Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Wells and the “Just War” Revisited

by Kim Morrison

When I chose to read the article by Frederick Struckmeyer, I had no idea that I was going to be dealing with the article on “just war” by Donald Wells again. I knew I had gone in a very different direction with the Wells article than most would have but after reading Struckmeyer’s article I can see now just how different my direction was. When writing my last paper I admit that I had tunnel-vision. I was only tuning in to the parts of Wells article that I understood and ignored most of the other things. Reading Struckmeyer’s article has helped me to see the errors Wells made throughout his article. My objective in this paper will be to examine and discuss some of these errors in more detail.

Unfortunately the major problem Struckmeyer recognizes with Wells’ article is what I used to write a good portion of my last paper, his comparison between medieval and modern warfare. I now see that this comparison, although one I understood to some degree, was greatly biased on Wells’ part. He seemed to present the warfare of medieval times as far less evil and more morally justified than modern warfare. Struckmeyer also points out that Wells seems to believe the whole Just War Theory has become completely useless, or nearly so, when it is applied to modern warfare. Wells basically makes this argument by saying that the type of weaponry used, based on the technology available at the time, is what makes the difference morally between these two time frames. Wells argues that once weapons can be used to shoot at a target that one cannot see with the naked eye, the “justness” of that war becomes questionable. At first I had agreed with him but I have amended my position because Struckmeyer makes a good case against this argument when he mentions the use of cannon and the ancient cross bow. These weapons, although not as accurate or as effective as the ones in modern times may be, were still used against the enemy at distances where hand-to-hand combat was not possible. Apparently Wells and I were both too occupied with hand-to-hand combat and weapons that could kill at close range that we neglected to take into account those ancient weapons which were rather effective at greater distances.

Another argument Wells makes for medieval warfare being more just than modern warfare is the number of noncombatant deaths that he believes has come to grossly outnumber the deaths of combatants. In my last paper I mentioned that in the age of chivalry, deaths of noncombatants were to be avoided whenever possible. I still believe this to be true but I do agree with Struckmeyer when he says that not all civilian deaths were accidental. I am quite convinced that no matter how much time and energy were put into keeping civilians out of a war, the number of combatant and noncombatant deaths, accidental or not, were probably closer than Wells is willing to acknowledge. Struckmeyer uses the severe drop in China’s population (millions of deaths) due to the Mongol invasions to argue that a large number of civilian casualties has always been a part of any war, past and present. Although I agree with him on that point I find it interesting that he chose China as his example because Wells seems to be presenting the European aspect of the medieval period. Did he encounter a problem finding a European example that would have completely put Wells’ argument to shame?

Wells’ pacifist position that all wars are bad and should be avoided at all costs is what creates the most problems in his article. But what else can a pacifist say, right? When all avenues to avoid a war have been exhausted and it seems that a war is still inevitable, what is the morally acceptable thing to do? Surrender, according to Wells. How this is acceptable to him (or any pacifist for that matter) is beyond me. He also seems to believe that even the consideration of fighting a war, no matter what the reason, is morally wrong. How this is possible in modern times when countries have standing armies ready to fight when the need arises is a problem Wells does not readily deal with. (Remember those little green toy soldiers I spoke about in my last paper? Guess what? They’re back.) I suppose he is using good Christian ideology, believing that it is morally right to turn the other cheek and avoid war but in how many situations has that stance been really prudent? As Struckmeyer points out, it is an individual policy that is not easily used as a national policy. Especially for those countries, the United States included, in which surrender itself is rarely, if ever, considered an option. He also does not make a distinction between a defensive and an offensive war. I believe he does not make this distinction because no matter what the reasons are, according to the pacifist viewpoint, war is bad. However, Struckmeyer believes, and I agree, that it is this distinction that makes the difference between a just and unjust war. He states that “…to resist when one’s life or country is threatened is not the same as to kill out of personal (or collective) hatred or vindictiveness,” (p. 53). How a pacifist can argue that surrendering to an enemy could ever be better than defending oneself when attacked is truly bizarre.

Despite the fact that Wells tended favor the medieval war as the lesser of two evils and his pacifistic viewpoint, Struckmeyer agreed with a great deal of Wells’ “just war” philosophy. We must keep in mind, as we are learning in class, that most people are not towards one extreme or the other (totally for war or totally against war). As Struckmeyer observes, “Wells…reminded us that there is an alternative to war,” (p. 55). However, his “wonderful world without wars” can only be realized once we all put down our weapons and open our hearts and our minds to the possibility of a normal life without them.

