The Just War in Historical Perspective

From Roman times to the present age of American dominance, writes Brian Bond, philosophers, jurists and men of state have tried to answer the question: ‘When is war just?’

Since classical times at least, men have anxiously debated the question “what is a just war?”

St. Augustine of Hippo coined a phrase of timeless validity when he declared, as a first principle, that “the final object of war is peace”.

“Wars are defined as just”, he added with a rather different emphasis, “when their aim is to avenge injury, that is when the people or city against whom war is to be declared has neglected either to redress the injuries done by its subjects, or to restore what they have wrongfully seized”.

He condemned unjust war as “no more than robbery on a majestic scale”. Implicit in his views is the notion of restoring a state of equity and harmony rather than the meting out of unlimited punishment on incorrigible sinners.

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