Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Just-War Theory, Catholic Morality, And The Response To International Terrorism

by Dr. Mark S. Latkovic


This article provides an examination of the just-war theory in relation to the war on terrorism.

Larger Work

The Catholic Faith


33 - 44

Publisher & Date

Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA, May/June 2002

As a response to the devastating September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which took some three thousand innocent lives, the United States is presently engaged in a military campaign to stamp out the evil of international terrorism and its capacity for mass destruction. To help us to reason will about how war should be conducted morally, the just-war tradition has been a source of invaluable guidance. And I, along with many other Catholic scholars and bishops (but not only Catholics), believe that it can be a source of guidance for us today — whether we are citizens or soldiers, policymakers or politicians — in the current war on terrorism in its various forms.1

However, from the start we must be aware of its limitations. As the Catholic social thinker George Weigel has argued, this tradition is not "an algebra that provides custom-made, clear-cut answers under all circumstances. Rather, it is a kind of ethical calculus, in which moral reasoning and rigorous empirical analysis are meant to work together, in order to provide guidance to public authorities on whom responsibilities of decision-making fall."2 Thus, in making a similar point, the U.S. bishops strongly affirmed that America "has a moral right and grave obligation to defend the common good against mass terrorism," but they also noted that, "Those who subscribe to the just-war tradition can differ in their prudential judgments about its interpretation or its application."3

Weigel notes that since St. Augustine of Hippo — who in the fourth and fifth centuries was the originator of the just-war theory in its classic form4 — just-war thinking has been based on the "classic moral judgment" that legitimate public authorities have the moral obligation "to pursue justice . . . even at risk to themselves and those for whom they are responsible."5 Therefore, contrary to modern sensibilities, which often assume that all uses of force are wrong, a just-war can be, in principle — despite its obvious horrors, from which we should recoil — an act of charity in pursuit of justice.6

In fact, as the Catholic legal philosopher John Finnis has noted, the first principle of morality, as articulated in the Catholic tradition (for example, by St. Thomas Aquinas), is one basic to both the Gospel and the natural law and is formulated as one is to love God above all things and one's neighbor as oneself (see Mt. 22:36-40; cf. Mk. 12:28-31; Lk. 10"25-28; Rom. 13:10; Gal. 5:14).7 This explains why St. Thomas Aquinas and the tradition treat warfare in the context of love, of love of neighbor.8 Justice, in this perspective, as Finnis says, "removes obstacles to peace, and is intrinsic to it, but the direct source of peace is love of neighbor. And war is to be for peace."9

But if war is to be waged in charity for peace, what are the conditions that must be met to ensure that not only the decision to go to war is based on morally good reasons, but also the prosecution of the war itself is done in a morally good way? This question is vitally important not only with respect to the war in Afghanistan, which, as I write in late January of 2002, is winding down, but for other military efforts that the United States might, and probably will, undertake against terrorists and the countries that harbor or support them.

The Conditions Of The Just-War Theory

The idea that every government has a duty to pursue justice "shapes the first set of moral criteria in the just-war tradition . . . the 'ius ad bellum' or 'war-decision law,'" according to Weigel.10 Eight centuries ago, St. Thomas Aquinas — who builds on the work of Augustine and the medieval canonists — articulated these still-valid criteria or conditions for a just-war as follows: (1) Legitimate authority must declare war, not private citizens or groups; (2) The cause must be just; and (3) The war must be waged with a right intention ("so that they intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil," as Thomas says), which excludes acts of war done out of vengeance, hatred, and other like motives.11 This third condition would also encompass the moral quality of one's ends or objectives in fighting a war. These too must be morally good.

Of these three conditions, it is the second one, "just cause" which determines whether "grounds for war" exist. According to Finnis, the tradition reduced the reasons for going to war to two: "self-defense, and the rectification (punitive or compensatory / restitutionary) of a wrong."12 However, Finnis notes that the latter reason for fighting has been (not "unambiguously") called into question by Vatican Council II and recent popes since World War II, and several moral theologians have argued, moreover, that this is a legitimate development of the tradition, especially given, among other things, the great destructive power of modern weapons.13

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, following recent tradition, adds four other conditions of a more prudential nature for a war to be morally justified: (4) The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain; (5) All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective, that is, war must be waged as a last resort; (6) There must be serious prospects of success; and (7) The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.14 This last condition is the so-called principle of proportionality (not the revisionist moral theory called proportionalism!), which the American bishops expressed in the form of a question: "once we take into account not only the military advantages that will be achieved by using this means but also all the harms reasonably expected to follow from using it, can its use still be justified?"15

It is only after these conditions are met, Weigel argues, that "the second set of just-war criteria," that is, "the 'ius in bello' or 'war-conduct law,'" is engaged.16 If the "war-decision" conditions are satisfied, one then has a "moral framework for addressing the two great 'war-conduct' issues: 'proportionality,' which requires the use of no more force than necessary to vindicate the just cause; and 'discrimination,' or what we today call 'non-combatant immunity.'"17

With respect to these last two issues, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: "The Church and human reason both assert the permanent validity of the moral law during an armed conflict. 'The mere fact that war has regrettably broken out does not mean that everything becomes licit between warring parties.'"18 For example, "Noncombatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely."19 Moreover, the Catechism affirms the following teaching of Vatican Council II's Gaudium et Spes: "Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation."20

