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Episode
127

The Just War Theory

Jan 26, 2021
Philosophy
-
20
minutes
War
Christianity
Philosophy
The Middle Ages
Politics

It's the theory of when, and under what conditions a war can be considered 'acceptable'.

Learn about the history of the theory of Just War, from the ancient Greeks right through to the present day.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:23] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Just War, the ethical and philosophical theories of when it is right to go to war, and how wars should be fought.

[00:00:37] In this episode we’ll start by talking about the early ideas about when wars can and should be fought, and how they can be morally justified.

[00:00:48] We’ll then talk about probably the most famous Just War theory, by the Italian philosopher and priest, Thomas Aquinas. 

[00:00:57] Then, we’ll move on to how more recent wars have been justified, some of the alternative theories about when and why countries should go to war, and what this actually all means on a practical basis.

[00:01:12] So, let’s not waste a minute, and get started right away.

[00:01:18] Since the beginning of time, humans have fought to solve disagreements

[00:01:24] Both on a one-to-one level, so a caveman punching another one in the face because he stole food from him, and on a much larger level, with hundreds of thousands of people lining up opposite each other and killing each other until one side gave up.

[00:01:43] While this episode isn’t going to be an argument either for or against the idea that war is a natural thing for humans to be doing, there can be little doubt that for as long as humans have existed, we have resorted to violence as a means of solving problems.

[00:02:02] There’s a phrase in English that goes “All’s fair in love and war”, which means when it comes to affairs of love, or of fighting, there are no rules.

[00:02:14] But while this might be a catchy and memorable phrase, and is one that’s used by people actually having extra-marital affairs - they’re of course talking about the love, rather than the war – we’ll find out that there are some rules, and certainly a lot of theories, that cover what is and isn’t fair, or just, when it comes to ‘war’.

[00:02:38] Given that fighting has been a theme throughout history, philosophers, religious leaders, and thinkers have devoted a large amount of time considering the question of war.

[00:02:51] When is it right to go to war? 

[00:02:54] When is it ok to kill someone? 

[00:02:58] How should wars be fought? 

[00:02:59] Although the most famous Just War Theory was proposed by Thomas Aquinas, an Italian monk in the 13th century, these types of questions have troubled thinkers from all over the globe since the dawn of time.

[00:03:15] There’s evidence of the considerations of under what conditions going to war is acceptable in the Indian epic the Mahabharata, parts of which date back to the 4th century BC.

[00:03:29] And throughout Ancient Rome and Greece, philosophers took a stab at deciding when it was right to go to war. 

[00:03:39] Aristotle suggested that war was an acceptable decision to take if the alternative was being sold into slavery, and the ancient Romans believed that a war was justified to stop an invasion or if a treaty was broken. 

[00:03:57] But of course, given the fact that the Romans conquered large parts of Europe, without treaties being broken or the threat of an invasion, they evidently didn’t always stick to their own rules.

[00:04:11] In Europe, it was only really after Christianity started to become an important religion that questions about the justification of war became more and more important. 

[00:04:24] The Bible, the most important religious text in Christianity, has quite a lot to say about the rights and wrongs of killing.

[00:04:33] To start off with, the Fifth Commandment is Thou Shalt not Kill - you shall not kill.

[00:04:41] The Bible also preaches that you should turn the other cheek if you are slapped, that you should forgive if you are wronged, if someone does something wrong to you.

[00:04:51] And there are dozens of other parts of the Bible that either implicitly or explicitly condemn killing people or taking revenge.

[00:05:02] So reconciling this, making this work, with the idea that there are some situations in which it is right to go to war, and to kill other people, is challenging.

[00:05:16] It’s worth just taking a quick pause to consider the meaning of the word ‘just’.

[00:05:24] Just can mean ‘morally’ right, but it can also refer to whether something can be justified

[00:05:32] So if a war is ‘just’, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the morally correct thing to do, but it can mean that it is the right thing to do because the alternatives are worse.

[00:05:47] It’s an important distinction, and one that’s worth making before we get into the Christian tradition of Just War.

[00:05:55] So, Christian philosophers were trying to figure out under what criteria they could ignore this particular part of the Bible, or at least make their practical, real-life world work with their religious beliefs. 

[00:06:12] The first of these was in the 5th century AD, a man called Saint Augustine, Augustine of Hippo, a bishop from modern day Algeria.

[00:06:22] He documented eight different criteria in a theory about when Christians could go to war, and it was primarily based on the idea that violence wasn’t good per se, it wasn’t good in itself, but that Christians shouldn’t be frightened of using violence when the objective of doing so is to promote peace.

[00:06:46] He even went one step further saying that opting not to fight, opting for peace, if you could stop a terrible thing from happening was a sin. 

[00:06:58] So, not going to war, if going to war would stop something bad from happening, was a sin against God.

