The “just war” theory has triumphed in America, but with its success comes a new set of responsibilities, political theorist Michael Walzer said in a special lecture on Monday in Gladfelter Hall.
“War is always a morally dubious activity,” said Walzer, a professor of social sciences at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, N.J., “and justice still needs to be defended.”
Sandra and Bernard Featherman sponsored the discussion for the annual lecture series in their name. Mr. Featherman is a Temple alumnus and his wife is a former Temple professor.
Just war theory contends that war is not always wrong; in some cases, war is necessary, such as in self-defense or in defense of others.
Walzer argued that the theory has triumphed as American military planners have considered it. However, he warned that although the military is now using tenets of the theory to justify its actions, this does not necessarily mean that the war is actually just.
Walzer said that the rise of the just war theory in America began after the Vietnam War. The reasons for the war and the way in which it was fought resulted in a loss of American and Vietnamese support for America’s involvement.
“The brutality of how [the Vietnam War] was fought almost certainly contributed to our defeat,” Walzer said.
Saying that “justice has become a military necessity,” Walzer discussed the ways in which the government now uses moral justifications for going to war.
But this use of just war rhetoric does not mean that debate and discussion of the theory is no longer unnecessary, Walzer said.
“The just war theory [can be used as] a manual for wartime criticism,” he said, to evaluate whether the war is really being fought for a just cause and in a just way.
Walzer pointed to the American wars in Iraq, Yugoslavia and Afghanistan as wars that he believes were fought for just reasons.
When discussing Iraq, however, he said that the way the Gulf War was fought did not meet the standards of a just war, even though the war was being fought for a just cause.
The bombing of electrical and water plants that supplied the civilian population constituted a violation of just war theory.
This concern with the effects of war on civilians was a major point of Walzer’s lecture.
“War is properly a war of armies,” he said, and the only legitimate targets in a war are soldiers and civilians who are working in munitions factories.
During the discussion session after the lecture, Temple physics professor Dieter Forster raised the issue of whether soldiers who were conscripted or forced into military service should be targets.
Walzer felt that although the soldiers were conscripted, they still constituted a threat and were therefore legitimate targets.
The responsibility of countries that fight wars of humanitarian intervention was also touched upon during the lecture.
Walzer argued that when a country intervenes to stop genocide, that country cannot simply walk away after the genocide is stopped. The country is then responsible to aid in rebuilding the nation in which it intervened.
“The work of the virtuous is never finished,” he said.
Brian White can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org