Afghanistan: A Just War

News Abroad

Dr. Klinghoffer is the author of Vietnam, Jews and the Middle East: Unintended Consequences (Macmillan-St. Martin’s 1999).

The concept of a just war may be an oxymoron to a Quaker and irrelevant to a Hobbesian. For the rest of us, some wars are justified while others unforgivable. Religions were the first to delineate the difference between just and unjust wars. Jewish law differentiates between obligatory war in which the enemy attacks; permissible war in which the enemy is preparing to attack; and forbidden aggressive, expansionist wars. Islam permits only holy wars (Jihad) against infidels or those opposed to true Islam. The medieval Church considered legal only wars properly declared by established authorities with just causes and legitimate objectives. In the past couple of centuries, international relations theorists have further developed and refined the concept in a determined effort to minimize, if not outlaw, war. The"neo-just war doctrine" considers war to be just if it is a war of last resort waged by a legitimate authority for defensive reasons with a reasonable chance of success in restoring peace. Moreover it is argued, war must have a military purpose:" War is permitted to resist aggression but not to change an aggressor's type of government."

If so, the Gulf War was the perfect just war. It was fought successfully under the UN rubric to restore peace by evicting the aggressor, and it restored peace or the status quo ante without altering either the aggressor's or the victim's regimes. The trouble is that ten years hence, the Gulf War remains controversial precisely because it kept Iraq in the clutches of a ruthless dictator and returned Kuwait into the hands of a feudal one. In fact, wars, universally acknowledged as just, were undertaken for debatable reasons, were highly risky undertakings, fought in a ruthless manner and resulted not only in a change in the aggressor's type of government but the delegitimization of its oppressive ideological basis. Just wars ultimately make the world a better place irrespective of their original purpose.

Lincoln insisted that he fought a war to save the Union and not, as the Confederates charged, to end slavery. The Union's victory prospects often looked dubious. There was no attempt to limit the costs to"innocent civilians." If it is an example of a just war, it is because it ended slavery as a viable modern social structure. For it is important to recall that American slavery, which seemed to be at the wane in the end of the eighteenth century, enjoyed an ideological as well as a numerical renaissance in the middle of the nineteenth. What Jefferson considered a necessary evil, George Fitzhugh insisted was a humane alternative to the problems of wage labor. The Civil War ended the debate.

Churchill and Roosevelt went to war to reestablish"sovereign rights and self-government," not to save the Jews as Hitler charged. Victory was far from assured, and the destruction of Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki remains controversial. And, yet, W.W.II. is a"good war" because it ended the Holocaust and revealed the true nature of Social Darwinism, racism and anti-Semitism. Father Coughlin lost his national audience and Truman integrated the army and eugenics became a dirty word.

Similarly, Bush Jr., went to war to fight terrorism and not to force the Muslem world to treat their women as fellow human beings. The war is far from over and victory is not yet assured. Still, it has already become clear that if the American war in Afghanistan is going to be considered a just war, it is going to be because it enabled Afghani women to claim their place in the sun. The demise of the Taliban meant that Afghanis turned on their television and saw a woman anchoring the news. It also led Laura Bush to become the first First Lady to give a presidential radio address, committing the only superpower to the promotion of the rights of women. Hence, a call for the expulsion of women from intellectual, economic and political life will be tantamount to the espousal of slavery, racism or anti-Semitism. A subject once debatable, is now self evident.

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RLM - 12/14/2003

If women in the muslem world were allowed to be treated as people instead of being owned-there would be a whole lot less problems. No mother would sacrifice her child for the chance of even one virgin.