NEH: Is There Such a Thing as a Just War?
This student project website was one element of a program funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of its Enduring Questions Pilot Course Grant for the academic years 2010-2012. The program was entitled, "Is there such a thing as a just war?" The principal investigator was Christopher Bellitto, Ph.D.
The project included the development of a new 4000-level course involving about 40 students in a variety disciplines, several days of public programming and the website. The program tackled, from a global perspective and very long historical lens, the uncomfortable question: “Is there such a thing as a just war?”
Whether we are protecting ourselves, our families, our property, our countries or our ideas, taking up armed defense—be it a baseball bat, a gun, or a missile—raises ethical dilemmas. How far can I go to defend myself? Is it permissible to launch a first strike to knock out a threat? What if I hurt innocent people? If I protect a few of my own but kill many enemies, even civilians, is that acceptable since my first priority is my own safety? What do we do when our quest for peace and prosperity conflicts with another group’s quest for those same goals? Is my nation’s common good more important than my opponent’s? What do you do when fighting an enemy that is not a nation? What about our shared human bond? What are the human, economic and moral costs of a war even when it is generally agreed to be “just”?