Some blame for the facile acceptance and even sanctification of war must go to the venerable and misused “just-war theory.” This theory, developed over centuries, was a noble effort to minimize the harm of war. The theory had some successes and can be used to limit and block wars, but it has tended to be honored in word more than deed. The mischief of the “just-war theory” was that by putting the word war alongside the word just, it baptized war, making it seem rational and moral and good as long as certain rules are observed. It helped to rationalize war.
Just-war talk helped us to hide the reality of human and ecological devastation that war always involves. The abused word war has lost its sting; it is no longer descriptive of the horror we are wreaking when we “go to war.” If the “just-war theory” were called the “justifiable-slaughter theory” or “the justifiable-violence theory,” it would at least be honest. Maybe the slaughter and the human and ecological devastation we are planning are justifiable, but at least we would be honest in admitting what it is we are justifying. It would be language with out legerdemain. In moral matters, the rush to euphemisms is always a sign of bad faith.
Military strategists, and ethicists embedded with them, drape an even thicker tissue of lies and euphemisms around military violence. They like to call it “the use of force.” That sugarcoats it handsomely. Force, after all, is nice. A forceful personality, a forceful argument-these can be quite admirable. But an atomic bomb hitting the population center of Hiroshima or Nagasaki or the brutal leveling of Falluja in Iraq or of settlement camps in Palestine needs a more honest word than force. Force, like war, is a malicious euphemism. It averts our eyes from the horrors described by Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “Some two million children have died in dozens of wars during the past decade…This is more than three times the number of battlefield deaths of American soldiers in all their wars since 1776…Today, civilians account for more than 90 percent of war casualties. ”
We need a fresh look at the “just-war theory,” a principal tool for making war look normal. Its use is widespread, even when not referred to as such, though it is more often used as a cover for stupid military adventures brought on by the failure to do work that makes peace. Transforming that theory so that it truly serves peace is our goal.
This has been taken from Daniel C. Maguire’s book: The Horrors We Bless: rethinking the Just-War Legacy.
Bishop Desmond Tutu’s quote was found in the Washington Post, November 24, 1996 page C7 in an article titled “Stop Killing the Children.”