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The U.S. War In Afghanistan and Just War Theory

Following the 9-11 terrorist attacks, America began a "war" against "terrorism." No matter how right this action might appear to be on the surface, it is incumbent upon Christians to ask themselves whether U.S. actions really constitute a just war or just another humanistic political war

  • Joseph Farinaccio,
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Following the 9-11 terrorist attacks, America began a "war" against "terrorism." No matter how right this action might appear to be on the surface, it is incumbent upon Christians to ask themselves whether U.S. actions really constitute a just war or just another humanistic political war. War is a serious thing. Make no mistake about it, U.S. military actions in Afghanistan are going to result in death and suffering for huge numbers of Afghan civilians for years to come.

There are times when it is necessary to take human life. But killing human beings apart from the moral guidelines of Scripture is murder. In the Biblical scheme of things, we live in a fallen sinful world. Because of sin there will be national aggressions that will sometimes lead to war. Just War Theory developed over centuries in the West as Christian theologians attempted to define when a nation is justified in going to war.

The following outline of Just War Theory is taken from World Magazine:

First come criteria for when going to war is permissible. It isn't enough to honor most of them; all seven must be satisfied.
1. Public authority. War must be declared by a legitimate government. Private individuals and groups cannot do it.
2. Just cause. War must not be waged except to protect innocent life, to ensure that people can live decently, and to secure their natural rights.
3. Right intention (first part - more later). Not only must there be just cause to take up arms; this just cause must be the reason for taking up arms. Our goal must be to achieve a just peace.
4. Comparative justice. War should not be waged unless the evils that are fought are grave enough to justify killing.
5. Proportionality (first part - more later). There must be reason to expect that going to war will end more evil than it causes. By the way, this means not only physical evil, but spiritual - not only destruction of bodies and buildings, but corruption of callings and virtues.
6. Probability of success. There must be a reasonable likelihood that the war will achieve its aims.
7. Last resort. War should not be waged unless a reasonable person would recognize that the peaceful alternatives have been exhausted.
Next come criteria for how war must be fought. No exceptions are allowed, no matter how much we may want to make them.
1. Right intention (second part). Remember, the goal must be to achieve a just peace. Therefore, we must avoid any act or demand that would make it more difficult for our enemies to reconcile with us some day.
2. Proportionality (second part). We must never use tactics that can be expected to bring about more evil than good.
3. Discrimination. Even though harm might come to them accidentally, directly intended attacks on noncombatants and nonmilitary targets are never permissible.
Would these principles cramp our style? They sure would. But God is not interested in our style. What He demands of us is holiness.1

The question for us is whether or not U.S. actions in Afghanistan meet these requirements? On the surface they might seem to, especially given the fact that American civilians were attacked on their soil. But further reflection upon Just War Theory may give us pause to re-think the current war. While no patriotic American wants to see his country as being on the wrong side of an international conflict, especially after 9-11-01, we still want to ask ourselves if the devil (so to speak) is in the details.

First, "public authority" infers that a true war involves sovereign nations. But was the attack that took place in our country a true act of "war" between sovereign authorities or was it a criminal act? The pursuit of justice for murderers may end with a legitimate use of governmental force. But such force first involves the operation of proper legal channels to apprehend suspected criminals.

A consistent application of justice stems from the rule of law. So we must ask if the U.S. government should have first gathered evidence to build a legal case against suspects just as it would have done in other highjackings? To declare a war against "terrorism," with its vague and open-ended objective of fighting terrorists "wherever" they may be seems to fall outside of the boundaries of a declared war where the enemy can be truly identified.

Second, "just cause" states that a country must go to war to "protect innocent life" and "ensure that people can live decently, and to secure their natural rights." Is this really a goal of the U.S.? Here, the evidence is very unsettling. A few of the countries supposedly allied with the U.S. in this war have either directly or indirectly supported terrorism in recent years. Both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, for example, have well known monetary and ideological ties to bin Ladin's group and many other radical Islamic terrorist networks. The Saudi ruling families have been major sponsors of the radical Islamic theological schools that supply recruits for bin Ladin. They have done this to placate fundamentalist factions within their own country who are opposed to U.S. troops being stationed on Arabian soil.

We may also remember who exactly Osama bin Ladin is. It is now widely known that he's a former ally of our own government. Like Saddam Hussein, bin Ladin is a former U.S. friend in the region. The U.S. funneled both money and weapons, through the CIA, to his original organization during the Afghan-Soviet War. Earlier this year the Bush administration reportedly released over 40 million dollars to the Taliban for so-called humanitarian purposes. They did so despite the fact that bin Ladin was already wanted for the killing of hundreds of U.S. servicemen overseas and was operating with the Taliban's blessing within Afghanistan. Is the U.S. really interested in ending terrorism, or just selective terrorist groups? Does U.S. money itself often end up funding overseas terrorism?