[00:07:06] Fast forward 800 years or so and the next major development in Just War Theory came from a Dominican priest from modern day Italy, called Thomas Aquinas, or Tommaso D’Aquino in Italian.

[00:07:21] He was really the father of modern Just War Theory, and a lot of how Western countries think about war today comes from the writings of Thomas Aquinas.

[00:07:34] To summarise, Aquinas wrote that three conditions needed to be met for a war to be ‘just’.

[00:07:43] Firstly, the war needed to be fought under the command of a just leader, a king or queen.

[00:07:51] Secondly, the war needed to be fought because of a just reason, because a wrong had been done.

[00:08:00] And thirdly, the intent of those fighting must be good, and by intent he meant that they should try to promote good and avoid evil.

[00:08:12] These three conditions might seem a little simplistic, and they are certainly open to interpretation

[00:08:20] What meets the condition of a just leader, a true leader?

[00:08:25] What meets the condition of a just reason, and what is a ‘wrong’ one?

[00:08:31] And, what meets the conditions of having ‘good intent’? Surely that is very much open to interpretation.

[00:08:40] Indeed, at the time that Thomas Aquinas was writing his Just War Theory, Christian crusaders were off in the Middle East fighting a holy war that they believed to be ‘just’, according to the conditions set out in Aquinas’s theory, but most people today wouldn’t believe to be ‘just’ and correct.

[00:09:02] For the crusaders, it was ‘just’ because it was a holy war, they were fighting it on behalf of their God, which was a ‘just’ reason, so it had good intent

[00:09:14] And it was sponsored by sovereign leaders, it was allowed and promoted by the true leaders of the countries, so it met all of the conditions of Aquinas’s theory.

[00:09:27] Apart from these three conditions, of having a just leader, a just reason, and to promote good and not evil, Aquinas also proposed that violence should be used as a last resort, after all peaceful avenues had been exhausted.

[00:09:45] Leaders had an obligation to try and find a peaceful solution, and war was only justified if none could be found.

[00:09:55] Aquinas didn’t only deal with the morals of when to go to war, but also how you should behave during battle, how you should behave when you are at war.

[00:10:08] Soldiers shouldn’t use excessive violence or cruelty, they should only do what is necessary for the war to be fought, nothing more. 

[00:10:18] So, killing innocent non-military people, killing civilians, that was out of the question.

[00:10:26] Subsequent philosophers built on Aquinas’s theory to consider the idea of when it is right to go to war, and how these wars should be fought.

[00:10:37] At least in Western culture, the theories presented by Aquinas have been developed, but at its core the ideas about when it is just to go to war, and how wars should be fought have remained pretty similar since the 13th Century.

[00:10:55] You could argue that Thomas Aquinas’s theory hasn’t really done a huge amount to stop wars from happening in the first place, but what it has done is it has presented a framework for thinking about war, and this framework has been used over and over when leaders are considering the rights and wrongs of going to war.

[00:11:19] Perhaps the largest and most testing time, the most challenging time, for the theory of Just War came in the 20th Century, with World War I, and then World War II. 

[00:11:32] At the beginning of World War I there was actually a theological battle going on between German and British theologians about who was in the right, who was fighting a ‘just’ war. 

[00:11:47] Indeed, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the most senior person in the Anglican Church collaborated with a large number of religious leaders to publish a document outlining why the German theologians’ ideas about war were wrong, and why it was actually the British forces, the Allied forces, who were in the right.

[00:12:12] And the 20th century has of course put a lot of Aquinas’s theories to the test.

[00:12:19] When Aquinas was writing, war was fought on battlefields by men with swords, bows and arrows, and hand to hand combat

[00:12:30] Yes, civilians might get hurt and cities might be burned to the ground, but it was a far cry from the events of even World War II, when cities would be bombed to the ground by aeroplanes far up in the sky, or today, where drone strikes on civilians can be carried out from thousands of miles away.

[00:12:53] Some of Aquinas’s ideas about what a just leader was have also been questioned, and this is often pointed at as a problem with his theory.

[00:13:04] With Aquinas's just war theory, an official leader was the only one capable of waging a ‘just’ war.

[00:13:12] This would mean that a rebellion or revolution would be, by default, unjust, because the leader wasn’t sovereign

[00:13:21] Lenin, the Soviet revolutionary leader, therefore decided to come up with his own Just War Theory, which was based on the idea that war was justified as part of a revolution.

[00:13:36] For Lenin, the war was between the oppressed and the oppressors, the working proletariat and the Russian bourgeoisie, the poor and the rich.

[00:13:47] He argued that there was no need to ask yourself ‘who was attacking who’, because the oppressed, the Russian poor, were being fought by their bourgeoisie oppressors, by the rich. 

[00:14:00] A socialist war against the oppressors was, by default, just.

[00:14:06] Of course, World War II caused the most direct deaths of any war in the history of mankind, and there were some real questions posed there about the right and wrong way to fight a war.

