Which American wars fall under the Just war doctrine?

American Revolution
War of 1813
Texan Revolution
Mexican-American War
Civil War
Spanish-American War
World War I
World War II
Korean War
Vietnam War
Gulf War
Afghanistan War
Iraqi War

Which, if any, or if all, of these wars would be considered just wars?

Haha, not the first, I know that much - read Romans 13. How I wish we had remained within Britain’s maternal and imperial embrace.

And that second one should read “War of 1812”, not 1813.

Uh…Totally disagree?

Some people fought these wars for the right reasons, others fought for the wrong reasons.

I’m not sure if its possible, or useful to justify a particular war after the fact. All wars brought much death and suffering. All wars were fought ostensibly to fight some grievous offense. All wars had both an aggressor and aggressee, though sometimes both sides can be at fault.

What matters is that today we fight only when attacked in some manner and respond with proportionate force.

We have to use caution as the current teaching on Just War was developed during the last 60 years. Comparing today’s standards with the past should be used with caution and with a clear understanding of what the standards were at the time. Current Church teaching the competent authority lies with those who have the authority to send service members to war. I can say with confidence that WWI, WWII, Korea, Grenada, and Kosovo followed the current standards. Possible that Panama as well along with Desert Storm/Cease-Fire. Vietnam is a gray issue but I feel it could also fall under the current teachings as the South Vietnam government requested assistance.

Just my opinion of course. Afghanistan and Iraq is an ongoing debate although Pope John Paul II stated (as an opinion) that “Iraq does not meet the criteria.” Again, opinion as the authority rests on the state-hence why there is ongoing healthy debate. It would be interesting if we have some history professors who specialize in those parts of American history to comment as they can share the various nuances that went on with each of the campaigns.

Awesome question, and again, I just gave my opinion based on my knowledge.


…Are you serious?

It’s “maternal” embrace was as motherly as Mommy Dearest.

Catholic thinkers have debated every one of those wars since before they were fought. They continue to debate them today. Because the rightness or wrongness of each war is a particular judgement rather than a moral principle, it is impossible to reach an absolutely certain, yes-or-no, infallible answer.

But, if you want my opinion, distilled by much reading of all sorts of Catholic just war theorists and pacifists and such, here it is:

Clearly Just - jus ad bellum and jus in bello are rarely seriously disputed:

Probably Just: despite frequent and enthusiastic disputes, probably just under JWT:
World War II (point of contention: atom bomb, firebombings)
Civil War (for the Union) (point of contention: right of secession; fun fact: the Pope supported the South)
Iraq War (point of contention: whether peaceful recourse was possible; so-called “preemptive war doctrine” [a grave misnomer, btw])
Gulf War (see above)
Afghan War (point of contention: …various. Impossible to judge an ongoing war.)
Korean War (point of contention: did we have any business waging war in East Asia?)
War of 1812 (point of contention: America was attacked, but Americans seemed eager for war)

Morally Questionable / Ambiguous - Catholics are thoroughly divided on these:
American Revolution (point of contention: does taxation justify bloodshed?)
Vietnam War (point of contention: was this a winnable conflict?)

Probably Unjust:
Mexican-American War
Texan Revolution
World War I

Clearly Unjust:
Spanish-American War

Britain made some bad mistakes that can seem to justify the revolt of the 13 colonies. Biut countries like Australia and New Zealand don’t seem to suffer from retaining their ties with Britain. I have sometimes wondered what we would be like if George III and his British amdinistration had not been so foolish.
The just war doctrine of Catholicism, which goes back to St. Augustine, is meant to apply to all wars. However, I won’t say which U.S. wars seem just or unjust to me here, since then there could be a war on this thread.

Personally, I find the witness of the New Testament to be a pretty strong mark against the American Revolution being a just war.

And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar’s.” Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him. [Mark 12:13-17]

I guess Jesus meant that as long as the Jews had representative political figures influencing Caesar, then they should pay taxes to him. Wait a second…

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. [Romans 13:1-7]

Hmmm… I wonder which is the worthier cause of political insurrection: systematic religious murder or taxing without representation. So Paul says we shouldn’t start a political rebellion against the government even when the government is murdering people out of religious persecution, but political rebellion because of unfair taxation is ok?

I’m not sure I agree entirely with your analysis.

The Just War Doctrine is more analogous with the jus ad bellum. It deals with the justification for the use of force, but it didn’t traditionally deal with the means and methods of warfare (jus ad bello). To the extent is now deals with jus ad bello, that’s largely a relection of how international law developed separately from the traditional Just War Doctrine.