The Taliban are noted for committing an endless number of barbarous atrocities against their own people. The Afghan human rights organization RAWA recognizes the arbitrariness of U.S. policy towards Afghanistan. Here's what they posted on their web site in the days immediately following 9-11-01:

On September 11, 2001 the world was stunned with the horrific terrorist attacks on the United States. RAWA stands with the rest of the world in expressing our sorrow and condemnation for this barbaric act of violence and terror. RAWA had already warned that the United States should not support the most treacherous, most criminal, most anti-democracy and anti-women Islamic fundamentalist parties because after both the Jehadi and the Taliban have committed every possible type of heinous crimes against our people, they would feel no shame in committing such crimes against the American people whom they consider "infidel." In order to gain and maintain their power, these barbaric criminals are ready to turn easily to any criminal force.
But unfortunately we must say that it was the government of the United States who supported Pakistani dictator Gen. Zia-ul Haq in creating thousands of religious schools from which the germs of Taliban emerged. In the similar way, as is clear to all, Osama Bin Laden has been the blue-eyed boy of CIA. But what is more painful is that American politicians have not drawn a lesson from their pro-fundamentalist policies in our country and are still supporting this or that fundamentalist band or leader. In our opinion any kind of support to the fundamentalist Taliban and Jehadies is actually trampling democratic, women's rights and human rights values...2 (Emphasis added.)

Politicians in Washington are usually driven by whatever they deem "U.S. interests" at any given time. None of this, of course, justifies the attacks on our country, but these facts do beg Americans to look at the bigger picture. R. J. Rushdoony noted, "The Bible is against offensive war. This is not acceptable to many people. What would have happened, they say, if we had not waged war against the Nazis, or prepared to do so against the Marxists? They do not stop to consider that from day one all such regimes were financed by loans and pacts by us. Why not terminate such orders by withdrawing all support? Or do we want war?"3

Third, "right intention" is also suspect in this war. It is likely the 9-11 tragedies were so large scale in the minds of the political establishment that immediate retaliation against some sort of enemy had to take place lest the voting public dissent. But is the political appeasement of U.S. voters a valid motive for killing?

Fourth, the U.S. is dropping bombs that, even by conservative estimates, have probably killed or maimed large numbers of Afghan civilian non-combatants thus far. What good does it do for Donald Rumsfeld to hold daily press conferences and repeat that our military isn't targeting civilians when in fact their own reports show they are targeting civilian areas? Bombs do not "discriminate" against whom they maim and kill.

Fifth, U.S. actions have so far displaced several hundred thousand people and have caused disruption to the already poorly coordinated humanitarian aid in the country. By the time this is over there will likely be tens, if not hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties by way of either direct or indirect U.S. actions. And so we must ask, is all this proportional justice?

Sixth, we must honestly ask ourselves if this war is winnable? If winning means killing Osama bin Ladin then, of course, that is possible. But can anyone win a war on "terrorism"? Does anyone seriously think that will happen? Israel has never eliminated its terrorist problem with the use of extreme force. Americans should also ask themselves if the cost of enacting a police state in America in the name of making us all "secure" is worth it? No government, including our own, should be given the extreme police powers just enacted by Congress. The potential (and temptation) for abuse is far too great.

Finally, we are required to ask if this war was entered only as a last resort. Did President Bush do everything he could to exercise peaceful alternatives to bring bin Ladin to justice? It's obvious that immediate preparations began after 9-11 for a virtually unilateral U.S. military campaign against Afghanistan and "evil terrorists wherever they are." If indiscriminate killing of civilians is wrong (something the U.S. seems to take for granted concerning its own), then shouldn't these things be approached with a lot more gravitas than usual?

The state is a legitimate institution. But it has limits. As P. Andrew Sandlin observed, "The Biblical state protects against tyranny from within (crime) and tyranny from without (invasion). There is no Biblical justification for war except to protect against tyranny from without - invasion."4 The U.S. wasn't invaded by a foreign army. The present U.S. policy of foreign interventionism currently fuels the incentive for terrorism against it. A policy of military neutrality towards other countries would seem to be the greatest step the U.S. government could take to seriously end terrorism. A new world order cannot arise from U.S. hegemony. It can only come in a world transformed by the gospel of peace.

Is the current U.S.-Afghan war just? It is certainly legitimate to question whether or not Just War Theory actually reflects what Scripture teaches concerning the subject of war, but it seems reasonable to conclude at this point that the current military action against Afghanistan doesn't fulfill its requirements.


1. J. Budziszewski , Checklist for Kosovo, World (April 17,1999)

2. Posting on the RAWA web site in the days following the events of Sept. 11, 2001 at:

3. R.J. Rushdoony, "War", May 2000 Chalcedon Report, p.2.

4. P.Andrew Sandlin, "War, the Bible, and the State", May 2000 Chalcedon Report, p. 3.

  • Joseph Farinaccio

Joseph Farinaccio is a Christian writer and public speaker from New Jersey. The Christian apologetic Faith With Reason is his first book. He lives in Pennsville, NJ with his wife Joni and their two children. They are members of the Glasgow Reformed Presbyterian Church in Bear, Delaware. He is curently at work on another book and speaks to College/Youth and Church audiences on Christianity and world religion.

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