Although St. Thomas, in his own treatment of war, does not mention the absolute moral norm that innocents are never to be directly killed, he always accepts the norm, which is central to the just-war tradition, indeed to sound morality itself. However, while it is clear that Thomas implicitly understands the norm as applicable to war, "the whole tradition after him peacefully accepts the absolute immunity of noncombatants from deliberate attack, that is, attack intended to harm them either as an end or as a means to some end."21

But how does one draw a bright line between combatants and noncombatants? Although it is admittedly difficult to draw a precise line of division, many are very clearly and definitely, according to the late moral theologian Fr. Augustine Regan, C.SS.C., on one side or the other. On the combatant side of the line, he includes the "soldiers actually mobilized, their commanders, all those who are planning military operations, army engineers, those, in short, whose position or activity is such that, here and now, they are concerned with military operations as their chief daily duty."22 This would include all those who, while not presently engaged in aggression, are poised for it or planning it in the immediate future. In this situation, then, even a preemptive strike against the unjust aggressor would be treated as an act of justifiable self-defense according to the just-war theory.

On the non-combatant side of the line, Regan includes "the great bulk of the population, whose contributions to the war effort are not so proximate that they are, in any way, actual aggressors." These are people — both men and women — who, for the most part "go about their daily occupations," for example, professionals, mothers of families, teachers, clergy and religious, etc. "Nor do they become aggressors," Regan adds, "by the fact that such people contribute to the material, or even spiritual needs of the fighting forces, who in any case would have to be fed and clothed, and would need moral and spiritual support."23 Also included in the non-combatant category are such persons as young children, the elderly, the sick, and the handicapped.

What about the killing of non-combatants? It is never morally right to directly (= intentionally) kill or directly (= intentionally) harm non-combatants, that is, this stricture, as I have already indicated, is a moral absolute or exceptionless norm both in so-called "common morality" and in the Catholic tradition. However, any deaths that do result from military operations can be justified as indirect (= nonintentional) when in the course of direct attacks on military targets / objectives "(a) . . . such loss of life as is reasonably foreseen be not out of proportion to the military advantage reasonably hoped for, and (b) . . . all rationally possible means [have been] taken to reduce non-combatant death to a minimum,"24 Thus, non-combatant deaths can be accepted as a "side effect" of a legitimate military operation when those who carry it out intend only the good effect (say, the destruction of a chemical weapons factory), and do not intend (praeter intentionem) the bad effect (in this case the loss of innocent life), while doing their best to keep such loss of life to a minimum and within proportion to the military objective that is sought.

Now, how do these principles of the just-war theory apply to our current conflict with the kind of terrorism that has, as President George W. Bush has phrased it, a "global reach"? It is to this important and pressing question that I now turn.

Applying The Just-War Theory To The War On Terrorism25

Before answering this question of how just-war principles apply to the war on organized terrorism, we must first deal with the question, what is terrorism? While admittedly difficult to define precisely, Pope John Paul II has usefully defined "terrorism" as "the intention to kill people and destroy property indiscriminately and to create a climate of terror and insecurity, often including the taking of hostages."26 The Pope's definition is close to that of Harvard University terrorism expert Jessica Stern, who makes clear that firstly, terrorists, unlike those fighting in a (just) war, aim at noncombatants. Secondly, unlike simple murderers or assailants, terrorists use violence for a dramatic purpose, for example, to instill fear in the targeted population. Thus, Stern defines terrorism "as an act or threat of violence against noncombatants with the objective of exacting revenge, intimidating, or otherwise influencing an audience."27

This desire to instill fear and create panic, I might add, is already satisfied to a great extent in the terrorists inasmuch as they know that we react with fear and panic over the knowledge that they, the terrorists, are willing to use (but even apart from their use, i.e., the mere threat of using them) chemical and biological weapons (just think anthrax) and nuclear weapons if and / or when they acquire the latter. In sum, terrorism is not so much an ideology as it is a (violent) means adopted by those individuals or groups who wish to further a particular ideology or political goal.

Given the non-conventional nature of terrorism and of the war on terrorism itself, does the just-war theory have anything to contribute to moral reflection on them? As I have already noted, I as well as other respected scholars believe that it most assuredly does. With respect to the use of force against terrorists, the Georgetown University professor of social ethics John Langan, S.J. offers three useful questions that must be answered affirmatively in order for the military response to international terrorism to be and continue to be, moral.28 These questions, it seems to me, are essentially specifications of some of the conditions of the just-war theory:

Firstly, Langan asks, "Does the proposed use of force observe the principle of discrimination — that is, does it aim at military targets and persons actively involved in the terrorist network, and does it attempt to minimize harm to civilians?"29 Although the bombing of the first three and a half months has unfortunately killed civilians (better "non-combatants") — but, contrary to what the Taliban had claimed, not in large numbers — we have every indication that our government is not directly aiming at their deaths, that is, their deaths appear to be non-intentional "collateral damage" as a result of strikes on military targets or the result of weapons mistakenly missing their target.30 Nevertheless, our government has a serious moral obligation to continue to take every step that would minimize the loss of innocent human life in this theater of war or any other, even if at times it is unclear who are the innocents (= non-combatants), and who are the aggressors (= combatants).31

