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In Defence of War Hardcover – 12 Sep 2013
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There is a serious disconnect between scholars exploring just war theory and those engaging the Christian just war tradition. The language of religion is foreign to many in the secular camp thereby leaving us bereft of a rich and sometimes compelling perspective. Provocatively titled, In Defence of War brings this tradition to the fore. It is well worth the read. (Michael L. Gross, Mind)
In Defence of War is an excellent book ... Combining deep understanding of the just-war tradition with impressive knowledge of military history, this book makes a valuable contribution to the ongoing debate. I highly recommend it (James Anderson, Expository Times)
Nigel Biggars In Defence of War is, in my judgment, the best contemporary theological exploration of the ethics of war since the work of Paul Ramsey ... A robust book like In Defence of War, which has its own internal dialogues among different ethical frames, is a contribution that should be respected and taken seriously across the range of all who address military ethics (James Turner Johnson, Journal of Military Ethics)
This is a significant book. It provides a defense and clarification of just war theory within the Christian tradition through a series of extended engagements with Christian and secular critics of that theory. Biggar makes a clear and important case, and does so with impressive learning and literary style (Kenneth R. Himes, Theological Studies)
In Defence of War is a searching, challenging book. It deserves much discussion (John Kelsay, Studies in Christian Ethics)
There are many fine books on the morality of war, but every so often a book comes along that really distinguishes itself in the field. Paul Ramsey's The Just War (1968) was certainly one. Appearing as it did in the midst of the Vietnam conflict, it served as a kind of bellwether of Christian moral reflection on a host of complex issues surrounding a controversial war. Nigel Biggar's new book is the same sort of text that comes to us in the aftermath of another very controversial conflict, the invasion of Iraq by the United States and Britain. Biggar's book is a veritable tour de force in Christian ethical reflection on war and surely the best such text that has appeared since Ramsey's work. (Darrell Cole, Journal of the American Academy of Religion)
Anyone who cares about questions of war and peace - and who wishes to think deeply about how to assess those questions morally - should buy and promptly read Nigel Biggar's In Defense of War. (Damon Linker, The Week)
This is an important book. (Church Times)
Every once in a while, a truly special book comes down the theological pike ... Now comes Nigel Biggar's In Defence of War. Biggar's careful moral reasoning offers a model that, if followed, would deepen and mature the Christian discussion of the ethics of war and peace. (First Things Magazine)
A very important book. (Reform)
About the Author
Nigel Biggar is Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology, and Director of the McDonald Centre for Theology, Ethics, and Public Life, at the University of Oxford, where he is also a Canon of Christ Church Cathedral. Before taking up his current post in 2007, he held chairs in Theology at the University of Leeds and at Trinity College Dublin. Among his published works are: Behaving in Public: How to Do Christian Ethics (2011), (co-ed.) Religious Voices in Public Places (2009), Aiming to Kill: The Ethics of Suicide and Euthanasia (2004); and (ed.) Burying the Past: Making Peace and Doing Justice after Civil Conflict (2001, 2003). He sits on the Editorial Advisory Board of the Journal of Military Ethics and has lectured at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom.
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At a time when the country is geering itself up to commemorate the 100th outbreak of the Great War his book could not be more relevant. This event has already attracted strong criticism from Professor Richard Evans, Regius Professor of History at Cambridge University. Evans has written that : 'the men who enlisted in 1914 may have thought they were fighting for civilisation, a better world, a war to end all wars, a war to defend freedom: they were wrong'.He goes on to accuse those who would celebrate 1918 as a British military victory of :'narrow, tub-thumping jingoism'. Professor Biggar would take a quite different view. He believes we can commemorate a victory over a dangerous opponent without proclaiming our superiority. He believes it is possible to say it was right to fight back, while at the same time agreeing the war was a catastrophe.
Nigel Biggar examines the 1500 year history of the 'just war' tradition. It was originally formulated by Christian theologians such as Augustine. It is now firmly embedded in international law. The author reminds us of the 6 key criteria of ius ad bellum, and those of ius in bello, namely proportionalty and discrimination. He discusses pacifism, the principle of double effect, the Great War and the lessons from the Somme, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and Kosovo.
Nigel ponders how he would have reacted if he had fought in 1914 or 1940. In particular, how 'my Christian faith would have coped'. He tackles head on the thorny problem, how can war be morally justified. Acknowledging the fine works of Michael Walzer, Brian Orend, and A J Coates, among others he structures his book so that the reader is able to focus on those parts that they are interested in. He explains that for him a 'just war' is never ever perfectly just. By just he means 'justified'. No war is ever perfectly just but a war can be justified-the Great War is an example. He writes:'war is always waged by one set of sinners against another'. A war can be right yet cause dreadful evils. He makes the important point that the infliction of pain is often necessary in all walks of life for reasons of prudence, justice and deterrence.
In one of the most important parts of the book he addresses two instances of the evils of war. The first is a war that very controversial, for example the 2003 Iraq war. The second example is a war that is universally regarded as just, for example the 1939-45 war. With graphic descriptions he shows how both types cause suffering on a huge scale to the armed and unarmed alike. Hence, even justified, war causes dreadful evils-example, the thousands of French civilians killed by the Allies in the bombing prior to D-Day. Biggar points out that evil can result from a decision NOT to intervene militarily as well as going to war. He writes:'Omission and Commission are equally obliged to give an account of themselves'.