[00:14:21] World War II might have been the last global war, but it certainly hasn’t been the last war.

[00:14:28] Countries embarking on military campaigns since then have often used a similar framework to the one Aquinas developed 700 years ago to think about whether the war can be justified or not.

[00:14:43] The modern theory of Just War revolves around the idea that war is something that should be avoided if at all possible, but there are times where it is the least bad option.

[00:14:57] And Just War Theory may be the most famous theory about when and under what conditions it is right to go to war.

[00:15:06] But it’s not without its opponents, or at least alternatives. 

[00:15:11] Pacifists, for example, argue that there is never a time for war, that there are always peaceful options that are better than going to war.

[00:15:22] And on the other side, there are those that feel that the Just War theory is too lenient, it actually imposes too many conditions for a war to be just.

[00:15:36] Militarism is a theory that proposes that war isn’t inherently bad, it's not bad in itself, and it can actually be a good thing for society.

[00:15:48] Realism is another theory that you might be familiar with, and proposes the idea that looking at these kinds of questions through a moral lens just isn’t realistic, it’s not the right way to think about it. 

[00:16:03] Instead, countries should be practical, and on occasion war is the most practical, realistic, action to take.

[00:16:13] And somewhere in the middle is something called consequentialism, the theory that the end justifies the means, that if the outcome of war, or an act during the war, is good, then the act can be justified

[00:16:31] For example something like dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaski at the end of World War II would be justified like this, as the objective was to end the war, even though the impact of dropping two atomic weapons on two large cities was, evidently, horrific.

[00:16:53] Now, bringing this back to real life for one minute, what does this actually mean in terms of whether a country can or can’t go to war with another one?

[00:17:03] We’ve dealt with the moral and ethical arguments, but when it comes to practicalities, when and under what conditions can a country now go to war with another?

[00:17:15] Evidently this is a very complicated subject, far too complicated to cover properly in a small section of this episode, but there is no black and white answer of under what conditions a country can or can’t go to war. 

[00:17:31] I’m sure that we can all think of examples from recent years of countries, including the UK, going to war and there being large debates both inside and outside that country about whether the war is just, and whether it’s indeed legal.

[00:17:49] From a legal point of view, in the United Nations Charter countries have sworn to not use force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. 

[00:18:00] So any country that signed the UN Charter, and that’s almost every country in the world, has sworn to not go to war with another country.

[00:18:10] But, as we know, there are still countless examples of wars still happening, for reasons that wouldn’t pass the test of being ‘Just’. 

[00:18:21] So, although the theory of Just War does give us a useful framework for thinking about the rights and wrongs of war, and when a war can actually be justified, real life suggests that, as Jack Sparrow of Pirates of the Carribean once said, they’re more like guidelines than actual rules.

[00:18:43] OK then, that is it for Just War, and the theory of when, and under what conditions war can be justified.

[00:18:52] To state the obvious, it is a complicated, divisive, but certainly interesting subject. 

[00:18:57] I hope you enjoyed it, and that you learned something new.

[00:19:02] As always, I would love to know what you thought of today’s episode. 

[00:19:06] What do you think of the Just War theory? 

[00:19:09] Are there circumstances when war can be justified? Or is it never right, whatever the other options?

[00:19:16] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com.

[00:19:22] You’ve been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:19:27] I’m Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I’ll catch you in the next episode.


[END OF PODCAST]


Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:23] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Just War, the ethical and philosophical theories of when it is right to go to war, and how wars should be fought.

[00:00:37] In this episode we’ll start by talking about the early ideas about when wars can and should be fought, and how they can be morally justified.

[00:00:48] We’ll then talk about probably the most famous Just War theory, by the Italian philosopher and priest, Thomas Aquinas. 

[00:00:57] Then, we’ll move on to how more recent wars have been justified, some of the alternative theories about when and why countries should go to war, and what this actually all means on a practical basis.

[00:01:12] So, let’s not waste a minute, and get started right away.

[00:01:18] Since the beginning of time, humans have fought to solve disagreements

[00:01:24] Both on a one-to-one level, so a caveman punching another one in the face because he stole food from him, and on a much larger level, with hundreds of thousands of people lining up opposite each other and killing each other until one side gave up.

[00:01:43] While this episode isn’t going to be an argument either for or against the idea that war is a natural thing for humans to be doing, there can be little doubt that for as long as humans have existed, we have resorted to violence as a means of solving problems.

[00:02:02] There’s a phrase in English that goes “All’s fair in love and war”, which means when it comes to affairs of love, or of fighting, there are no rules.

[00:02:14] But while this might be a catchy and memorable phrase, and is one that’s used by people actually having extra-marital affairs - they’re of course talking about the love, rather than the war – we’ll find out that there are some rules, and certainly a lot of theories, that cover what is and isn’t fair, or just, when it comes to ‘war’.