Secondly, Langan asks, "Does the proposed use of force manifest a morally acceptable intention to bring about justice, or is it designed to satisfy desires for revenge and feelings of hatred?"32 With respect to Langan's second question, I would want to reformulate the first part of his sentence a bit to indicate that our use of force, while it must not manifest ill will or hatred of our enemies (who we are called by Jesus Christ to love), can be seen not so much as bringing terrorists to justice (if this is what Langan primarily means by bringing about justice), but as defending ourselves (and / or another country if need be) against an unjust aggressor who has done us grave and serious harm and will likely do so again if not prevented from doing so.33 As many commentators have noted, if this is truly a war, which is how the September 11 suicidal attackers saw their actions, I believe, then we do not speak so much in terms of bringing terrorists to justice, but of eliminating their ability to use deadly force.34

Thus, as Weigel has argued, given this situation of war, the principles of the just-war theory do not morally overrule "pre-emptive" strikes against the perpetrators of terrorism. 35 "In a world of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles," Weigel comments, "it [does not] make much moral sense to argue that we have to wait until the nuclear-tipped missile or the biological or chemical weapon is launched until we can do something about it. Indeed, the nature of certain regimes makes their mere possession of weapons of mass destruction (or their attempt to acquire such weapons and the means to launch them) an imminent danger toward which a military response is not only possible but morally imperative, for the protection of innocents and the defense of world order." "Here, too," he adds, "is another example of an area in which the just-war tradition needs to be stretched or developed to meet new realities."36

This judgment of Weigel's seems morally sound. However, even under traditional just-war principles, "pre-emptive" attacks could be justified as defensive measures (as we argued earlier), and possibly even more so against terrorists — given the particular nature and gravity of the threat that they pose. As John Finnis, Joseph Boyle, Jr. and Germain Grisez have rightly noted, "within a war which is politically defensive, the military tactician is not morally barred from taking the offensive. During a war, not only enemy combatants actually engaged in an incursion or assault, but personnel being brought into position, held in readiness, or trained for combat can be attacked, if necessary lethally." Moreover, these authors continue, "Enemy soldiers in retreat can be pursued and attacked if the war has not ended and they are unwilling to give up and be taken prisoner. Enemy bases, supply depots, and war plants may justifiably be destroyed."37

Thirdly, Langan asks, "Is the proposed use of force likely to achieve morally important objectives — that is, will it meet the test of proportionality; will it bring results that are sufficiently reliable and valuable to outweigh the harm that is inherent to the use of lethal force?"38 It is this third question, Langan argues, which poses the most problems for us. He writes: "[H]ow are we to find means to respond to terrorism that will enable us to have a realistic confidence that terrorism will not be quickly resurgent."39 That is, is there a "probability of success" in this effort (see condition six articulated in the Catechism in Part II above)?

According to Princeton University professor of jurisprudence Robert P. George, "In a war against terrorism, the requirement of a 'probability of success' means that force, especially deadly force, exercised in line with all other requirements of justice in warfare, must have a reasonably good chance of succeeding in preventing future terrorist act." Hence, it must be "understood as something more than a technical requirement that the use of force achieve its objectives, whatever they happen to be." For George, "A purely retaliatory attack may achieve its goal of destroying, say, a power plant or electrical system; but it would nevertheless fail the 'probability of success' test." "Of course," he adds, "if the objective was to destroy a power plant or other facility to prevent the terrorists' use of it to carry out acts of terrorism, that is a different story."40

Can we declare the war on terrorism in Afghanistan a success? That is, has it been effective in "attaining the war's just objectives"?41 I believe that before going to war, there was a high probability of success. Now, after the war has already been fought in large measure, we can say that the military campaign in Afghanistan (just over three months old, as of this writing in late January 2002), has been successfully fought and with a minimum of American military casualties. For as I write, the United States bombing campaign has appeared to have all but stopped, with only occasional strikes taking place, as the Taliban's army (including al-Qaida terrorists) has already weeks earlier fled or surrendered, and their government has collapsed, replaced now by a thirty member interim administration. Moreover, there have not been any new terrorist attacks on American soil as of this admittedly early date after September 11. Yet obviously much military and humanitarian work remains to be done — not only in Afghanistan but also in other countries that support terrorism.

Even though the war against terrorism is not a conventional war, which indeed makes the notion of "probability of success" often difficult to determine, this does not mean, as we have indicated, that the just-war theory is of no use in helping us to think about our country's response to terrorism. This theory can be expanded to take into account the new situation we are faced with: rather than fighting states with their armies out in the open, we confront a shadow enemy (a so-called "terrorist network") who, among other things, blends in with his surroundings, often among civilians, shows a willingness to use non-conventional weapons of mass destruction, and rigorously prepares himself to even lose his life as a suicidal bomber.42 It is for these reasons that the war on terrorism will probably be long-fought and will need to involve so many other "weapons" besides arms, such as those that involve economic, diplomatic, intelligence, and political measures — which, in fact, we are wisely using.

