Ethics Beyond War’s End (Georgetown University Press, 2012)

[1] While much ethical literature exists discussing the justification for war (jus ad bellum) and the rules governing the prosecution of war (jus in bello) little literature exists which addresses issues related to how w​​​ar ends and what principles guide actions in the post-conflict era (jus post bellum). This book presents the contribution of eleven scholars to the growing desire to address the ethical conditions faced after wars end. The ten essays in this book were presented at a 2010 conference which took place at Georgetown University and were revised for publication. Eric Patterson, the conference organizer and volume editor, also provides an introductory and concluding essay for the book. The volume also contains a helpful ten-page index and biographic information about each contributor.

[2] Patterson observes that changes in the nature of military conflicts in the 21st century demand that considerable efforts must be given to constructing ethical frameworks for considering issues relating to the end and aftermath of war. Patterson further notes that while there are many complex and intertwined issues, they all fall under three broad headings: order, justice, and conciliation (2-3). One of the overarching concerns of all these contributors is that thinking about the ethical obligations, which follow a war, cannot be a mere afterthought appended to existing Just War Theory. Jus post bellum must be integrated thoroughly into a comprehensive theory of Just War which considers not only justifications for and just actions during war but the justice required after a war.

[3] These authors have thought deeply and pragmatically about the ethical dimensions of war and its aftermath. While none of them oppose war in principle, they all seem to imply that how the decision to go to war is made and how wars are prosecuted cannot merely address short-term concerns. The long-term implications of the many decades which follow a military action must be included in the jus ad bellum and the jus in bello calculus. This may affect the decision to go to war and may even motivate states to seek nonviolent solutions to address their grievances. They are to be applauded for their efforts in this regard. But given that Just War Theory itself is predicated upon the assumption that war is between states (governments), one wonders how such thinking applies to non-state sanctioned conflicts, to civil wars, or to “rogue states with weapons of mass destruction, against organized criminal syndicates in the jungles of South America, against pirates on the high seas, by nontraditional actors such as corporate contractors and mercenaries…” (229). These are certainly the military challenges at the beginning of the 21st century which are being faced and call for ethical guidance. While the traditional framework for Just War Theory may not directly apply to our current challenge, it is certainly the place to begin in the task of broadening our thinking. If there is anything missing from this volume it would any creative attempt to break out of the traditional Just War Theory model in order to address the “irregular” wars of the 21st century and their aftermath.

[4] Across many of the essays, one can find a close reading of Augustine and Aquinas, this is especially true of James Turner Johnson in “Moral Responsibility after Conflict: The Idea of Jus Post Bellum for the Twenty-First Century.” One can also find engagement with the ideas of Kant, Hobbes, John Rawls, and Hannah Arendt, just to name a few. Much reflection is given to the nature of justice–retributive, restorative transformative. Each author defines terms in nuanced ways which requires the reader to carefully attend to each author’s argument. One author, George R. Lucas Jr., in his article “Jus Ante and Post Bellum: Completing the Circle, Breaking the Cycle,” even expands the ethical circle to include a discussion of just military preparedness (jus ante bellum).

[5] There are nuanced discussions parsing the difference between peace and justice, conciliation and reconciliation, and the role of human rights considerations. Many contributors are concerned that our vision for life after war may be too idealistic and utopian and thus unobtainable. Perhaps we should be modest in our aspirations of what can be actually achieved. This is the caution of Robert E. Williams Jr. in “A More Perfect Peace: Jus Post Bellum and the Quest for Stable Peace.” Here he advises that we observe, along with General William T. Sherman, that “War’s legitimate object is a more perfect peace” not a perfect peace.

[6] In addition to theoretical discussions, the authors engage the concrete details of many wars, among them, The American Civil, WWI, WWII, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Given that this book is primarily for an American audience, much attention is given to wars in which America participated. David A. Crocker in “Ending the US Civil War Well: Reconciliation and Transitional Justice,” provides a penetrating historical analysis of the end and aftermath of the American Civil War. In addition to showing the value of the category jus post bellum for historians as they seek to understand the past, he shows that the concerns for reconciliation between the whites of the North and South denied justice to African-Americans and has left us with an “unfinished revolution” and “unfinished task” of providing both “healing and justice” (169). Thus, the history of how that war ended affected the course of United States history to the present day.

[7] Jean Bethke Elshtain provides a theological treatment of confession, forgiveness, and what she calls “knowing forgetting” in “Just War and an Ethics of Responsibility.” She points, among other things, to the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa. Theologians and Christian ethicists will find her work most promising as a way forward.

[8] On the other hand, Christian ethicists may find Pauletta Otis’s analysis in “Ethics in the Times of War” a bit disturbing. Here, she engages the six stages of warfare as outlined by the United States Department of Defense. She assumes “that just war theory is based on religious theologies and traditions” (98). She likewise makes a strong connection between “religious ideologies and behaviors” and a “theoretical framework” for the “study of ethics” (98). She thus points to an entanglement of religious and military doctrine in each of the six stages which highlights the problem of American Civil Religion for Christian ethicists. One may not see her work as a prescription for how Christian ethicists should engage American Military Doctrine, but she has accurately described the current state of entanglement of Church and State in the American discourse, an entanglement which goes all the way back to Augustine and Aquinas. We can thank her for naming the elephant in the room!

[9] As a political theorist, Brian Orend in “Justice After War: Towards a New Geneva Convention,” after a discussion of both revenge and rehabilitation models, proposes his own “ten-point recipe” for what might become an international consensus for what justice after war should look like (188).

[10] The last major essay in the book comes from Mark Evans, “‘Just Peace’: An Elusive Ideal.” ​It is the most abstract and philosophical and is sobering in its conclusion that the better future of an envisioned just peace is elusive “and perhaps even unobtainable” (216). Nevertheless, he calls for us to do hard thinking, deep thinking, broad and expansive thinking, which “links our aspirations, our ideals, and our realities to policy programs in pursuit of that elusive ideal” (216). This statement, which ends his essay, also summarizes the entire book. These scholars collectively are calling us to think deeply and to join in the conversation, not only of the rarefied theoretical type but also to think and talk together about “the complexities of individual concrete situations” with all their “typically messy, conflicting, and confusing” components (203).

[11] Thus, this book is both a statement of the “state-of-the-question” and a call to join in the deep, hard, and messy conversation. Besides offering additional nuanced theological analysis of Augustine and Aquinas and the Christian entanglement in formulating Just War Doctrine, Christian ethicists and theologians offer different stories. These include the stories of those who resist war, non-combatants hurt by war, pacifists who wage peace, as well as pastoral stories of broken combatants ravaged by guilt, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, disability seeking hope, healing, or redemption. But chiefly, we have to offer the story of the Crucified One and through the Theology of the Cross, a new way to not only conceptualize and live in a jus post bellum world, but to reconceptualize and recast the entirety of Just War Theory and tell an entirely different story. I highly recommend this book and its call to join the conversation.

E. Wray Bryant

E. Wray Bryant, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Religion and Philosophy at Capital University in Columbus Ohio.