by Joseph Camilleri
Pax Christi Australia (NSW)
Endemic violence, the hallmark of the last hundred years, shows no sign of abating. The death toll resulting from war in the 20th century is 187 million and probably higher. The number of armed conflicts in the world has risen steadily since 1946 and now stands at 50 or more in any one year. In each case ‘just war’ rhetoric has been invoked to defend the indefensible. It is time to shift our thinking and public discourse from ‘just war’ to ‘just peace’.
Questions regarding the morality of war can be traced back to classical antiquity and across the histories of the main civilisations. Just war theory, as it came to be known in the Western tradition, has its origins in Greek and Roman thought, but it is only in the Christian era that it received its distinctive formulation.
In a decisive shift from the pacifist leanings of the early Church, Augustine argued that war could be waged but only under the right authority and for a just purpose. Several centuries later Thomas Aquinas greatly refined the concept, arguing that for war to be just, it must satisfy three tests. It must be waged under the authority of the ruler whose responsibility it is to protect the state and its people; it must be waged against an opponent intent on aggression and then only as a last resort; and the underlying motive must be to achieve good or prevent evil.
These conditions paved the way for what later came to be known jus ad bellum (the conditions for a just cause) and jus in bello (the conditions for the just conduct of war). In the early 17th century Hugo Grotius, widely regarded as the father of modern international law, stripped away the theological trappings of just war and ground it firmly in natural law…