Congress and the United Nations.  There was first Saddam Hussein’s past history: he had initiated two rash and reckless wars, against Iran and against Kuwait.  No one could be sure he would not engage in similar aggressive activity again.

Second, his known intention to acquire weapons of mass destruction. In 2002 everybody knew he had had biological and chemical weapons because he had used them against Iran, and since he refused to allow complete inspections, it was impossible to be sure he did not still have them. The onus of proof was not on the United States, but on Saddam Hussein, to demonstrate that he had destroyed them. But he refused to give this demonstration. Later we learnt his reason for this, that he wanted to bluff his neighboring countries into thinking he had them.

Third, there was his known desire to obtain nuclear weapons. In 1981, after he became president of Iraq (1979), the existence of a nuclear plant was revealed in Osirak near Baghdad when an Israeli raid destroyed it. There was no reason to believe he had given up on this ambition.

Fourthly, there was his financial support of Palestinian terrorism.  For example, he provided bonuses of $10,000 to each widow of a suicide bomber. In 2002 with much fanfare he increased that to $25,000.

St Augustine wrote:  “True religion does not look upon those wars as sinful that are waged, not for motives of aggrandisement or cruelty, but with the object of securing peace, of punishing evil-doers and of uplifting those who are good.” (De Verbis Domini, quoted by St Thomas.)

Mr Bush’s action in going to war against Saddam Hussein in 2002 must be judged, not by the hindsight we possess today in 2008, having discovered Saddam’s bluff, but from the standpoint of the situation as we knew it in 2002.  The events of 9/11 made it plain that America had in Osama bin Laden and his colleagues in Al Qaeda a deadly enemy who would stop at nothing to inflict the maximum damage on her that they could.  If Saddam Hussein offered them a nicely portable nuclear weapon, or a few convenient suitcases full of anthrax, are we to imagine they would self-effacingly turn him down and profess themselves satisfied with what they had already accomplished?  The events of 9/11 had taken place because the American intelligence services apparently did not have the imagination to envisage the possibility of such attacks.  But now when Mr Bush did have the imagination to envisage what Saddam Hussein might realistically do, he is accused of exaggerating the danger. After 9/11, the invasion of Iraq was not merely just, but a moral obligation.  No responsible American government could have left Saddam Hussein in power.  As president of the United States, Mr Bush had a solemn moral duty to carry out the policy that President Clinton and Congress had recognized in 1998 was necessary, but which they had failed to act on.  Yes, it has cost the precious and irreplaceable lives of many gallant soldiers. And yes, it is a terrible thing that neither we nor any of our allies were able to pierce the veil of Saddam Hussein’s crazy bluff and see it for what it then was.  Properly speaking, Mr Bush as president bears responsibility for the failure of our intelligence, and it would not have been unfitting if he had resigned when its inadequacies were revealed. But his decision to go to war was right. He also bears responsibility for the regrettable military strategy carried out by his Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. But his purpose was not his own personal gain, but the safety of our nation.

So far I have been focusing on the initiation of the war. But even if we agree that the invasion was right, that still leaves the question open regarding what we should do now. Should we stay in Iraq or withdraw immediately, as some still suggest?

There are always two distinct kinds of argument regarding what we ought to do:  there are arguments from utility and arguments from ethics. An argument from utility is an argument about the consequences of what we do: will the effects be good or bad?  An argument from ethics (justice) is an argument about the antecedents of the action, i.e. whether the action is right or wrong in the light of what happened before it.  We have just been discussing the ethics of the invasion.  If I am not mistaken, the question whether to stay in Iraq is mainly about the consequences.  Judgements about consequences are usually judgements of prudence or wisdom drawn from experience of what causes are likely to produce what effects.  I can’t claim any special prudence, wisdom or experience likely to be of help in making the decision about whether to stay in Iraq.  I will just add here an amateur’s observation or two that might help start a discussion.

There are two main reasons for going. One is that every day we stay there we lose the precious and irreplaceable lives of our troops, lives that the Iraqi population does not seem overwhelmingly grateful for.  The other reason is that the chances of creating a stable, friendly democratic government there, which might conceivably make the sacrifice of lives worthwhile, are still uncertain.

There are two main reasons for staying.  One is that if we leave before we are successful, that will be considered by everyone around the globe, both our friends and our enemies, a great defeat for us, and a great victory for our enemies. Once again we will have shown ourselves to be a “paper tiger.”  Those who hate us will be emboldened by our weakness to grasp for further successes, as happened in South-East Asia with its “killing fields” after we withdrew from Vietnam.

A second reason for staying is that we may possibly be successful. Just in the few short months of this summer, with the introduction of more troops, and with a better strategy designed to secure the good will of the local population, the tide seems to have turned.  Particularly powerful, almost unhoped-for evidence of that is the sold-out soccer match played in Baghdad on August 25 before a crowd of 50,000 without incident. Precipitate withdrawal now seems more and more foolish.

What will constitute success?  Peace under an effective government friendly to the U.S.  From the viewpoint of America’s national interest, it is more important that the government should be effective and friendly than that it should be democratic. Several Arab nations have governments friendly to the U.S. None of them have democratic governments.  A functioning, friendly military dictatorship would not necessarily be a catastrophe.  Islam always has a tendency to form “a state within the state,” and may never prove compatible with democracy.  Besides, there is no perfect form of government.

Having laid our hand to the plow in Iraq, we have begun a larger work than we bargained for, but we should not turn back.  We should pray that God will give our people the determination to see it through.

The Mirage of Social Justice, 1976.

Firearm News, a publication of Victims Against Crime, P O Box 2522, Clareinch 7740, South Africa. 2004, Volume 2.






Ibid. Even if these reports should not be in all respects entirely accurate  —  since I do not possess the means to verify them easily  —   they are sufficient to illustrate the well-known difference on this subject between the two contrasting views of justice.