The author asks us to accept that although wars cause terrible evils it may be morally right sometimes to engage in it. He queries the view that there has to be a better way to respond to injustice. He does not believe there is always available a pacific solution. He says a major target of his book is, therefore, 'the virus of wishful thinking'. He argues that the key causes of the 1914-18 war were the 'moral attitudes and choices of individuals' (and this reviewer agrees).
Biggar is a realist about human nature. He believes humans are capable of love an heroic deeds as well as becoming wedded to evil. His discussion of the theory of 'double effect' is very interesting. This theory states that you can do something that will almost certainly cause evil, as long as you do not intend that evil (ie desire it). He argues in Chapter 3, therefore, that it is plausible to state that soldiers should never intend to kill their enemies.
There will be few books published this year that can rival this one for the depth of its analysis. It poses numerous very uncomfortable questions, many of which have been debated for many, many years. Biggar is concerned about the growth of pacifism and the belief that all wars are unjust. He challenges this robustly and is firmly of the oplnlon that the Great War was a morally justified. It had just cause, its intention was right, and it was proportionate ad bellum. Like all wars it was fought by imperfect human beings hence a measure of incompetence was inevitable particularly when officers trained to command small colonial forces found themselves having to manage millions in an environment that was outside their experience.
I cannot recommend this book too highly.
He regarded annual memorial services to the war dead with distaste, not because of those who died, but because of the participation of clergy who sought to sanctify what could not be sanctified. Biggar seeks to meet this viewpoint by stating, "by 'Just War' I do not refer to that is simply or perfectly just: and I certainly do not refer to a war that is holy. 'Just' here means justified – on balance and all things considered". However, given the human condition and irrationality of human nature, nothing can ever be with 'all things considered' and to pretend that balance can be achieved is an example of the virus of wishful thinking that Biggar smugly dismisses as missing the validation of the justified war. War is the pursuit of diplomacy by other means with the aim of achieving a political objective which has no relation to justice or to God. This is particularly so where wars are conducted in the name of Christianity or any other religion. As J C Squire cynically wrote:
God heard the embattled nations sing and shout
Gotte Strafe England and God save the King
God this, God that, and God the other thing -
Good God! said God, I've got my work cut out!
The Great War was 'one set of sinners against another' but their sin lay in their respective beliefs that God was on their side, a concept firmly established in Jewish history but dismissed in the non-Catholic Christian tradition. Rousseau made this point in dismissing Christianity as the religion of the State because it is other-worldly and takes away from the citizen's commitment to the State. It facilitates the enslavement of Christians through their refusal to fight. Biggar's attempt to claim the Great War was justified is a pathetic re-statement of Allied propaganda of the time. The War was not about civilisation but jingoistic nationalism. The war against Hitler was a different proposition, it was about survival and it's ironic that Churchill, a non-believer, called for a national day of prayer. It is possible to claim that it is right to fight against Nazism and Fascism but only in the name of secular politics, not in the name of Christianity.
Biggar argues he is a Christian realist when in practice he is a Christian denialist. He claims Christian pacifism is mistaken. War is a secular activity exercised by governments some of which describe themselves as religious. Yet all government activity is essential political and secular, no matter how they seek to describe it in theological language. Hence what Biggar describes as a weakness that Christian pacifists 'reason there is no need to read classic Christian texts and engage with it at close quarters' is not a mistake on their part but on his. The essence of Christian belief to which Biggar adheres is that 'The God in whom I believe is a living, loving, intending, acting reality, who is capable of incarnation, real death and bodily resurrection. I confess I cannot really see the point in believing in any other kind'. Yet underlying his 'realism' is a confused commitment to a literal and liberal interpretation of textual material. The Bible reflects the times in which it was written and the perception of its authors as to the nature of reality. The everlasting reality of Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus Christ, not the text that describes it.
Biggar foolishly applies criteria of 'just war' to the Iraq war stating Saddam Hussein's regime was an atrocious regime. So too was Mugabe's regime in Africa but there was never any question of it being removed by force. If the dead were to be 'paid respect' by punishing their murderers very few regimes outside the West would stand. No state has the right to remove the regime of another. Regime change was an excuse not a reason for going to war. Biggar claims the perceived threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) was a reason for going to war notwithstanding the fact that Iraq had no such weapons. To justify his prejudice Biggar concedes the absence of WMD 'was an error on the part of the intelligence services'. This is naive to the point of stupidity. There was no evidence that Saddam had WMD. The Dodgy Dossier was spun by the Blairites to influence public opinion and those who issued it persecuted David Kelly to suicide to cover the fact it was an 'expedient fabrication'. Most postwar commercial contracts were given to American interests.
The notion that democracy could be planted in an alien environment and grow of its own accord is an example of Enlightenment over-optimism which Biggar acknowledges but fails to understand is the same as that of Muslim terrorists who capture young Christian women to 'free' them. America and Britain did not invade Iraq in the name of Christianity. The invasion was political and economic in origin. That does not provide the conclusion Biggar wants but is closer to the truth. Three stars for an overlong defence of the indefensible.
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among others). Shows how absence of warfare-Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia - is not always preferable to armed conflict which could have prevented atrocities on the scale experienced.
Lum and in bello.