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But Was It Just?: Reflections on the Morality of the Persian Gulf War Hardcover – February 1, 1992

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

As Johnson , a historian of the just war tradition, and Weigel discuss in Just War and the Gulf War , the relationship between justice and the just war theory developed during World War II, when Nazism provided clear evidence for such a theory. In time, many of these perceptions were modified by Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in his Moral Man and Immoral Society . Critics of the just war theory insisted that, among its many shortcomings, was the need to demonify one's opponents. If the cause was indeed just, they argued, then this need to "dehumanize" and "demonify" was inconsistent as well as exaggerated. Johnson and Weigel juggle this morality equation well to squeeze in as many nuances and subtleties as possible, and there is much food for thought in every point they highlight. In But Was It Just? , a collection of essays, one of the authors, Stanley Hauerwas, painstakingly explains some of the many fallacies of the just war theory and, along with Sari Nusseibeh, asks whether the war for Kuwait was not a vindication of power. Rather than skirt the issue, argue authors Elshtain, Nusseibeh, and Hauerwas, it may be useful to assess Western economic motives in choosing to oppose Saddam Hussein. Western interests required that 70 percent of the world's proven reserves of petroleum should not fall under hostile hands, they conclude, and such a cause was truly just in the eyes of millions. Ironically, rather than invoke a just war imperative to take action against Iraq, the conservative Arab Gulf rulers invoked the Arab tradition of interest ( maslaha ) in rationalizing their policies. In a more honest approach, they sought religious decrees to address legitimacy questions, but did not cloak their mercantile objectives under convoluted moral pronouncements. In the light of the Gulf War's first anniversary, both volumes are recommended for international affairs collections.See also Alan Geyer and Barbara Green's Lines in the Sand: Justice and the Gulf War , LJ 3/1/91. -- Ed.
- Joseph A. Kechichian, Rand Corp., Santa Monica, Cal.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.

About the Author

Jean Bethke Elshtain is Centennial Professor of Political Science and Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. She is the author of Women and War and, coming out this year, Antigone's Daughters. She writes on the history of political thought, contemporary political and social theory, moral philosophy, and women's studies.

Stanley Hauerwas is Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. He is the author of A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic and The Peaceable Kingdom. His writing focuses on an ethic of virtue or character.

Sari Nusseibeh is the director of the Jerusalem Center for Strategic Research and Professor of Philosophy at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank. He is author with Mark Heller of No Trumpets, No Drums: A Two-State Settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

Michael Walzer is the U.P.S. Foundation Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. A writer on social ethics, he is the author of Just and Unjust Wars and, most recently, The Company of Critics.

George Weigel is president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and a Catholic theologian specializing in social ethics. He is author of Tranquillitas Ordinis: The Present Failure and Future Promise of American Catholic Thought on War and Peace.

La Civilta Cattolica is a Jesuit magazine published in Rome. Its editorials, which are written by an anonymous board of editors, are reviewed by the Vatican Secretariat of State, according to the Catholic News Service, the official press arm of the United States Catholic Conference. The director of La Civilta Cattolica, the Rev. GianPaolo Salvini, S.J., said, "We are neither an official nor a semiofficial voice of the Vatican. But according to...tradition, we are used to working in syntony with the Holy See, and we avoid publishing articles which are contrary to the mind of the Vatican. This was the case for this editorial too."

David DeCosse is an editor at Doubleday. He is a graduate of Harvard College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Galilee Trade; 1st edition (February 1, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385422814
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385422819
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,703,983 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A. R. on October 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book collects responses to the Gulf War from some of the most important thinkers about war in our time - - among them Prof. Elshtain and the Palestinian moderate Sari Nussebieh. Truly important to read if you want to understand how the world views the U.S.
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7 of 40 people found the following review helpful By J.W.K on May 11, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Do not buy this book. Period. Worse than useless, it will actually distract you from answering the question posed by the title. More to the point, it's full of disinformation.

I was hoping that But Was It Just would be a highly informative debate about the war. Instead, the book turned out to be very scant on facts, filled with abstract and vague generalizations and hypothetical examples of what might be considered just in the abstract, philosophical sense of the term.

You might find this book interesting if you care what Saint Thomas Aquinas said about just warfare, but who in their right mind would defer to the six moral criteria of jus ad bellum when evaluating an international conflict? These are ivory tower issues that have nothing to do with the Gulf War in specific, nor justice in general.

Even when the book does attempt to paint an objective picture of what happened, though, it fails miserably. "The bombs were 'smart' and the pilots morally sensitive.... And it does appear that direct civilian casualties were kept fairly low: in this sense, at least, the air war was unprecedented." This is, quite matter of factly, a steaming load of balderdash.

The truth is that the air war was devastating. As William Blum shows in his brilliantly researched book, Killing Hope, Operation Desert Storm was the equivalent of a veritable massacre. Thousands of civilians were killed - smartly or otherwise - and the motives were downright dirty. Black gold dirty. Says George Bush Sr., "Our jobs, our way of life, our own freedom, and the freedom of friendly countries around the world still suffer if control of the world's great oil reserves fell in the hands of that one man, Saddam Hussein" (Blum, 1995).
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