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Ethics: Beyond War's End

Ethics: Beyond War’s End, edited by Eric Patterson. Georgetown University Press, 2012, 246 pp.

In Ethics: Beyond War’s End, Eric Patterson, associate director of the Berkley Center for Religion and author of Politics in a Religious World, has brought together the leading minds in just war theory to highlight the “new cutting-edge thinking on how the just war theory applies to post conflict.” Among the contributors are those who have not only been noted participants in the just war discussion, such as Brian Orend and Jean Bethke Elshtain, but also those that have shaped just war thinking over the past few decades such as Michael Walzer and James Turner Johnson.

As a proponent of a new just war category called jus post bellum (justice after war), Patterson begins by laying out his jus post bellum triad—order, justice, and conciliation—and ends by summarizing the book’s contributors within these categories. While there is significant debate as to the viability of this new just war category, there is no doubt among the authors that justice is a necessary part of our thinking about war’s beginning, conduct, and end. In this continuing debate, Patterson’s collection of magnificent scholars provides a variety of significant views on how to end war well.

Each chapter is a stand-alone argument for the authors’ views of the topic, which vary widely within the field, and only rarely engage one another’s positions.

James Turner Johnson cogently argues that military force doesn’t necessarily bring peace, it just sets the conditions and that each case must be considered on its own by those with a vested interest in the subsequent peace.

Michael Walzer begins by highlighting that jus post bellum is not a new idea because it was an inherent part of jus ad bellum. However, his ideals and responsibilities at times seem to be too idealistic. He requires that after an intervention the resulting state must be sovereign, legitimate in the eyes of its own citizens, and an equal member of international society—even the best of nations are constrained in one or more of these areas.

George Lucas contends that our thinking about war should not be linear—as in start, conduct, and finish as suggested by the jus ad bellum, jus in bello, and jus post bellum categories. Rather, he argues that preparing for war is where the justice of starting, conducting, and concluding war has its roots and offers jus ante bellum as the educational and preparatory stage that makes jus post bellum possible.

Robert Royal offers a necessary appetite suppressant for some jus post bellum theorists by contending that sometimes just alright is good enough, or even that slightly worse than before, but without the threat is it good enough when ending war.

Robert Williams walks through a brief history of warfare and argues that while there are inherent limitations in current international humanitarian law, it should serve as a basis for jus post bellum principles.

Pauletta Otis analyzes war through its various phases as laid out in Joint Doctrine and focuses on religion’s role in ethics throughout war because it is a major factor in shaping both war and peace.

Jean Bethke Elshtain considers jus post bellum responsibility and the possibility of genuine political forgiveness. Her argument is compelling and requires people to consider their national virtues and how they affect conflict’s end.

David Crocker’s argument against historian Jay Winik serves as his example of healing and justice involved in the resolution of the Civil War. His argument is purely one of historical interpretation, but how that history played out is instructive.

Brian Orend argues for a new Geneva Convention that will help shape war’s end to create a more durable peace. He contends that while there are challenges to such a position, the cause is at least worthy of the debate.

Finally, Mark Evans believes that the just peace idea is elusive and may be unobtainable but that we must continue to strive for it in practicable ways. He offers broad, and ironically idealistic, principles that shape his elusive peace.

Throughout the book there is great variety in both practical and heuristic input that provides the reader with both policy views as well as the means to judge them. For instance, Orend argues for a new Geneva Convention that provides more certainty in post war stability, and Patterson offers specific principles to be included in a new just war category of jus post bellum. However, as James Turner Johnson and Robert Royal contend, since the causes and conduct of war can differ so greatly, to expect high degrees of order and justice, as well as dole out responsibility for achieving it, too early in the process can be detrimental to national priorities and prolong wars past a state of minimal acceptable order and justice.

If there is a weakness to the book, it is that there is no author included that approaches the topic from outside of the just war construct. To have a chapter from a realist that argues for how interest-based considerations, rather than ethical considerations, ought to shape postwar peace would be of great value to the book. However, given that the focus of the book is on how ethics shapes postwar justice, it is understandable why no such chapter exists.

As a whole, this book offers a great variety of input on the topic of just war and its contribution to postwar justice and peace. Given that our current reality involves a number of wars in various stages, this book will be of great utility to policy makers and military practitioners alike. Of course, anyone interested in the academic progress of the just war tradition, and its contemporary applicability, will appreciate the expertise that contributes to the volume. While these authors certainly don’t agree on when and to what degree jus post bellum considerations apply, they all agree peace ought to be goal of the just war.

Lt Col Robert P. Vicars IV, USAF

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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