[00:02:38] Given that fighting has been a theme throughout history, philosophers, religious leaders, and thinkers have devoted a large amount of time considering the question of war.

[00:02:51] When is it right to go to war? 

[00:02:54] When is it ok to kill someone? 

[00:02:58] How should wars be fought? 

[00:02:59] Although the most famous Just War Theory was proposed by Thomas Aquinas, an Italian monk in the 13th century, these types of questions have troubled thinkers from all over the globe since the dawn of time.

[00:03:15] There’s evidence of the considerations of under what conditions going to war is acceptable in the Indian epic the Mahabharata, parts of which date back to the 4th century BC.

[00:03:29] And throughout Ancient Rome and Greece, philosophers took a stab at deciding when it was right to go to war. 

[00:03:39] Aristotle suggested that war was an acceptable decision to take if the alternative was being sold into slavery, and the ancient Romans believed that a war was justified to stop an invasion or if a treaty was broken. 

[00:03:57] But of course, given the fact that the Romans conquered large parts of Europe, without treaties being broken or the threat of an invasion, they evidently didn’t always stick to their own rules.

[00:04:11] In Europe, it was only really after Christianity started to become an important religion that questions about the justification of war became more and more important. 

[00:04:24] The Bible, the most important religious text in Christianity, has quite a lot to say about the rights and wrongs of killing.

[00:04:33] To start off with, the Fifth Commandment is Thou Shalt not Kill - you shall not kill.

[00:04:41] The Bible also preaches that you should turn the other cheek if you are slapped, that you should forgive if you are wronged, if someone does something wrong to you.

[00:04:51] And there are dozens of other parts of the Bible that either implicitly or explicitly condemn killing people or taking revenge.

[00:05:02] So reconciling this, making this work, with the idea that there are some situations in which it is right to go to war, and to kill other people, is challenging.

[00:05:16] It’s worth just taking a quick pause to consider the meaning of the word ‘just’.

[00:05:24] Just can mean ‘morally’ right, but it can also refer to whether something can be justified

[00:05:32] So if a war is ‘just’, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the morally correct thing to do, but it can mean that it is the right thing to do because the alternatives are worse.

[00:05:47] It’s an important distinction, and one that’s worth making before we get into the Christian tradition of Just War.

[00:05:55] So, Christian philosophers were trying to figure out under what criteria they could ignore this particular part of the Bible, or at least make their practical, real-life world work with their religious beliefs. 

[00:06:12] The first of these was in the 5th century AD, a man called Saint Augustine, Augustine of Hippo, a bishop from modern day Algeria.

[00:06:22] He documented eight different criteria in a theory about when Christians could go to war, and it was primarily based on the idea that violence wasn’t good per se, it wasn’t good in itself, but that Christians shouldn’t be frightened of using violence when the objective of doing so is to promote peace.

[00:06:46] He even went one step further saying that opting not to fight, opting for peace, if you could stop a terrible thing from happening was a sin. 

[00:06:58] So, not going to war, if going to war would stop something bad from happening, was a sin against God.

[00:07:06] Fast forward 800 years or so and the next major development in Just War Theory came from a Dominican priest from modern day Italy, called Thomas Aquinas, or Tommaso D’Aquino in Italian.

[00:07:21] He was really the father of modern Just War Theory, and a lot of how Western countries think about war today comes from the writings of Thomas Aquinas.

[00:07:34] To summarise, Aquinas wrote that three conditions needed to be met for a war to be ‘just’.

[00:07:43] Firstly, the war needed to be fought under the command of a just leader, a king or queen.

[00:07:51] Secondly, the war needed to be fought because of a just reason, because a wrong had been done.

[00:08:00] And thirdly, the intent of those fighting must be good, and by intent he meant that they should try to promote good and avoid evil.

[00:08:12] These three conditions might seem a little simplistic, and they are certainly open to interpretation

[00:08:20] What meets the condition of a just leader, a true leader?

[00:08:25] What meets the condition of a just reason, and what is a ‘wrong’ one?

[00:08:31] And, what meets the conditions of having ‘good intent’? Surely that is very much open to interpretation.

[00:08:40] Indeed, at the time that Thomas Aquinas was writing his Just War Theory, Christian crusaders were off in the Middle East fighting a holy war that they believed to be ‘just’, according to the conditions set out in Aquinas’s theory, but most people today wouldn’t believe to be ‘just’ and correct.

[00:09:02] For the crusaders, it was ‘just’ because it was a holy war, they were fighting it on behalf of their God, which was a ‘just’ reason, so it had good intent

[00:09:14] And it was sponsored by sovereign leaders, it was allowed and promoted by the true leaders of the countries, so it met all of the conditions of Aquinas’s theory.

