Before getting to the question of “just war,” which theologians and politicians have been arguing for centuries, what about the concept of war, itself? Why have the greatest minds and best intentions of human beings failed to end war?
In the last century, the United Nations and its predecessor, the League of Nations, dramatically failed to bring an end to wars and conflicts, in spite of the efforts of their organizers.
The Bible teaches that humans war with each other because they refuse to make peace with God through his “peace offering” of Jesus Christ. The Apostle James asks, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:1-3, NIV)
In the Summa Theologicae, Thomas Aquinas presents the general outline of what has become known as the just war theory. He discusses not only the justification of war, but also the kinds of activities that are permissible in war.
The American point of view has generally been that a war can be just if we are attacked first, or if it seeks to liberate other people from the type of oppressive government or organizing system that enslaves them to dictators who deprive their citizens of life, liberty and the right to select their own rulers and express themselves according to their own minds and consciences.
Not all oppressors can, or should, be ousted through war. But the fact that not all can be ousted does not mean that some can’t, especially when American security and other overwhelming interests are paramount. It is still being debated whether American security and national interests justified U.S. intervention in Iraq.
Also included in the definition of a just war would be the right to self defense. The debate is ongoing as to whether the Bush Administration’s policy of preemptive war fits this definition. I believe it does in the case of terrorism.