Editors’ Note [Full Text]

| February 14, 2013

On January 5, 1914, Andrew Carnegie published his New Year Greeting in The Independent magazine. His message was as simple as it was optimistic. This was to be the year to end war forever. He wrote:

The foulest blot remaining upon so-called civilized man, beyond question, is the killing of each other. That he has ceased to eat his fellows after killing them matters nothing to the slain and little to the survivors. It is the killing of each other that still stamps man the savage. That this practice is not soon to pass away from civilized man is unthinkable.

Just six months later an assassination in Sarajevo would lead to a world war.

Perhaps Carnegie saw the war coming. As the crisis of 1914 approached, he was doing all that he could to avert it. After helping fund the building of the Peace Palace at The Hague, Carnegie cajoled, nagged, and flattered kaisers, kings, prime ministers, and presidents to make his dream of peace a reality. As part of his peace efforts, Carnegie founded in February 1914 the Church Peace Union—today known as Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs—to encourage thoughtful reflection on the moral imperatives intrinsic to the quest for peace. Nearly a hundred years later, we are left with many of the same painful questions that led to our founding. Mindful of this history, we are pleased to present this special section on “Just War and its Critics” as part of our Centennial activities. The Council has been a home for “just war” scholarship since its earliest days. Nearly all of the most influential just war thinkers of the twentieth century participated in Council programs and publications. Among the most notable was Paul Ramsey, whose books War and the Christian Conscience (1961) and The Just War (1968) were widely acclaimed. In his introduction to the latter book, Ramsey wrote:

It is evident to all who know the Council that this organization and these men achieve their purpose to an extraordinary degree. This purpose is to bring into living encounter the moral and religious issues in foreign policy with the expertness that can only be gained from specialized study and from actual responsibility in the preparations of positions of state. If the Council had not been in existence, or without the cordial support its officers have always given my own professional work and without the opportunity to receive instruction at Council Seminars, the present volume would not have been written—nor, for that matter, the 1961 volume either. . . . I could never adequately express my appreciation for all that the Council has meant to me—not the least of all for many hours of friendly fellowship and hours of informal discussion with people who knew enough not to begin with the answers.

Since those days, the Council has hosted such major events as the symposium marking the twentieth anniversary of Michael Walzer’s Just and Unjust Wars (published 1977); has published numerous works by leading just war scholars, including Stanley Hoffmann, Bryan Hehir, Jeff McMahan, John Kelsay, and James Turner Johnson (among whom the latter two are featured in this special section of the journal); and has sponsored path-breaking work on the cultural dimensions of just war thinking, including articles on Confucian and Islamic ideas of just war, as well as topics ranging from nuclear ethics to targeted assassinations.

The twenty-first century has already given us hints of new challenges to the just war idea. New norms for jus ad bellum are being tested, most notably the “responsibility to protect.” New circumstances for jus in bello are evident as the nature of warfare evolves from industrial war to low-intensity conflicts. As President Barack Obama put it in his Nobel lecture, “I believe that all nations—strong and weak alike—must adhere to standards that govern the use of force. I—like any head of state—reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation. Nevertheless, I am convinced that adhering to standards, international standards, strengthens those who do, and isolates and weakens those who don’t.”

As we approach our second century, the Council will remain the home for energetic, rigorous, and creative thinking on the ethics of war. In these pages, we rededicate ourselves to the proposition that the “just war” tradition is an inheritance that requires and rewards constant engagement. Whatever one might think about Andrew Carnegie’s idea of moral progress, there is no escape from the idea that war and peace are moral propositions subject to changing norms and expectations. Nothing could be more important than mapping out and arguing over the rights, duties, and responsibilities to which we will hold ourselves accountable.

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Category: Article, Issue 27.1, Special Section: Just War and Its Critics

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