[00:09:27] Apart from these three conditions, of having a just leader, a just reason, and to promote good and not evil, Aquinas also proposed that violence should be used as a last resort, after all peaceful avenues had been exhausted.

[00:09:45] Leaders had an obligation to try and find a peaceful solution, and war was only justified if none could be found.

[00:09:55] Aquinas didn’t only deal with the morals of when to go to war, but also how you should behave during battle, how you should behave when you are at war.

[00:10:08] Soldiers shouldn’t use excessive violence or cruelty, they should only do what is necessary for the war to be fought, nothing more. 

[00:10:18] So, killing innocent non-military people, killing civilians, that was out of the question.

[00:10:26] Subsequent philosophers built on Aquinas’s theory to consider the idea of when it is right to go to war, and how these wars should be fought.

[00:10:37] At least in Western culture, the theories presented by Aquinas have been developed, but at its core the ideas about when it is just to go to war, and how wars should be fought have remained pretty similar since the 13th Century.

[00:10:55] You could argue that Thomas Aquinas’s theory hasn’t really done a huge amount to stop wars from happening in the first place, but what it has done is it has presented a framework for thinking about war, and this framework has been used over and over when leaders are considering the rights and wrongs of going to war.

[00:11:19] Perhaps the largest and most testing time, the most challenging time, for the theory of Just War came in the 20th Century, with World War I, and then World War II. 

[00:11:32] At the beginning of World War I there was actually a theological battle going on between German and British theologians about who was in the right, who was fighting a ‘just’ war. 

[00:11:47] Indeed, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the most senior person in the Anglican Church collaborated with a large number of religious leaders to publish a document outlining why the German theologians’ ideas about war were wrong, and why it was actually the British forces, the Allied forces, who were in the right.

[00:12:12] And the 20th century has of course put a lot of Aquinas’s theories to the test.

[00:12:19] When Aquinas was writing, war was fought on battlefields by men with swords, bows and arrows, and hand to hand combat

[00:12:30] Yes, civilians might get hurt and cities might be burned to the ground, but it was a far cry from the events of even World War II, when cities would be bombed to the ground by aeroplanes far up in the sky, or today, where drone strikes on civilians can be carried out from thousands of miles away.

[00:12:53] Some of Aquinas’s ideas about what a just leader was have also been questioned, and this is often pointed at as a problem with his theory.

[00:13:04] With Aquinas's just war theory, an official leader was the only one capable of waging a ‘just’ war.

[00:13:12] This would mean that a rebellion or revolution would be, by default, unjust, because the leader wasn’t sovereign

[00:13:21] Lenin, the Soviet revolutionary leader, therefore decided to come up with his own Just War Theory, which was based on the idea that war was justified as part of a revolution.

[00:13:36] For Lenin, the war was between the oppressed and the oppressors, the working proletariat and the Russian bourgeoisie, the poor and the rich.

[00:13:47] He argued that there was no need to ask yourself ‘who was attacking who’, because the oppressed, the Russian poor, were being fought by their bourgeoisie oppressors, by the rich. 

[00:14:00] A socialist war against the oppressors was, by default, just.

[00:14:06] Of course, World War II caused the most direct deaths of any war in the history of mankind, and there were some real questions posed there about the right and wrong way to fight a war.

[00:14:21] World War II might have been the last global war, but it certainly hasn’t been the last war.

[00:14:28] Countries embarking on military campaigns since then have often used a similar framework to the one Aquinas developed 700 years ago to think about whether the war can be justified or not.

[00:14:43] The modern theory of Just War revolves around the idea that war is something that should be avoided if at all possible, but there are times where it is the least bad option.

[00:14:57] And Just War Theory may be the most famous theory about when and under what conditions it is right to go to war.

[00:15:06] But it’s not without its opponents, or at least alternatives. 

[00:15:11] Pacifists, for example, argue that there is never a time for war, that there are always peaceful options that are better than going to war.

[00:15:22] And on the other side, there are those that feel that the Just War theory is too lenient, it actually imposes too many conditions for a war to be just.

[00:15:36] Militarism is a theory that proposes that war isn’t inherently bad, it's not bad in itself, and it can actually be a good thing for society.

[00:15:48] Realism is another theory that you might be familiar with, and proposes the idea that looking at these kinds of questions through a moral lens just isn’t realistic, it’s not the right way to think about it. 

[00:16:03] Instead, countries should be practical, and on occasion war is the most practical, realistic, action to take.

[00:16:13] And somewhere in the middle is something called consequentialism, the theory that the end justifies the means, that if the outcome of war, or an act during the war, is good, then the act can be justified

[00:16:31] For example something like dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaski at the end of World War II would be justified like this, as the objective was to end the war, even though the impact of dropping two atomic weapons on two large cities was, evidently, horrific.

[00:16:53] Now, bringing this back to real life for one minute, what does this actually mean in terms of whether a country can or can’t go to war with another one?

