Sunday, September 18, 2005

One for Laura

Robert George on Just War theory.

George: There is a set of principles establishing criteria for moral evaluation of the use, or possible use, of military force. First, war can be justified only in self-defense or defense of others. Wars may not legitimately be fought for national glory, to avenge past wrongs, for territorial gain, or for any other non-defensive purpose. Of course, force may rightly be used, as in the Persian Gulf War, to evict an invading and occupying power. This is an essentially defensive purpose. A second principle of just war requires that the use of force have a reasonable likelihood of success. Lives may not be sacrificed and taken in futile causes. A third principle demands that force be used only when non-violent means will not suffice. A fourth recognizes the immunity of non-combatants from deliberate attack. Although it can be permissible to perform military actions that foreseeable result in the death or injury of noncombatants (so-called "collateral damage"), it is never permissible to make the harming of noncombatants the object of the actions. Thus, killing civilians for revenge, or even as a means of deterring aggression by people who sympathize with them, is forbidden. A fifth principle requires that the use of force, especially where harm to noncombatants is likely, be "proportionate" to the evil being opposed.

Relatedly, norms of fairness must be observed in electing to perform acts one knows will likely cause such harm. The just-war tradition affirms the sanctity of life and the principle of equal human dignity. The Golden Rule forbids treating people we don't know or who have no connection with us or who differ from us in ways that are irrelevant to their status as noncombatants as having less of a right to life than people who happen to be our fellow citizens.

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