Obama’s Just War

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Pastor Dan tweets: “Interesting. Obama engages just-war thought in re: Libya, where Augustine, the originator of the tradition, lived and died (in a war).” Well, pretty close. Augustine was Bishop of Hippo, now called Annaba, in Algeria near the Tunisian border, and there he died in 430 during the Vandals’ siege. While the just war tradition goes back at least to Cicero, he was a key figure in its development.

As for Obama, his justification for U.S. engagement comes closest to a famous line mistakenly attributed to Augustine by Aquinas on the strength of a reference in the 12th-century canonist Gratian: “For true worshipers of God, those wars are even made peaceful that are waged not with cupidity or cruelty, but with a zeal for peace, that evil-doers may be subdued and the good raised up [apud veros Dei cultores etiam illa bella pacata sunt quae non
cupiditate aut crudelitate, sed pacis studio geruntur, ut mali
coerceantur et boni subleventur

The oxymoron of a peaceful war is unsettling in the same way that the idea of a war-making Nobel Peace Prize-winner is. And given what happens in even the best of wars, that’s probably a good thing.