Since its inception in 1776, the United States has been involved in 13 major wars. One, the Global War on Terror, is still ongoing.
More than 1.1 million American soldiers have been killed in all U.S. wars. An estimated 83,000 are still missing in action.
What does this say about our nation? Are we warmongers? Power-hungry? Prone to acting out offensively when defensive action would have resulted in less bloodshed?
Yet war is, at times, arguably the best option. Sometimes, it’s the only option.
If the 13 colonies had refused to go to war with Great Britain, U.S. would probably not exist today. Had the U.S. backed down in the face of Hitler’s fascist regime and the Empire of Japan, millions more innocents would have been lost.
What of the Global War on Terror? Though opinions diverge on whether America’s invasion of Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11 and subsequent involvement in Iraq were carried out effectively, few would argue that retaliation of some kind was not justified.
War has not always garnered the U.S. total victory—see Vietnam—but offensive action has ultimately led our democratic nation to preserve our form of government, spread it around the globe and defend citizens of other countries where their defense was needed.
Yes, war is at times necessary and even justifiable.
For a clearer picture of constitutes legitimate war engagement, let’s take a look at St. Augustine’s theory of just war.
Augustine laid out the basis of just war with four main criteria: just authority, just cause, right intention and last resort.
The philosopher’s first rule of just war concerns the decision to enter said conflict. Is the decision to go to war based on a legitimate political and legal process? If not, reconsider. If so, move on to rule number two.
Has a wrong been committed in which war is an appropriate response? For example, is a nation’s government inflicting mass genocide on its population? Has a country or group attacked a nation without foreseeable reason? These are some scenarios to consider when war is on the table.
Augustine’s third rule of just war involves a nation’s intentions: is the response proportional to the cause? Is the war action limited to righting the wrong, and no further? Was America’s decision to get involved in World War II proportional to the attack on Pearl Harbor, for example.
Finally, Augustine asks whether every other means of righting the wrong have been attempted sincerely so that no other option remains. Instances where righting the wrong without war have been unsuccessful includes the Obama-led ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya or even President Trump’s recent action in Syria.
These are the criteria around which war is justified, no more, no less. War inevitably breaks out outside these parameters, but was it then necessary? Augustine would argue it was not.
War is a destructive and often depressing reality of human existence. But it is at times necessary. And, if relying on Augustine’s just war theory, sometimes it’s even justified.
Kaylyn Deiter is a senior English and journalism major from Aberdeen, S.D.