[00:17:03] We’ve dealt with the moral and ethical arguments, but when it comes to practicalities, when and under what conditions can a country now go to war with another?

[00:17:15] Evidently this is a very complicated subject, far too complicated to cover properly in a small section of this episode, but there is no black and white answer of under what conditions a country can or can’t go to war. 

[00:17:31] I’m sure that we can all think of examples from recent years of countries, including the UK, going to war and there being large debates both inside and outside that country about whether the war is just, and whether it’s indeed legal.

[00:17:49] From a legal point of view, in the United Nations Charter countries have sworn to not use force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. 

[00:18:00] So any country that signed the UN Charter, and that’s almost every country in the world, has sworn to not go to war with another country.

[00:18:10] But, as we know, there are still countless examples of wars still happening, for reasons that wouldn’t pass the test of being ‘Just’. 

[00:18:21] So, although the theory of Just War does give us a useful framework for thinking about the rights and wrongs of war, and when a war can actually be justified, real life suggests that, as Jack Sparrow of Pirates of the Carribean once said, they’re more like guidelines than actual rules.

[00:18:43] OK then, that is it for Just War, and the theory of when, and under what conditions war can be justified.

[00:18:52] To state the obvious, it is a complicated, divisive, but certainly interesting subject. 

[00:18:57] I hope you enjoyed it, and that you learned something new.

[00:19:02] As always, I would love to know what you thought of today’s episode. 

[00:19:06] What do you think of the Just War theory? 

[00:19:09] Are there circumstances when war can be justified? Or is it never right, whatever the other options?

[00:19:16] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com.

[00:19:22] You’ve been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:19:27] I’m Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I’ll catch you in the next episode.


[END OF PODCAST]


[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:23] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Just War, the ethical and philosophical theories of when it is right to go to war, and how wars should be fought.

[00:00:37] In this episode we’ll start by talking about the early ideas about when wars can and should be fought, and how they can be morally justified.

[00:00:48] We’ll then talk about probably the most famous Just War theory, by the Italian philosopher and priest, Thomas Aquinas. 

[00:00:57] Then, we’ll move on to how more recent wars have been justified, some of the alternative theories about when and why countries should go to war, and what this actually all means on a practical basis.

[00:01:12] So, let’s not waste a minute, and get started right away.

[00:01:18] Since the beginning of time, humans have fought to solve disagreements

[00:01:24] Both on a one-to-one level, so a caveman punching another one in the face because he stole food from him, and on a much larger level, with hundreds of thousands of people lining up opposite each other and killing each other until one side gave up.

[00:01:43] While this episode isn’t going to be an argument either for or against the idea that war is a natural thing for humans to be doing, there can be little doubt that for as long as humans have existed, we have resorted to violence as a means of solving problems.

[00:02:02] There’s a phrase in English that goes “All’s fair in love and war”, which means when it comes to affairs of love, or of fighting, there are no rules.

[00:02:14] But while this might be a catchy and memorable phrase, and is one that’s used by people actually having extra-marital affairs - they’re of course talking about the love, rather than the war – we’ll find out that there are some rules, and certainly a lot of theories, that cover what is and isn’t fair, or just, when it comes to ‘war’.

[00:02:38] Given that fighting has been a theme throughout history, philosophers, religious leaders, and thinkers have devoted a large amount of time considering the question of war.

[00:02:51] When is it right to go to war? 

[00:02:54] When is it ok to kill someone? 

[00:02:58] How should wars be fought? 

[00:02:59] Although the most famous Just War Theory was proposed by Thomas Aquinas, an Italian monk in the 13th century, these types of questions have troubled thinkers from all over the globe since the dawn of time.

[00:03:15] There’s evidence of the considerations of under what conditions going to war is acceptable in the Indian epic the Mahabharata, parts of which date back to the 4th century BC.

[00:03:29] And throughout Ancient Rome and Greece, philosophers took a stab at deciding when it was right to go to war. 

[00:03:39] Aristotle suggested that war was an acceptable decision to take if the alternative was being sold into slavery, and the ancient Romans believed that a war was justified to stop an invasion or if a treaty was broken. 

[00:03:57] But of course, given the fact that the Romans conquered large parts of Europe, without treaties being broken or the threat of an invasion, they evidently didn’t always stick to their own rules.

[00:04:11] In Europe, it was only really after Christianity started to become an important religion that questions about the justification of war became more and more important. 

[00:04:24] The Bible, the most important religious text in Christianity, has quite a lot to say about the rights and wrongs of killing.

[00:04:33] To start off with, the Fifth Commandment is Thou Shalt not Kill - you shall not kill.

[00:04:41] The Bible also preaches that you should turn the other cheek if you are slapped, that you should forgive if you are wronged, if someone does something wrong to you.

[00:04:51] And there are dozens of other parts of the Bible that either implicitly or explicitly condemn killing people or taking revenge.