The words of moral theologian Germain Grisez speak best, I believe, to the kind of long-term solution to the problem of terrorism that we as a nation must adopt if we are to be successful in defeating it: "Even when carried out within proper limits, deadly force against persons cannot be an adequate response to terrorism. A sound response must also include a very serious effort to improve relationships with less radical members of the group whose interests the terrorists are trying to promote by their bad means. The serious effort at reconciliation must be implemented by economic and political action designed to mitigate suffering and reduce hatred."43

Our response to terrorism must also involve the following: the willingness of people of faith to engage in heartfelt and sincere prayer to God for help, the willingness of our nation to invest more in homeland defense and intelligence, the willingness of all Americans to critically evaluate the perverse cultural product (i.e., the secular "popular culture") that we not only expose our fellow Americans to but export around the globe to other traditional cultures, the willingness to be in active solidarity with all those persons who are fighting the war on our behalf or who are unjustly victimized by it both here and abroad (e.g., families of servicemen), and the willingness of all persons, especially American citizens, to continue to recognize and call terrorism for what it is — an unmitigated evil. And by refusing as a matter of government policy to engage in the latter ourselves, we retain the moral high ground in this battle over the future of civilization itself.44

Conclusion: The Just-War Theory, Pacifism, And Realism

I have argued that the just-war tradition is a valuable source of wisdom for us as we confront the new enemy of terrorism with a global reach. It is, in many ways, as Catholic philosopher John Hittinger has shown, "a mean between the extremes of absolute pacifism, . . . [with its] excessive hope for temporal peace, and an extreme political realism, with its excessive despair of earthly justice."45

Moreover, the Magisterium of the Catholic Church has never taught pacifism (or realism for that matter) as its official position on the morality of warfare. Nor is there a "decisive indication" that war and soldiering are either approved or condemned in the New Testament.46 Thus, those who point to Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, that it is better for one not to resist attack out of love for one's enemies (see Mt. 5:38-48), as a clear and convincing argument against a Christian fighting in a war, have not, it seems to me, properly interpreted Jesus' words. As Benedict Ashley, O.P. has argued, "the words of Jesus . . . must be understood not as a universal precept, but as a counsel to be followed as a way of perfection by individuals when the protection of third parties is not in question. That is, when only one's own safety is at stake, it is a Christ-like act of love for one's enemy to let oneself be injured by that enemy [rather] than injure him."47

Thus, what we do find to emerge in the Christian tradition is "the vocation of some individuals and groups to nonviolence (unconditional abstention from such use of force) in witness to the truths that peace, like all goods, is a gift from above — of divine grace working in a privileged way by healing mercy and reconciliation — and that war, though its point is peace, can never be the efficient cause of peace."48

But, again, as we have seen, sometimes the protection and defense of the common good, indeed of civilization itself, requires the use of force to repel an enemy intent on destroying the innocent, on destroying civilization. Pacifism — while not in any way to be dismissed as an aberration in the Christian tradition49 — is not an adequate response to terrorism, if only because it will lead to more violence and destruction.50 Thus, the use of force to repel terrorism and prevent future attacks is not only a necessary measure on the part of our government, but for the Christian soldier it can be, in our fallen and sinful world (of which war is surely a tragic part), a good and noble action — yes, even an act of charity on behalf of the defenseless by those who carry it out with upright motives.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: "All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war. However, 'as long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed.'"51

Dr. Mark S. Latkovic is Associate Professor of Moral Theology, Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit, Michigan.

End Notes

* A version of this article was originally given as a talk at St. John's Center for Youth and Family (Plymouth, MI) at a symposium titled "Just War and the Response to Terrorism" on November 7, 2001. It has since been extensively revised and updated for publication.

1. Many articles related to the September 11 attacks and their consequences, including commentaries by bishops, Pope John Paul II, and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger are available at:

2. George Weigel, "The Catholic Difference: Getting 'Just-War Straight." published this article on Oct. 13, 2001 under the heading "George Weigel on Just-War Principles." An interview with Weigel follows, where he skillfully applies just-war thinking to the war on terrorism. Both are available at the Web site cited in footnote 1 above. See also Catholic professor of jurisprudence Robert P. George, "Responding Justly to Terrorism," Crisis (November 2001): 20-21, which comments on Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza's letter to President George W. Bush outlining "the norms of the just-war tradition," and the October 15, 2001 interview with George in National Review Online under the title, "Justice in War," which were similarly helpful in showing how just-war principles are applicable to the war on terrorism (available at: For a handy collection of articles on the just war theory written between the years 1961 and 1989 by well known proponents (e.g., Paul Ramsey, Michael Walzer, and James Turner Johnson) and critics (e.g., Robert L. Holmes and Stanley Hauerwas), see Jean Bethke Elshtain (ed.), Just War Theory (New York University Press, 1992). For its historical background, see Rutgers University professor of religion James Turner Johnson, Just War Tradition and the Restraint of War (Princeton University Press, 1981). On the morality of war in the twentieth century, see Richard B. Miller (ed.), War in the Twentieth Century: Sources in Theological Ethics (Westminster / John Knox Press, 1992).

3. U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, "A Pastoral Message: Living With Faith and Hope After September 11," emphasis added, available at: On November 15, 2001 the U.S. bishops' conference voted as a body 167-4 in favor of this document, which supports the nation's use of military force against international terrorism. However, the bishops said the response must be part of a broader foreign policy: "Without in any way excusing indefensible terrorist acts, we still need to address those conditions of poverty and injustice which are exploited by terrorists."

4. James Turner Johnson points out that "the earliest coherent, systematic statements of the idea of just war were a product of the Middle Ages," even though its roots can be traced back to Augustine and still further back "into the culture of classical Rome and the wars of Israel as depicted in the Old Testament" (James Turner Johnson, Morality and Contemporary Warfare [Yale University Press, 1999], p. 45).