When I started writing this paper I thought it would be easy since I was referring to an article I had already had experience with. I see now that I still don’t have a firm grasp on the concepts surrounding the JWT. The only thing I am certain of is that the principles of JWT need to be revised to accommodate the changes that have occurred in the manner in which wars are fought. In my opinion, the philosophies behind pacifism and appeasement and the idea that surrender, or at least nonresistance, could ever be better than waging a war are absurd. I suppose my high ideals are the products of being born and raised in a country that can afford to defend itself without worrying about how that is going to be accomplished. No matter what my opinions are or how I came about them the one philosophical thing I can say with any conviction is, “The only thing I know is that I know nothing.” Thanks Socrates.


Blogger Wesley Gibbs said...

I find your points on Struckmeyer and Wells very interesting. One of my favorites was when Struckmeyer speaks on the Mongols in China. I also think that it would have made a much better point if he used an English medieval example.

2:50 PM  
Anonymous jamie mccall said...

"Wells’ pacifist position that all wars are bad and should be avoided at all costs is what creates the most problems in his article."

I'm not saying I agree with his statement, because as we all know, I dont...but to the pacifist this makes perfect sense. Its one of those damn consistancy issues when it leads to the consequences you describe later (when it comes to war, you lose everytime as a pacifist!). It sounds irrational to me, but to the pacifist, it is simply being consistant.

Which makes me wonder how valuable consistancy really is...

3:29 PM  
Anonymous Wesley Frazier said...

I think the real challenge Struckmeyer has in this article, is not ismply showing how there where long range weapons in earlier eras. But why the use of weapons likely to kill non-combatants is justified.

That is the real core of the argument.

8:22 AM  
Anonymous Mitch Ullman said...

I haven't got much to say other than to point out that there is a Medieval European example...

The sacking of Constantinople.

Oh, and the consistency thing is one that is sometimes based on one's ontology.

10:30 AM  
Blogger Adam Johnson said...

Surrender instead of fighting back does indeed seem rather absurd at first glance. Certainly, it is not prudent to self survival. However, when you erase the line between your own happiness and others', the general shape of the ulititarian/pacifist stance is a little easier to swallow.

4:17 PM  
Anonymous Steven Grueshaber said...

I don't like that fact that some of us are still considering the number of civilian deaths as being directly related to whether a war is just or unjust. When fewer people are dying, many seem to think that the actions are "more just." I think it's the case that the most just action is actually the one that casues the fewest total innocent casualties (By innocent, I'm also going to include those that are fighting on the just side of the war).

While they may seem to be the same thing at first glance, I feel that there is an important difference. If 20,000 deaths is the fewest number of innocent casualties that an action can cause, then I think it is far more just than an action in a different war that causes only 12,000 deaths, assuming that there was a different action that could have resulted in only 8,000.

4:22 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

I'm sure some of you have read the book Enders Game by Orson Scott Card. Ender Wiggins is in a situation where he is having to fight a bully. Ender is very small, bully is very large and has many friends. Ender ends up beating the kid within an inch of his life (he might have actually killed him, not sure). When asked why he didn't stop when he had won, Ender replies that he would have had to fight him over and over again, this way it is the only time he'll have to fight the bully and none of the friends will mess with him anymore either.
To paraphrase Sun Tzu : If you're going to fight, fight to win; that is the only goal in a fight.
And not just win now, but win for all time.

4:38 PM  
Anonymous jeremy page said...

A very enjoyable essay.

"I suppose he is using good Christian ideology, believing that it is morally right to turn the other cheek and avoid war but in how many situations has that stance been really prudent?"

My problem with this is that such "Christian ideology" is applicable only at a personal level-the only level where religion makes a (personal) difference. Sure, religion can help mold society as a whole, but states don't have to "turn the other cheek," in fact, in some of his letter, Paul (I believe it was Paul...) stated that the military and government had to do what they should be doing: running the affairs of man, not God. It annoys me to some extent when quite a few theologians we have covered have advocated pacifism for states while using doctrine that only covers the personal levels.

It can defintely be said that some of the rules of war need to change because of the weapons used to wage them.

I also think Wells' thinking on pacifism are weak. How can surrender bring aobut better conditions than fighting? Morality is *seemingly* reinforced by better results for moral actions-how can surrender be more moral in the long run than fighting a war? (obvious rhetorical question).

4:46 PM  
Blogger Drew said...

I like the way you look at this. I find your points informative. Because im a history major the example of the mongols in china is something that is easily evident to see. The justification of non combatants is skecthy but i understand wher eyou are coming from.

1:36 PM  
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3:12 AM  

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