Traditionally the salient question is: Was the use of force by one State against another State lawful under the Just War Doctrine?

Note, the Just War Doctrine relates to international armed conflict. That’s why internal conflicts (like the American Revolution, Civil War, maybe even the Vietnam Conflict) are problematic.

Wars that I think probably violated the Just War Doctrine (acknowledging arguments exist amongst JWD theorists):

  1. Iraq war (2003)
  2. Panama
  3. Grenada
  4. Air Strikes on Afghanistan and Libya
  5. War of 1812
  6. Spanish-American War
  7. Mexican-American War
  8. World War I
  9. American Revolution
  10. Covert involvement in Aghan-Russian War, Nicaragua, and Cuba


My answer is very simple.If they plan to walk in and take over its a “just war”


I would say this is clearly just. Regardless of why the governments fought, the soldiers fought to liberate Europe and Asia and the war brought down two of the most brutal, genocidal machines (Germany and Japan) of the 20th century.

No. The Just War philosophy may have been fine-tuned during the past 60 years, but all of its basic concepts including “lawfully constituted authority” go back to St Augustine in the 4th century, and the concept goes back at least to the pre-Christian pagan Cicero.

I can say with confidence that WWI, WWII, Korea, Grenada, and Kosovo followed the current standards.

WW1? You’ve got to be kidding. The Pope of the time, after whom the current pope named himself, certainly didn’t think so. He condemned the war in the strongest terms. Not to mention that it resulted in the total dismemberment and extinction of the last remaining Catholic power, the Austrian Empire - which was one of the primary aims of the USA and its allies.

Wars like WW2 were just (for the Allies) **in their conception ** but not in the way they were carried out. Pope Pius XII explicitly condemned the indiscriminate mass killing of non-combatants as immoral. IOW the fact that there is a just cause for starting (or joining) a war does not mean that now you are fighting, anything goes.

Civil War (for the Union) (point of contention: right of secession; fun fact: the Pope supported the South)

The Pope did not “support” either side.
Fun, and true, fact: Britain and France were sympathetic to the South, far more so than the pope.

War of 1812 (point of contention: America was attacked

Huh? The war started when the US invaded British territory. The British and their Canadian colonists defeated the US easily, but luckily for the US, Britain granted extremely generous terms of surrender, having its hands full fighting the imperialist anti-Christian tyrant Napoleon (with whom the USA was allied).

No mention of Serbia/Kosovo? Come on, guys, you want reconciliation with the East, that’s one place to start.

That act of aggression was pure evil to the core. On the local level, differing factions were learning to peacefully co-exist. On the government level, they were well on their way to taking care of their own problems. Clinton/Albright/Clarke chose to bomb, anyway, and then handed power to the region to a known terrorist. Can someone explain?!?!?

Firstly, I should note that I forgot to mention that there is a significant number of Catholic theologians who claim to support the Just War Theory in theory, but who do not believe that any war the U.S. has ever waged was a just war. Most of these people are stealth pacifists; some just have a threshold for just war so high that they are effectively pacifists. (Many Catholic opponents of the Iraq War fall into this category.)

To this group, it goes without saying, all American conflicts would fall into the “probably unjust” or “clearly unjust” categories.

Well… I’m afraid that’s just not true. Pope Pius IX was undoubtedly, among all the crowned heads of Europe, by far the most sympathetic to the Confederacy. Without question, he came closest to providing the C.S.A. with the official recognition it craved. Britain and France both considered providing recognition (and concomitant military aid), but only out of national interest. They backed down as soon as the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.

Pope Pius, by contrast, continued to make his sympathies for the Confederacy known. General Lee had a portrait of the Pope in his home and considered him the Confederacy’s only European friend. Even after the war was over and Jeff Davis was imprisoned, Pius IX continued to send ex-President Davis sympathetic messages, including one with his photograph, autograph, and the Latin text of Matt 11:28! The old “crown of thorns” story appears to be untrue, but it is beyond historical dispute that Pope Pius IX was a strong sympathizer of the Confederate cause – beyond doubt their strongest proponent among European heads of state.

Huh? The war started when the US invaded British territory. The British and their Canadian colonists defeated the US easily, but luckily for the US, Britain granted extremely generous terms of surrender, having its hands full fighting the imperialist anti-Christian tyrant Napoleon (with whom the USA was allied).

Firstly, the war started when Congress declared war, in accordance with their national obligations under the law of nations. The precipitating cause of the declaration (among others), however, was the illegal capture and enslavement of American citizens by the British, who were then impressed into service in the Royal Navy. This is clearly an attack on American citizens – clearly an act of war.