5. Weigel, "The Catholic Difference: Getting 'Just War' Straight." For Augustine's thinking on war, see for example, R.A. Markus, "Saint Augustine's Views on the 'Just War'," in W.J. Shells (ed.), The Church and War (Oxford University Press, 1983), pp. 1-13.

6. See Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, "Just War Is an Obligation of Charity," National Catholic Register, October 7-13, 2001, p. 8; Darrell Cole, "Good Wars," First Things, (October 2001): 27-31. See also the balanced statement by the editors of First Things, "In a Time of War," First Things (December 2001): 11-17.

7. See John Finnis, "The Ethics of War and Peace in the Catholic Natural Law Tradition," in Terry Nardin (ed.), The Ethics of War and Peace: Religious and Secular Perspectives (Princeton University Press, 1996), pp. 15-39, at 17. See also St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 1-2, Q. 100, a.3 and ad. 1. Here, Finnis leaves out the first part of the commandment that speaks of love of God, but he includes it later in the formulation of the twofold love command on p. 20.

8. See, for example, Summa Theologiae, 2-2, Q. 40, a.1.

9. Finnis, "The Ethics of War and Peace," p. 17. In the sentence preceding the last in the text, Finnis refers in an endnote to St. Thomas's Summa Theologiae, 2-2 (among other references to both Aquinas and Suarez), but mistakenly cites Q.41 (on strife) rather than Q.40 (on war). At the end of the last sentence in the text, Finnis refers in an endnote to passages by Plato and Aristotle, in addition to a passage from St. Augustine's Epist. 189 ad Bonifacium 6, which is also cited in S.T., 2-2, Q.40, a.1, ad 3. See also Catholic moral philosopher Joseph Boyle, "Just War Thinking in Catholic Natural Law," in Nardin (ed.), The Ethics of War and Peace, pp. 40-53; and St. Augustine, City of God, Book XIX, Chapter 12.

10. Weigel, "The Catholic Difference: Getting 'Just War' Straight."

11. See St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, Q.40, a.1. See further John Finnis's compact exposition of Aquinas's understanding of the conditions for a just-war, in Finnis, Aquinas: Moral, Political, and Legal Theory (Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 284-287. For an informative contemporary examination of the second of Thomas's conditions, "just cause," see James Turner Johnson, "Just Cause Revisited," in Elliot Abrams (ed.) Close Calls: Intervention, Terrorism, Missile Defense, and 'Just War' Today (Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1998), pp. 3-38.

12. Finnis, "The Ethics of War and Peace," p. 20. Finnis, on the same page, points out that Aquinas "runs the two grounds [for war] together in a single, foundational proposition: 'Just as rulers rightly use the sword in lawful defense against those who disturb the peace within the realm, when they punish criminals . . . so too they rightly use the sword of war to protect their polity from external enemies'" (see S.T. 2-2, Q.40, a.1).

13. See Ibid., p. 23; see especially endnote 43 on pp. 36-37 where Finnis quotes numerous papal and conciliar texts on the matter. See also ibid., pp. 33-34 and, for example, Germain Grisez, The Way of the Lord Jesus, Vol. 2: Living a Christian Life (Franciscan Press, 1993), pp. 900-902. Cf. for a contrary opinion, James Turner Johnson, Morality and Contemporary Warfare.

14. See Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), #2309. Finnis views the kinds of conditions formulated in the Catechism as "implications of the Golden Rule (principle) of fairness, rather than of the principle that one must never choose to harm the innocent" (Finnis, "The Ethics of War and Peace," p. 24).

15. U.S. Catholic Bishops, The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response, 1983, #105, in David J. O'Brien and Thomas A. Shannon (eds.), Catholic Social Thought: The Documentary Heritage (Orbis Books, 1992), p. 516. "Properly understood in the moral evaluation of warfare, 'proportionality' requires that the use of force be in line with all pertinent moral norms of fairness [which are rooted in the Golden Rule] in deciding whether to carry out bombing and other military operations whose foreseeable side effects include death or injury to noncombatants" (George, "Responding Justly to Terrorism," p. 21).

16. Weigel, "The Catholic Difference: Getting 'Just War' Straight." However, Germain Grisez claims that this distinction between ius ad bellum and ius in bello is not deeply rooted in the Catholic tradition (see Grisez, The Way of the Lord Jesus: Vol. 2, p. 898, footnote 116). The former Air Force Academy professor and Catholic philosopher John Hittinger agrees. He notes that this distinction "suggests that a statesmen may posit an end which then comes into conflict with the means; the realist exploits this very distinction. For Aquinas, the limit on conduct follows from the very criteria for the 'ius ad bellum.' Aquinas does not allow a double morality for magistrate and another for private citizen . . . The magistrate in care for the commonwealth is bound by natural law and so is limited in the taking of life — innocent life may never be taken" (John Hittinger, "Root of Order and Disorder: Aquinas and Augustine on War, Peace and Politics," available at:

17. Weigel, "The Catholic Difference: Getting 'Just War' Straight." See also David S. Oderberg, Applied Ethics: A Non-Consequentialist Account (Blackwell, 2000), pp. 215-224 for a sound philosophical treatment of the morality of military conduct during war by a moral philosopher.

18. Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2312, quoting Gaudium et Spes, #79. Thus, the Council Fathers of Vatican II would condemn the idea expressed recently by New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman on the op-ed page of that newspaper in an article he wrote entitled "World War III:" "We have to fight the terrorists as if there were no rules, and preserve our open society as if there were no terrorists," quoted in George A. Lopez, "After September 11: How Ethics Can Help," America, October 8, 2001, pp. 20-24, at 20-21.

19. Ibid., #2313.

20. Gaudium et Spes, 1965, #80, quoted in Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2314. See also Gaudium et Spes, #79, in O'Brien and Shannon (eds.), Catholic Social Thought, p. 222.

21. Finnis, "The Ethics of War and Peace," p. 26, note omitted. Germain Grisez goes further than the tradition (including St. Thomas Aquinas) in that he argues that participants in a just-war should not choose to kill or harm anyone. However, he notes, "Both pacifists and proponents of a just war assume that in combat such choices are inevitable; given this common assumption, their views are irreconcilable, since pacifists hold that choices to kill or harm enemies are incompatible with loving them, while proponents of just war, in maintaining that defensive military action can be morally obligatory, are compelled to maintain that loving enemies does not exclude choosing to kill or harm them. Nevertheless, as explained in a previous chapter (8.B.1), a person can knowingly cause someone else's death without intending it, that is, without willing it as an end or means; so, sometimes people can rightly defend themselves and / or others with deadly force, accepting as a side effect the death thus caused, but not seeking it as an end or choosing it as a means (see 8.C.1.d; cf. S.t., 2-2, q. 64, a.7)" [Grisez, The Way of the Lord Jesus, Vol. 2, p. 905]. See also John Finnis, Joseph Boyle, and Germain Grisez, Nuclear Deterrence, Morality and Realism (Oxford University Press, 1987), especially Chapters 10 and 11.

22. Augustine Regan, C.SS.C., Thou Shalt Not Kill (Clergy Book Service, 1979), p. 75, emphasis added.

23. Ibid., pp. 75-76. Regan also numbers among non-combatants members of the military who are not here and now able to participate in the fighting in their normal way, or various military personnel barred from actual fighting (p. 76). Although more difficult to determine, he would also include in the category of non-combatant, workers in munitions-factories. See also Finnis, "The Ethics of War and Peace," pp. 26-28 on the distinction between combatants and non-combatants.

24. Ibid., pp. 80-81. Here, I have combined what were Regan's first two propositions into one. See also James Turner Johnson, Morality and Contemporary Warfare, pp. 125-135 for a useful treatment of the moral issues surrounding non-combatancy and the protection due non-combatants in the thought of Paul Ramsey, Michael Walzer, and contemporary Catholic Church teaching.

25. Although the problem of terrorism obviously can be explored from many different angles — religious, political, cultural, sociological, and economic, among others — my focus is on the ethics of a military response to the problem. Many recent books and articles are devoted to analyzing the subject not only from these different perspectives, but also from the perspective of the ethics of war against terrorism, and some of these latter works I will cite in this part of the article, as I have done so already in the first two parts. For additional general surveys of the subject, which I have found helpful and informative, see the following: R.G. Frey and Christopher Morris (eds.), Violence, Terrorism, and Justice (Cambridge University Press, 1991); Bruce Hoffman, Inside Terrorism (Columbia University Press, 1998); Walter Laqueur, The New Terrorism: Fanaticism and the Arms of Mass Destruction (Oxford University Press, 1999); Jessica Stern, The Ultimate Terrorists (Harvard University Press, 1999); Ingrid Detter, The Law of War, Second Edition (Cambridge University Press, 2000), the section "War and Terrorism," pp. 21-25; and Paul R. Pillar, Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy (Brookings Institution Press, 2001). Laqueur's book contains an excellent "Bibliographical Essay," pp. 283-299.

26. Pope John Paul II, Solicitudo Rei Socialis, 1987, #24, in O'Brien and Shannon (eds.), Catholic Social Thought, p. 409. The Pope continues by stating that ideology or the desire to improve society can never be justifying motivations for this "inhuman behavior." Terrorism is even less justified when, "as happens today, such decisions and such actions, which at times lead to real massacres and to the abduction of innocent people who have nothing to do with the conflicts, claim to have a propaganda purpose for furthering a cause. It is still worse when they are an end in themselves so that murder is committed merely for the sake of killing." See also the Pope's World Day of Peace Message, January 1, 2002, especially #4-7. The magisterium has addressed the issue of terrorism in many other documents in recent years.

27. Stern, The Ultimate Terrorists, p. 11. Stern notes that there are hundreds of definitions of terrorism in the literature. She argues, however, that her definition avoids limiting perpetrator or purpose. Grisez's definition is similar in its "neutrality": "Terrorism carries out an intention to kill or injure people and / or destroy or damage things of value in order to instill fear as a motive for desired behavior" (see "Renowned Moral Theologian Weighs in on Anti-Terrorism," September 29, 2001, available at Grisez formulates six points that aim to help us to think about a moral response to terrorism in light of the events of September 11. He notes their somewhat tentative character when he speaks of them as "the latest version of what" he has "been sending out" to many people, including many U.S. bishops. One of these bishops, Cardinal Adam Maida, the Archbishop of Detroit, seems influenced by Grisez's treatment. See his article, "Just-War Theory Goal is Always the Desire for Peace," The Michigan Catholic, November 9, 2001, pp. 1, 18.