[00:05:02] So reconciling this, making this work, with the idea that there are some situations in which it is right to go to war, and to kill other people, is challenging.

[00:05:16] It’s worth just taking a quick pause to consider the meaning of the word ‘just’.

[00:05:24] Just can mean ‘morally’ right, but it can also refer to whether something can be justified

[00:05:32] So if a war is ‘just’, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the morally correct thing to do, but it can mean that it is the right thing to do because the alternatives are worse.

[00:05:47] It’s an important distinction, and one that’s worth making before we get into the Christian tradition of Just War.

[00:05:55] So, Christian philosophers were trying to figure out under what criteria they could ignore this particular part of the Bible, or at least make their practical, real-life world work with their religious beliefs. 

[00:06:12] The first of these was in the 5th century AD, a man called Saint Augustine, Augustine of Hippo, a bishop from modern day Algeria.

[00:06:22] He documented eight different criteria in a theory about when Christians could go to war, and it was primarily based on the idea that violence wasn’t good per se, it wasn’t good in itself, but that Christians shouldn’t be frightened of using violence when the objective of doing so is to promote peace.

[00:06:46] He even went one step further saying that opting not to fight, opting for peace, if you could stop a terrible thing from happening was a sin. 

[00:06:58] So, not going to war, if going to war would stop something bad from happening, was a sin against God.

[00:07:06] Fast forward 800 years or so and the next major development in Just War Theory came from a Dominican priest from modern day Italy, called Thomas Aquinas, or Tommaso D’Aquino in Italian.

[00:07:21] He was really the father of modern Just War Theory, and a lot of how Western countries think about war today comes from the writings of Thomas Aquinas.

[00:07:34] To summarise, Aquinas wrote that three conditions needed to be met for a war to be ‘just’.

[00:07:43] Firstly, the war needed to be fought under the command of a just leader, a king or queen.

[00:07:51] Secondly, the war needed to be fought because of a just reason, because a wrong had been done.

[00:08:00] And thirdly, the intent of those fighting must be good, and by intent he meant that they should try to promote good and avoid evil.

[00:08:12] These three conditions might seem a little simplistic, and they are certainly open to interpretation

[00:08:20] What meets the condition of a just leader, a true leader?

[00:08:25] What meets the condition of a just reason, and what is a ‘wrong’ one?

[00:08:31] And, what meets the conditions of having ‘good intent’? Surely that is very much open to interpretation.

[00:08:40] Indeed, at the time that Thomas Aquinas was writing his Just War Theory, Christian crusaders were off in the Middle East fighting a holy war that they believed to be ‘just’, according to the conditions set out in Aquinas’s theory, but most people today wouldn’t believe to be ‘just’ and correct.

[00:09:02] For the crusaders, it was ‘just’ because it was a holy war, they were fighting it on behalf of their God, which was a ‘just’ reason, so it had good intent

[00:09:14] And it was sponsored by sovereign leaders, it was allowed and promoted by the true leaders of the countries, so it met all of the conditions of Aquinas’s theory.

[00:09:27] Apart from these three conditions, of having a just leader, a just reason, and to promote good and not evil, Aquinas also proposed that violence should be used as a last resort, after all peaceful avenues had been exhausted.

[00:09:45] Leaders had an obligation to try and find a peaceful solution, and war was only justified if none could be found.

[00:09:55] Aquinas didn’t only deal with the morals of when to go to war, but also how you should behave during battle, how you should behave when you are at war.

[00:10:08] Soldiers shouldn’t use excessive violence or cruelty, they should only do what is necessary for the war to be fought, nothing more. 

[00:10:18] So, killing innocent non-military people, killing civilians, that was out of the question.

[00:10:26] Subsequent philosophers built on Aquinas’s theory to consider the idea of when it is right to go to war, and how these wars should be fought.

[00:10:37] At least in Western culture, the theories presented by Aquinas have been developed, but at its core the ideas about when it is just to go to war, and how wars should be fought have remained pretty similar since the 13th Century.

[00:10:55] You could argue that Thomas Aquinas’s theory hasn’t really done a huge amount to stop wars from happening in the first place, but what it has done is it has presented a framework for thinking about war, and this framework has been used over and over when leaders are considering the rights and wrongs of going to war.

[00:11:19] Perhaps the largest and most testing time, the most challenging time, for the theory of Just War came in the 20th Century, with World War I, and then World War II. 

[00:11:32] At the beginning of World War I there was actually a theological battle going on between German and British theologians about who was in the right, who was fighting a ‘just’ war. 

[00:11:47] Indeed, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the most senior person in the Anglican Church collaborated with a large number of religious leaders to publish a document outlining why the German theologians’ ideas about war were wrong, and why it was actually the British forces, the Allied forces, who were in the right.

