What I’m calling “unbridled war” here is sometimes referred to as jihadism, holy wars, crusading, etc., but these terms evoke negative images of particular religious traditions. The stance that we’re referring to here is an “anything goes” attitude, regardless of whether or not it has religious motivation or connection, or which religion (if any) it is connected to. That’s why I’ve chosen not to use those pejorative terms here and simply try to reflect the “any action for any reason” stance by calling it unbridled warfare. Of course, the reason is always in the eye of the beholder. When a nation or group declares war, they always believe they have just cause, so in some ways this position doesn’t even belong on here. Perhaps we mainly include such a position in these discussions in order to rationalize that our wars are more moral than the other guys’ wars.
So let’s start with the Just War stance. This position has a long history dating back to Aristotle, Augustine, & Aquinas.
Aristotle (Greek philosopher; lived 384 – 322 B.C.E.) took the position that sometimes it is necessary to engage in war, but that peace should always remain the central motive even in war. According to Aristotle, we should “wage war for the sake of peace.”
St. Augustine (Bishop of Hippo; lived 354 – 430) affirmed the early Christian idea that Christians should be pacifists, but he also “made room” for the possibility that even Christians, living in this imperfect world, might sometimes have to fight to restore peace. According to Augustine, war must never be preemptive. Any warfare must be a response to a warring act of an aggressor. (Hippo is in northern Africa, in modern-day Algeria.)
St. Thomas Aquinas (Italian Dominican priest, philosopher, and theologian; lived 1225 – 1274) is the person who developed the criteria for just war. (Aquinas is not a last name, but a place of origin. It is the Latin way of saying “Thomas of Aquino,” which is in Sicily.) Aquinas laid out several criteria for what makes a war “just.”
• First, just war must be waged by a properly instituted authority such as the state. Although this may work well when discussing international issues, a problem arises when there is a revolution or civil war – like when the people revolt against the tyranny of their so-called “legitimate” government. One way around this is to claim that the “will of the people” serves as the proper authority, but this can also lead to all sorts of abuses – so it’s a tricky issue. (just authority)
• Second, war must occur for a good and just purpose rather than for self-gain or as an exercise of power. (just cause)
Terrorism– Is it War as we know it?
There’s not simply one type of group or agenda that would be considered terrorist. The tactics used, the authority of the agency, and so forth, determine if it’s terrorism – despite whether the goal is, for example, to protest taxes or environmental policy, or has some religious motivation, or whatever.
The people that society calls terrorists almost never see themselves that way. Their single-minded pursuit of their goals give them the sense that anything is right in the pursuit of what they think is a greater good.
Terrorism may be committed against another country, but it may also arise as some form of protest within one’s own country. What the existing government sees as terrorism may be seen as revolution by the group committing it. How can we tell the difference?
Sometimes people throw around the word “jihad” as if it were synonymous with terrorism, but this is a misunderstanding of jihad. In Arabic, jihad literally refers to “struggle” or “striving.”
At the end of the day, we have been fighting wars since mankind stepped foot on this planet. The reasoning behind these wars hasn’t really evolved all that much in the past 3000 years. It’s in our blood, and it’s something we will deal with for a very long time to come.