28. See John Langan, S.J., "From Ends to Means: Devising a Response to Terrorism," America, October 8, 2001, pp. 13-15, at 14. Langan was writing just before the bombing campaign in Afghanistan was begun on October 7, but his questions are still relevant to the continuing war against terrorism, whether in that country or any other.

29. Ibid., p. 14. Grisez has argued that the standard which we must use to determine whether innocent loss of life can be accepted is the Golden Rule: "[W]hen stopping terrorism requires the use of force against the activities of terrorists or of people complicit in terrorism, any foreseeable damage to innocents (that is, people not engaged in those activities) must be no more than what those using the force would think it fair to accept if the innocents were their own friendly associates." Moreover, as Grisez soundly points out: "Responses to terrorism that are morally unjustifiable also are foolish. They provoke greater and more widespread anger and hatred: seven other demons will replace the first, and small atomic bombs will replace hijacked airliners" (see "Renowned Moral Theologian Weighs in on Anti-Terrorism"). See also George, "Responding Justly to Terrorism," p. 21.

30. On the point that the U.S. war in Afghanistan has been a just-war on account of, among other things, its avoidance of non-combatant deaths and its respect for the seventh condition, i.e., "proportionality" articulated by the Catechism (see above in the text), see Joe Loconte, "Rumsfeld's Just War: Generals Meet Theologians at the Pentagon," The Weekly Standard, December 24, 2001, pp. 13-14. See also on the matter of the importance of strenuously trying to avoid civilian casualties, University of Notre Dame professor George A. Lopez, "After September 11," especially pp. 23-24. Lopez argues, however, that the just-war tradition "falls far short of our needs." He calls for the use of "three simple categories for governing the use of force in world affairs: that it adhere to the rule of law, that there be a logical relationship between means and ends and that concern for protecting civilians and limiting collateral damage be paramount" (p. 21).

31. George notes that in a just-war, anyone "whose activities constitute or contribute to a terrorist threat may be attacked with a view to eliminating the threat. But only such persons may be attacked. Merely sympathizing with terrorism, though deplorable and profoundly blameworthy, does not in itself," he argues, "make a person a legitimate target of attack" ("Responding Justly to Terrorism," p. 21, emphasis added). I firmly agree with George on this point, although I realize that not all accept it or accept it easily.

32. Langan, "From Ends to Means," p. 14. Germain Grisez argues that using force to prevent terrorism "can be justifiable and morally required of those responsible for defending the community. Even deadly force can be used against those one reasonably expects will otherwise continue to pose a grave threat. But force, especially deadly force, must never be used to avenge past acts or as terrorism to prevent terrorism. Such uses of force, even against military forces and assets, are morally unacceptable" (see "Renowned Moral Theologian Weighs in on Anti-Terrorism," emphasis added).

33. Thus, given the devastating nature of the attacks against the United States on September 11, I think that condition four as articulated by the Catechism of the Catholic Church is satisfied. Condition five is also satisfied it seems to me. In this regard, Robert P. George writes: "In current circumstances, the United States and its allies have exhausted every means short of war to deter and disable the forces of international terrorism. The murderous attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are powerful evidence that nothing short of war will be sufficient to protect innocent Americans and others from future terrorism" ("Responding Justly to Terrorism," p. 20).

34. George Weigel believes that the September 11 terrorist attacks "cannot be properly understood by analogy to the criminal justice system [as many would have it]. The perpetrators of these acts of mass murder understood themselves to be involved in a war — against the United States and, more broadly, the West" (see the Zenit interview, "George Weigel on Just-War Principles"). Robert P. George ("Responding Justly to Terrorism," p. 20) and non-Catholic syndicated newspaper columnists such as George F. Will and Charles Krauthammer have voiced comments similar to Weigel, although the latter two often wrongly adopt what I would call a "total war" attitude to the conflict.

35. On this matter, see the Zenit interview with George Weigel, "George Weigel on Just-War Principles," and his article "A Moral Question — Is It Ever Right to Go First?" The Michigan Catholic, January 11, 2002, p. 6. Also, see the interesting article by Georgetown University professor of government Anthony Clark Arend, "Terrorism and Just War Doctrine," in Close Calls, pp. 223-236, especially the section "Terrorism and Just War: Recommendations," pp. 232-236.

36. Zenit interview with Weigel, "George Weigel on Just-War Principles," emphasis added.

37. Finnis, et al., Nuclear Deterrence, Morality and Realism, p. 315.

38. Langan, "From Ends to Means," p. 14.

39. Ibid.

40. George, "Responding Justly to Terrorism," pp. 20-21, emphasis added.

41. Joseph L. Allen, War: A Primer for Christians (Maguire Center/SMU Press, 2001, original edition, 1991), p. 42.

42. As Fr. William Saunders has rightly noted, the new situation of fighting international terrorism calls for recognizing that the enemy extends to include "those individuals, organizations, or countries that support, safeguard, or promote these terrorists and their activities are formally cooperating with evil and thereby culpable" (Fr. William Saunders, "Responding to Terrorists," available at:

43. Germain Grisez, "Renowned Moral Theologian Weighs in on Anti-Terrorism." See also, for example, Boston College moral theologian David Hollenbach, S.J., "Responding to the Terrorist Threat: An Ethical Perspective," America, October 22, 2001, pp. 23-24; U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, "A Pastoral Message: Living With Faith and Hope After September 11"; and the editorial entitled, "Just War Returns, " published by the editors of the National Catholic Register, October 21-27, 2001, p. 8. As evidence of our good will towards the people of Afghanistan, we have been dropping food packets to the civilians of that country, and we will continue to provide various types of aid and money, for reconstruction efforts in the country. Our current war, as President George W. Bush has often made clear, is with the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's terrorist organization al-Qaida, which has declared a "holy war" on America, not with Muslims in general or Afghani citizens in particular. On the idea of holy war, see James Turner Johnson, The Holy War Idea in Western and Islamic Traditions (Pennsylvania University Press, 1997), especially pp. 42-46 that treat the topic "Comparing Holy War to the Idea of Just War."

