Religious Studies | War & Peace in Western Religion
R372 | 3980 | Miller

When President Bush announced a war against terrorism in response to
the attacks of September 11, did he do the right thing?  Were those
who planned and carried out the attacks outlaws who should be
captured and tried in a court of law, or warriors who should be
fought and killed?  In the 1990s, President Clinton sent ground
troops to Bosnia (1995) and authorized air strikes in Kosovo (1999).
In those cases, did he do the right thing?  (After all, he risked
American lives for reasons that have little to do with the immediate
interests of the United States.)  Some past wars, e.g., World War II,
seem clearly justified to many people.  Even so, does that mean that
the atomic bombing of Hiroshima or the firebombing of Dresden was
morally acceptable?  Vietnam was a war that was hotly disputed.  Is
it true that those who died there wasted their lives for an unworthy
cause?  The Gulf War turned back the aggression of a powerful
tyrant.  But didnít the United States and European allies help him
develop his enormous arsenal?   War is often compared to hell, with
no limits on what soldiers may do.  Does that mean that soldiers are
free to rape the women of an enemy nation?  On what grounds (if any)
may a government ask its citizen-soldiers to kill, or to risk making
the supreme sacrifice?  More generally, is it possible to distinguish
between war and murder?
This course will help us think about these questions in a critical
and comparative way.  Drawing on Jewish, Christian, Islamic, and
secular sources, we will examine a wide range of perspectives, e.g.,
the Bible, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther King, Jr.,
Reinhold Niebuhr, the U.S. Catholic bishops, Islamic law, and Michael
Walzer.  We will examine moral ideas in theory and as they apply to
specific conflicts, e.g., World War II, the intervention in Kosovo,
September 11, etc.  The main goal is to reflect critically about the
morality of war in light of beliefs, symbols, and principles in
Western religion and ethics.  We will focus on justice and human
rights, care for the innocent, nonviolence, the presumption against
harm, the rule of double effect, necessity, civic virtue, and the
value of political community.