November 2, 2015

VIDEO: Just War Theory & When Killing is “Morally Obligatory”

Editor’s Note: These comments are transcribed from a video interview with Providence Journal’s Managing Editor Marc LiVecche ahead of the magazine’s inaugural issue. To attend the official Providence Launch Event on November 6, 2015, simply RSVP online. Make sure to visit www.ProvidenceMag.com to learn more about Providence and read cutting-edge foreign policy analysis from a Christian perspective.

I’m Marc LiVecche. I’m managing editor of Providence: A Journal of Christianity & American Foreign Policy.

My motivation for doing this emerges in part from doing a dissertation on Just War and moral injury. Having read a number of combat memoirs in preparation for this work, I kept running across some form of the phrase, “I know that killing is wrong, but in war it is necessary.”

And for soldiers, the burden of having to do that which they believe to be morally evil is devastating. And according to the classic Just War tradition, it needn’t be.

Killing comes in different kinds. Some of it is indeed morally prescribed, but some of it is morally neutral as in an accident in which nobody is to blame. But other kinds of killing are actually morally permitted and in certain circumstances, even morally obligatory.

On September 11th when the planes hit, my adviser – the late political theorist and public intellectual Jean Bethke Elshtain – said to a friend, “Now we know what governments are for.”

And what she was just gesturing to is the understanding that governments have been handed the sword, the moral burden of the sword, marking them responsible for the restoration and preservation of order and justice and peace, which sometimes requires that governments punish evil, take back those things which have been wrongly taken, and always protect the innocent.

This itself gestures to the understanding that human beings are responsible in history for the conditions of history. We see this in the Creation Mandate in which God says, “Let us create man in our image, and give them dominion over all the earth.”

We are responsible for the conditions of life; not solely responsible, not ultimately responsible, but we have a role to play: to do no harm, to do good where we can, to help were we’re able. This is a tremendous burden, and one of the goals of Providence is to help make the meeting of these responsibilities just a little bit easier.


 

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