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Memorial Day and Just War Principles

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In light of the fact that Monday is Memorial Day, and with people’s thoughts being directed towards those who have died fighting in wars, I propose a thought experiment about the idea of a Just War. I directly lifted the following summaries of Just War ideas from Wikipedia, because they seem clear enough:

Jus ad bellum (Right to Wage War)

  1. Just cause: The reason for going to war needs to be just and cannot therefore be solely for recapturing things taken or punishing people who have done wrong; innocent life must be in imminent danger and intervention must be to protect life. A contemporary view of just cause was expressed in 1993 when the US Catholic Conference said: “Force may be used only to correct a grave, public evil, i.e., aggression or massive violation of the basic human rights of whole populations.”
  2. Comparative justice: While there may be rights and wrongs on all sides of a conflict, to override the presumption against the use of force, the injustice suffered by one party must significantly outweigh that suffered by the other. Some theorists such as Brian Orend omit this term, seeing it as fertile ground for exploitation by bellicose regimes.
  3. Legitimate authority: Only duly constituted public authorities may wage war.
  4. Right intention: Force may be used only in a truly just cause and solely for that purpose—correcting a suffered wrong is considered a right intention, while material gain or maintaining economies is not.
  5. Probability of success: Arms may not be used in a futile cause or in a case where disproportionate measures are required to achieve success.
  6. Last resort: Force may be used only after all peaceful and viable alternatives have been seriously tried and exhausted or are clearly not practical. It may be clear that the other side is using negotiations as a delaying tactic and will not make meaningful concessions.
  7. Proportionality: The anticipated benefits of waging a war must be proportionate to its expected evils or harms. This principle is also known as the principle of macro-proportionality, so as to distinguish it from the jus in bello principle of proportionality.

Jus in bello (Conduct During Wars)

  1. Distinction: Just war conduct should be governed by the principle of distinction. The acts of war should be directed towards enemy combatants, and not towards non-combatants caught in circumstances they did not create. The prohibited acts include bombing civilian residential areas that include no military target and committing acts of terrorism or reprisal against civilians.
  2. Proportionality: Just war conduct should be governed by the principle of proportionality. An attack cannot be launched on a military objective in the knowledge that the incidental civilian injuries would be clearly excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage (principle of proportionality).
  3. Military necessity: Just war conduct should be governed by the principle of minimum force. An attack or action must be intended to help in the military defeat of the enemy, it must be an attack on a military objective, and the harm caused to civilians or civilian property must be proportional and not excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated. This principle is meant to limit excessive and unnecessary death and destruction.

Jus post bellum (Ending a War)

  1. Just cause for termination: A state may terminate a war if there has been a reasonable vindication of the rights that were violated in the first place, and if the aggressor is willing to negotiate the terms of surrender. These terms of surrender include a formal apology, compensations, war crimes trials and perhaps rehabilitation. Alternatively, a state may end a war if it becomes clear that any just goals of the war cannot be reached at all or cannot be reached without using excessive force.
  2. Right intention: A state must only terminate a war under the conditions agreed upon in the above criteria. Revenge is not permitted. The victor state must also be willing to apply the same level of objectivity and investigation into any war crimes its armed forces may have committed.
  3. Public declaration and authority: The terms of peace must be made by a legitimate authority, and the terms must be accepted by a legitimate authority.
  4. Discrimination: The victor state is to differentiate between political and military leaders, and combatants and civilians. Punitive measures are to be limited to those directly responsible for the conflict. Truth and reconciliation may sometimes be more important than punishing war crimes.
  5. Proportionality: Any terms of surrender must be proportional to the rights that were initially violated. Draconian measures, absolutionist crusades and any attempt at denying the surrendered country the right to participate in the world community are not permitted.

You can read the full Wikipedia article if you like. Now, if you are interested, read the full timeline of U.S. military operations since the inception of the country. It’s quite a list, really.

Memorial Day was unofficially started not long after the end of the Civil War in 1845, though it wasn’t declared to be an official Federal holiday until 1967. In light of that, here is a list of the major U.S. military operations since then—this list is from the above linked Wikipedia article, but I have removed most of the “small” operations:

