Honors | Honors Proseminar: War & Peace in Western Religions
R201 | 3589 | Miller, R.


When President Clinton sent ground troops to Bosnia (1995) and authorized
air strikes in Kosovo (1999), 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, such as World
War II, seem eminently 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 (and is) hotly disputed.
Do you agree that American soldiers who died there wasted their lives for
an unworthy cause? The Gulf War turned back the aggression of a powerful
tyrant.  But didn't the United States and European allies help him develop
his enormous arsenal? War is often compared to hell.  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, how do we address the moral
question: Is there a difference 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 focus on three approaches to the ethics of war: pacifism,
just war, and holy war.  The course draws from a wide range of
perspectives, e.g., the Bible, Augustine, Aquinas, Martin Luther King,
Jr., G.E.M. Anscombe, Reinhold Niebuhr, the U.S. Catholic bishops, and
Michael Walzer. The main goal is to enable students to reflect on
theoretical and practical issues in the ethics of war, and to do so with
an understanding of relevant religious beliefs, symbols, and principles.
We will focus on some specific historical examples as well as on some more
general ideas, e.g., justice, care for the innocent, nonviolence, the
presumption against harm, the rule of double effect, and the value of
political community.