A pacifist’s analysis of just war thought

Here is a paper describing and critiquing just war thought. Although the term “just war theory” is widely used as if it characterizes the views of war held by most people, including most Christians, not that many people are actually very conversant with the details of this position. This paper, written about 20 years ago, tries to describe and critically interact with a number of the important just war thinkers of the 20th century include Paul Ramsey, James Turner Johnson, and William O’Brien.

I wrote this critique as a pacifist, but worked hard to be objective and descriptive rather than simply dismissive. I hope it’s a discussion that would be illuminating to anyone regardless of their own views. One point I emphasize is the significant difference between two types of just war thought–what I call “realism” and “nuclear pacifism.” I would now probably prefer the term “preventivism” over “nuclear pacifism” because the heart of this perspective is the intention to use just war reasoning to prevent all kinds of war, perhaps even to abolish war.

Though in some ways the essay is dated, especially with regard to the importance of the Soviet Union in these discussions 20 years ago, I believe the analysis remains relevant. Certainly, the issues related to just war thought remain central in our world today.

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