Just War today.

Author:Hagenmaier, Bob
Position:Correspondence - Letter to the Editor

In "Just War, As It Was and Is" (January), James Turner Johnson makes a good case for the development of just war theory to deal with the "actual face" of modern war. However, his description of contemporary war misses the mark. He sees civil wars, fights between warlords, containment of terrorists, and employment of smart-bomb technology, but he doesn't see the other side of the coin: detente of mutually assured destruction, which continues now between the U.S. and Russia and is the model for the present standoffs between Pakistan and India, Israel and Iran. In all countries with nuclear weapons, it is likely that orders have been issued to the military for their use under certain conditions. This is the face of cold war, which is just as much "war" as is the containment of terrorists. In order to be useful, just war theory must deal with mutually assured destruction and other uses of modern weapons not just as addenda but as core issues.

Bob Hagenmaier

Winter Haven, Florida

James Turner Johnson's discussion of the just war tradition is a truly significant account of the ways in which recent formulations of just war teaching depart from the authentic just war tradition.

I am in substantial agreement with Professor Johnson's critique of the "presumptionist" position and its cousin, the "Catholic peace tradition," but I do not see the latter as a lay expansion of the sacerdotal priesthood's combat exemption. To be sure, Catholic tradition has always opposed the notion that the secular state of life is equal in merit to the religious state, but this recognition of a distinction of merit should not be confused with a supposed "historical (and doctrinal) distinction between the 'high' morality of the religious and the 'lower' morality of the laity."

In his Opusculum XVII (1257), Thomas Aquinas argues that no such split-level or stratified morality characterizes Catholicity in the first place--which is also to say that no such stratified morality separates those whose state of life exempts them from "carrying the sword" from those whose state of life obliges them to do so. Against Vigilantius, Aquinas writes: "[T]hey say, we must go from the Commandments to the Counsels, as from imperfection to perfection. But this proposition is false. We know from the very words of Our Lord [Matthew 22:37], that the first and chief commandment of the Law is the love of God and of our fellow men.... Hence, as the Apostle says to the Colossians [3:14], 'But...

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