As for the military outcomes, I find it very difficult to see a British victory when all three of their invasions were repulsed and became long-running stalemates. (Similarly, I can’t call it an American victory, since our invasions of Canada were also repulsed and stalemated.) Your characterization of the Treaty of Ghent as a “surrender” is, frankly, a complete novelty in my reading. It is true that Britain was eager to end the war, due to partly to their other military commitments and largely due to the cost of waging a years-long stalemate, but, if it had been a surrender, one would have expected a little less eagerness from the American public of 1814 to fight on.

To the OP: this little argument I’m having with Petergee points to another major problem Catholic theorists have when they’re arguing about whether a given war or action was justified or not: we very rarely completely agree on the historical facts we’re talking about!

Example: I was once in a class on Catholic Social Doctrine with a very wise and intelligent professor, who explained to us why the use of the atomic bomb was wrong and evil and all the rest. It was (and is) considered legitimate by Church teaching to destroy facilities dedicated to the production of war materiel (such as factories, armories, airfields, railroad lines, etc.), even if those attacks incur casualties among the non-combatant workers in those settings, because those workers are not, strictly speaking, civilians. The problem with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, my professor argued, is that they weren’t significant industrial centers in 1945, and that they were specifically chosen because they were soft targets that promised insanely high civilian casualty rates – which would of course make Nagasaki a monstrous, direct, premeditated attack on civilian populations and a grave moral evil. So I asked him, “Then, if Nagasaki had been, for example, a major sea port and one of Japan’s largest industrial centers in August 1945, the atomic bombing would have been justified?” “Well, according to the Church, yes, that could have been a legitimate and proportionate response.”

What I didn’t tell him at the time was that my hypothetical was quoted directly from Wikipedia’s article on Nagasaki.

I’m not saying that his theology on the atom bomb was necessarily correct, and I don’t even think I’m quite reproducing his argument quite the way he presented it, but my point is that, in all these conversations, along with the theological disputes, which are many and bitter, there’s a second layer of equally contested historical disputes.


I’ve seen the name “just war theory” appended more often to both jus ad and jus in than to one or the other – but I guess what label you use doesn’t really matter as long as you evaluate both sides of the equation.

Note, the Just War Doctrine relates to international armed conflict. That’s why internal conflicts (like the American Revolution, Civil War, maybe even the Vietnam Conflict) are problematic.

Well, in the first two conflicts you mention, there is considerable question about whether those were internal rebellions or external invasions. Both the Confederates and the Continental Congress considered themselves representatives of independent nations battling foreign invasion.

But, that point aside, the Catholic Church seems to apply approximately the same rules to civil revolt as it does to international wars, with a couple of modifications regarding the meaning of “legitimate authority” for starting a war in each context. Consider, for example, CCC 2243:

Armed resistance to oppression by political authority is not legitimate, unless all the following conditions are met: 1) there is certain, grave, and prolonged violation of fundamental rights; 2) all other means of redress have been exhausted; 3) such resistance will not provoke worse disorders; 4) there is well-founded hope of success; and 5) it is impossible reasonably to foresee any better solution.

I think no one’s mentioned it because it wasn’t in the OP. And, frankly, to the U.S., it was such a minor conflict… I’d actually forgotten we’d been involved in it. That sounds horrific, I know. (In my defense, I was not yet an adult at the time.)

It’s a conflict where the facts aren’t very clear. I’ve heard Easterners say that we basically bombed a bunch of people for no reason, but the news media here reported that Serbia was basically pulling a Holocaust on a bunch of innocent people in Kosovo. That’s where we got the phrase “ethnic cleansing,” which is a pretty horrifying phrase. Now, I have always suspected that Clinton started that war because he was trying to distract the American public from his own unfolding sex scandal and impeachment hearings, but, based on what I knew at the time, it did appear to be a just cause. Stopping genocide is a right and perhaps a responsibility of a world superpower. (Which, incidentally, is why I argue that the Iraq War was just.)

Jeremy Scahill’s journalism during that time was priceless. His impromptu interview of Wesley Clarke in 2003 is also priceless. Clarke, normally confident and arrogant, stuttered and back-pedalled. Red flags went up in my head when I read op-eds by Chomsky and Buchanan, 2 seemingly polar opposites, that arrived at the same conclusion for the same reasons. As to 'distractions", I believe the opposite: Lewinksy was the distraction from the coming war. As to the genocide, we could have literally flipped a coin as to which side to “help”.

War of Northern Aggression :smiley:

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