Thus penned Jefferson, and signed the delegates of the Continental Congress in 1776, pitting grave resolve in the cause of liberty. This line struck me in relation to our discussion of "just wars" last night. In the depths of specificity and nuance, I think we may have at points left the ground of common experience which calls forth just war. This ground I believe to be the idea that one has a duty to protect one's family, clan, city-state, and country, with the understanding that family, clan, etc. are impossible without such a duty. Along these lines, Chesterton said, "The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he hates what is behind him"; Ben Franklin (not necessarily our standard of moral rectitude, but a man capable of wisdom) said, "They who give up an essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety"; and probably many other people have said many similar things. What I am observing is not a specific moral formula but a common thought that has a long tradition in humanistic history.
**Now, it could be argued that aggressive war also has a long tradition (God wills it!). However, it does seem that defensive war tradition is distinct in being accepted on its own merit, as opposed to requiring an outside motivation and legitimization (such as the will of God, realpolitik, or the requirements of a particular social system).**
It is from this tradition that this discussion begins. The claim of pacifism then enters the dialogue: the moral values from which we draw in order to defend defensive war (defending the innocent) are in fact grounded in the truth of human dignity. Thus when defense against evil resorts to killing human beings, it attacks its own moral foundations. The old tradition was a disordered legitimizing: like aggressive war, it held certain goals to be worth causing the destruction of human life. Even though those goals were the protection of innocent human life, and even though the ultimate and indirect cause is the aggressor's, the defender's decision to use force to the point of death is a breach of the fundamental moral value.
But is this the final word? Is this indeed the certain end of the conversation?