[00:12:12] And the 20th century has of course put a lot of Aquinas’s theories to the test.

[00:12:19] When Aquinas was writing, war was fought on battlefields by men with swords, bows and arrows, and hand to hand combat

[00:12:30] Yes, civilians might get hurt and cities might be burned to the ground, but it was a far cry from the events of even World War II, when cities would be bombed to the ground by aeroplanes far up in the sky, or today, where drone strikes on civilians can be carried out from thousands of miles away.

[00:12:53] Some of Aquinas’s ideas about what a just leader was have also been questioned, and this is often pointed at as a problem with his theory.

[00:13:04] With Aquinas's just war theory, an official leader was the only one capable of waging a ‘just’ war.

[00:13:12] This would mean that a rebellion or revolution would be, by default, unjust, because the leader wasn’t sovereign

[00:13:21] Lenin, the Soviet revolutionary leader, therefore decided to come up with his own Just War Theory, which was based on the idea that war was justified as part of a revolution.

[00:13:36] For Lenin, the war was between the oppressed and the oppressors, the working proletariat and the Russian bourgeoisie, the poor and the rich.

[00:13:47] He argued that there was no need to ask yourself ‘who was attacking who’, because the oppressed, the Russian poor, were being fought by their bourgeoisie oppressors, by the rich. 

[00:14:00] A socialist war against the oppressors was, by default, just.

[00:14:06] Of course, World War II caused the most direct deaths of any war in the history of mankind, and there were some real questions posed there about the right and wrong way to fight a war.

[00:14:21] World War II might have been the last global war, but it certainly hasn’t been the last war.

[00:14:28] Countries embarking on military campaigns since then have often used a similar framework to the one Aquinas developed 700 years ago to think about whether the war can be justified or not.

[00:14:43] The modern theory of Just War revolves around the idea that war is something that should be avoided if at all possible, but there are times where it is the least bad option.

[00:14:57] And Just War Theory may be the most famous theory about when and under what conditions it is right to go to war.

[00:15:06] But it’s not without its opponents, or at least alternatives. 

[00:15:11] Pacifists, for example, argue that there is never a time for war, that there are always peaceful options that are better than going to war.

[00:15:22] And on the other side, there are those that feel that the Just War theory is too lenient, it actually imposes too many conditions for a war to be just.

[00:15:36] Militarism is a theory that proposes that war isn’t inherently bad, it's not bad in itself, and it can actually be a good thing for society.

[00:15:48] Realism is another theory that you might be familiar with, and proposes the idea that looking at these kinds of questions through a moral lens just isn’t realistic, it’s not the right way to think about it. 

[00:16:03] Instead, countries should be practical, and on occasion war is the most practical, realistic, action to take.

[00:16:13] And somewhere in the middle is something called consequentialism, the theory that the end justifies the means, that if the outcome of war, or an act during the war, is good, then the act can be justified

[00:16:31] For example something like dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaski at the end of World War II would be justified like this, as the objective was to end the war, even though the impact of dropping two atomic weapons on two large cities was, evidently, horrific.

[00:16:53] Now, bringing this back to real life for one minute, what does this actually mean in terms of whether a country can or can’t go to war with another one?

[00:17:03] We’ve dealt with the moral and ethical arguments, but when it comes to practicalities, when and under what conditions can a country now go to war with another?

[00:17:15] Evidently this is a very complicated subject, far too complicated to cover properly in a small section of this episode, but there is no black and white answer of under what conditions a country can or can’t go to war. 

[00:17:31] I’m sure that we can all think of examples from recent years of countries, including the UK, going to war and there being large debates both inside and outside that country about whether the war is just, and whether it’s indeed legal.

[00:17:49] From a legal point of view, in the United Nations Charter countries have sworn to not use force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. 

[00:18:00] So any country that signed the UN Charter, and that’s almost every country in the world, has sworn to not go to war with another country.

[00:18:10] But, as we know, there are still countless examples of wars still happening, for reasons that wouldn’t pass the test of being ‘Just’. 

[00:18:21] So, although the theory of Just War does give us a useful framework for thinking about the rights and wrongs of war, and when a war can actually be justified, real life suggests that, as Jack Sparrow of Pirates of the Carribean once said, they’re more like guidelines than actual rules.

[00:18:43] OK then, that is it for Just War, and the theory of when, and under what conditions war can be justified.

[00:18:52] To state the obvious, it is a complicated, divisive, but certainly interesting subject. 

[00:18:57] I hope you enjoyed it, and that you learned something new.

[00:19:02] As always, I would love to know what you thought of today’s episode. 

[00:19:06] What do you think of the Just War theory? 

[00:19:09] Are there circumstances when war can be justified? Or is it never right, whatever the other options?

[00:19:16] You can head right into our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com.

[00:19:22] You’ve been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:19:27] I’m Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I’ll catch you in the next episode.


[END OF PODCAST]