44. In an address to the new Japanese ambassador at the Vatican, Pope John Paul II said the absolute condemnation of terrorism is an imperative because "the use of violence in its different forms does not make possible either the solution of conflicts or the establishment of the basis for a society that is respectful of all its members." On the contrary, John Paul argued, terrorist violence "impedes all social life and reduces to nothing the most fundamental rights of persons and peoples to peace and an integral and shared development." According to the Pope, the "necessary condition for peace" at this time is the "dialogue between civilizations" (, October 29, 2001).

This moral condemnation of terrorism should also extend to the use of torture, which has been suggested by some in the media, for example, columnist Jonathan Alter of Newsweek (see Jim Rutenberg, "Torture Seeps Into Discussion by News Media," New York Time Online, November 5, 2001, available at: But should it also extend to the use of nuclear weapons? The syndicated newspaper columnist and prominent evangelical Cal Thomas, suggests that the use of a nuclear weapon could be justified (see Cal Thomas, "U.S. Should Be Ready to Use Tactical Nuclear Weapons," Detroit Free Press, November 6, 2001, 9A). But his reasoning here is through and through consequentialist/proportionalist. While he recognizes "psychological and political" fallout, he ignores the moral problems of using nuclear weapons. That having been said, Church teaching would not absolutely overrule the use of nuclear weapons as intrinsically evil. For instance, Pope Pius XII taught that under certain conditions even atomic, bacteriological, and chemical war could be justified "where it must be judged as indispensable in order to defend oneself" and with "limits on its use that are so clear and rigorous that its effects remain restricted to the strict demands of defense" (see Pius XII, Address to the Eighth Congress of the World Medical Association, September 30, 1954, in Catholic Mind 53 [April 1955]: 244, as quoted in Grisez, The Way of the Lord Jesus, Vol. 2, p. 899, footnote 123).

45. Hittinger, "Roots of Order and Disorder."

46. See Regan, Thou Shalt Not Kill, pp. 16-18. See also moral theologian Benedict M. Ashley, O.P., Living the Truth in Love: A Biblical Introduction to Moral Theology (Alba House, 1996), pp. 306-313. However, moral theologian Lisa Sowle Cahill argues that the New Testament "clears the ground for Christian pacifism by establishing compassion and forgiveness as part of discipleship for Jesus' followers. The disciples are to love their neighbors and even their enemies, sacrificing there own needs for the welfare of others (Matt. 38-48)" (Cahill, Love Your Enemies: Discipleship, Pacifism, and Just War Theory [Fortress Press, 1994], p. 39).

47. Ashley, Living the Truth in Love, p. 309. Ashley also notes, that "St. Paul (Rm 13:4b) and the First Epistle of St. Peter (2:14) prove that the early Church acknowledged not only the right but the obligation of the State to use force to maintain law and order" (p. 308).

48. Finnis, "The Ethics of War and Peace," p. 34. However, as the Center for Public Justice's Keith Pavlischek argued in a paper given at the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. on September 24, 2001: "To fully understand the evil of terrorism we must consider it in the context of the very point which classic pacifism and classic just warriors must profoundly agree — only legitimate public authority has the right to wage war." Yet, he notes, citing an article by James Turner Johnson ("In Response to Terror," First Things [February 1999: 11-13])., "terrorism by its nature aims to undermine and erode the political goods of justice, order and peace, which is secured by political authority, and thus attacks all people who benefit from them" (Pavlischek, "Just War Principles and Counterterrorism," available at:

49. As Grisez notes, "the Christian tradition includes significant pacifist elements, that is, either or both of two closely related positions: that war always is sinful and that the gospel allows Christians to use only nonviolent methods of defense [in a footnote Grisez makes reference to several works to support this claim]. However, since the magisterium, in accord with the far greater part of the Christian tradition, continues to teach clearly and firmly that there can be just defensive wars in which citizens should serve, pacifist elements in the tradition provide no adequate theological ground for contradicting that teaching but only point to the need that it be complemented with other truths, often overlooked or even denied, to which pacifists call attention" (Grisez, The Way of the Lord Jesus, Vol. 2, p. 904). Grisez describes these "other truths" in the next paragraph on the same page.

50. Many said that negotiations should have been our first option over a military response. But the Bush administration did in fact try to negotiate with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The failure of these negotiations demonstrates the difficulty, if not impossibility, of negotiating with any government that supports terrorism. The terrorists themselves, i.e., Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida, surely showed no willingness to negotiate. They are bent on destroying the United States, not negotiating with its leaders.

51. Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2308, quoting Gaudium et Spes, #79.

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