  • 1968 – Laos & Cambodia. U.S. starts secret bombing campaign against targets along the Ho Chi Minh trail in the sovereign nations of Cambodia and Laos. The bombings last at least two years.
  • 1982-1983 – Lebanon. On September 29, 1982, President Reagan reported the deployment of 1200 marines to serve in a temporary multinational force to facilitate the restoration of Lebanese government sovereignty. On September 29, 1983, Congress passed the Multinational Force in Lebanon Resolution (P.L. 98-119) authorizing the continued participation for eighteen months.
  • 1983 – Grenada. Citing the increased threat of Soviet and Cuban influence and noting the development of an international airport following a bloodless Grenada coup d’état and alignment with the Soviets and Cuba, the U.S. launches Operation Urgent Fury to invade the sovereign island nation of Grenada.
  • 1983-89 – Honduras. In July 1983 the United States undertook a series of exercises in Honduras that some believed might lead to conflict with Nicaragua. On March 25, 1986, unarmed US military helicopters and crewmen ferried Honduran troops to the Nicaraguan border to repel Nicaraguan troops.
  • 1983 – Chad. On August 8, 1983, President Reagan reported the deployment of two AWACS electronic surveillance planes and eight F-15 fighter planes and ground logistical support forces to assist Chad against Libyan and rebel forces.
  • 1987-88 – Persian Gulf. After the Iran-Iraq War resulted in several military incidents in the Persian Gulf, the United States increased US joint military forces operations in the Persian Gulf and adopted a policy of reflagging and escorting Kuwaiti oil tankers through the Persian Gulf, called Operation Earnest Will. President Reagan reported that US ships had been fired upon or struck mines or taken other military action on September 21 (Iran Ajr), October 8, and October 19, 1987 and April 18 (Operation Praying Mantis), July 3, and July 14, 1988. The United States gradually reduced its forces after a cease-fire between Iran and Iraq on August 20, 1988. It was the largest naval convoy operation since World War II.
  • 1989-90 – Operation Just Cause, Panama – On December 21, 1989, President Bush reported that he had ordered US military forces to Panama to protect the lives of American citizens and bring General Noriega to justice. By February 13, 1990, all the invasion forces had been withdrawn. Around 200 Panamanian civilians were reported killed. The Panamanian head of state, General Manuel Noriega, was captured and brought to the U.S.
  • 1990 – Saudi Arabia. On August 9, 1990, President Bush reported that he had ordered the forward deployment of substantial elements of the US armed forces into the Persian Gulf region to help defend Saudi Arabia after the August 2 invasion of Kuwait by Iraq. On November 16, 1990, he reported the continued buildup of the forces to ensure an adequate offensive military option. American hostages being held in Iran.
  • 1991 – Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm (Persian Gulf War). On January 16, 1991, U.S. forces attacked Iraqi forces and military targets in Iraq and Kuwait in conjunction with a coalition of allies and under United Nations Security Council resolutions. Combat operations ended on February 28, 1991.
  • 1991 – Iraq. On May 17, 1991, President Bush stated that the Iraqi repression of the Kurdish people had necessitated a limited introduction of U.S. forces into northern Iraq for emergency relief purposes.
  • 1992 – Kuwait. On August 3, 1992, the United States began a series of military exercises in Kuwait, following Iraqi refusal to recognize a new border drawn up by the United Nations and refusal to cooperate with UN inspection teams.
  • 1992-2003 – Iraq. Iraqi No-Fly Zones The U.S. together with the United Kingdom declares and enforces “no fly zones” over the majority of sovereign Iraqi airspace, prohibiting Iraqi flights in zones in southern Iraq and northern Iraq, and conducting aerial reconnaissance and bombings. (See also Operation Southern Watch)
  • 1992-95 – Somalia. “Operation Restore Hope” Somali Civil War On December 10, 1992, President Bush reported that he had deployed US armed forces to Somalia in response to a humanitarian crisis and a UN Security Council Resolution. The operation came to an end on May 4, 1993. US forces continued to participate in the successor United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM II). (See also Battle of Mogadishu)
  • 1993–Present – Bosnia-Herzegovina.
  • 1993 – Macedonia. On July 9, 1993, President Clinton reported the deployment of 350 US soldiers to the Republic of Macedonia to participate in the UN Protection Force to help maintain stability in the area of former Yugoslavia.
  • 1994-95 – Operation Uphold Democracy, Haiti. U.S. ships had begun embargo against Haiti. Up to 20,000 US military troops were later deployed to Haiti.
  • 1995 – Operation Deliberate Force, Bosnia. NATO bombing of Bosnian Serbs.
  • 1998 – Operation Desert Fox, Iraq – U.S. and British forces conduct a major four-day bombing campaign from December 16–19, 1998 on Iraqi targets.
  • 1998 – Operation Infinite Reach, Afghanistan and Sudan. On August 20, air strikes were used against two suspected terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and a suspected chemical factory in Sudan.
  • 1999-2001 East Timor. Limited number of U.S. military forces deployed with the United Nations-mandated International Force for East Timor restore peace to East Timor.
  • 1999 – Operation Allied Force – NATO’s bombing of Serbia in the Kosovo Conflict.
  • 2001 – Afghanistan. War in Afghanistan. The War on Terrorism begins with Operation Enduring Freedom. On October 7, 2001, US Armed Forces invade Afghanistan in response to the 9/11 attacks and “begin combat action in Afghanistan against Al Qaeda terrorists and their Taliban supporters.”
  • 2003 – 2003 invasion of Iraq leading to the War in Iraq. March 20, 2003. The United States leads a coalition that includes Britain, Australia and Spain to invade Iraq with the stated goal of eliminating Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and undermining Saddam Hussein.
  • 2004 – War on Terrorism: US anti-terror related activities were underway in Georgia, Djibouti, Kenya, Ethiopia, Yemen, and Eritrea.
  • 2006 – Pakistan. 17 people including known Al Qaeda bomb maker and chemical weapons expert Midhat Mursi, were killed in an American MQ-1 Predator airstrike on Damadola (Pakistan), near the Afghan border.[9][10] However, statements by U.S. and Pakistani officials reported in September, 2007 disclosed that that none of those al-Qaeda leaders perished in the strike and that only local villagers were killed.
  • 2009 – Pakistan, In relation to efforts in Afghanistan, U.S. Forces struck an insurgent encampment in the Northern mountains, killing 24, with missiles fired from an unmanned aerial assault vehicle.

What on earth have we been up to? And, much more importantly, why? Answering those questions could take more than a lifetime, so I won’t really try right now. But think about Just War principles, and think about the wars or individual battles that you might actually know something about. Do the principles line up with history? How many things have we done that we had no business doing?

Or, to put it another way:

  • Is the idea of a “just war” as describe above missing any principles?
  • Are any of the existing principles incorrect?
  • Can you think of a war that you consider “just” that wouldn’t be classified that way by the above ideas?

Spend some time answering those questions, and you might have a more pensive Memorial Day amidst all the barbecues and such.

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