There are no just wars

People gather around a large peace sign art piece during a pop-up called The Fabulous Commercial Center Block Party Thursday, May 18, 2023. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Violence is not the way to end violence and bring peace to the Middle East.

 Jason Guinasso October 20, 2023

People gather around a large peace sign art piece Thursday, May 18, 2023, in Las Vegas. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

There are no “just wars.” Ever. Just war theory is a concept that focuses on the justification of how and why wars are fought. There are two aspects to this theory: theoretical and historical.

The theoretical aspect concerns the ethical justification of war, and the various forms that warfare may or may not take. The historical aspect, also known as the “just war tradition,” deals with the body of rules or agreements that have been applied in various wars throughout history. The “just war tradition” covers historical rules in wars. International agreements such as the Geneva and Hague conventions limit types of warfare, but sanction warfare under certain circumstances. 

However, those who seek to justify war ignore the lessons of history. In the history of humanity, violence has only resulted in more violence. Generation after generation, children are left to eat the fruit of the violence of their fathers and suffer from its poisonous effects. When will humanity learn the historical lessons of violence and war and choose a different path? A path of faith rather than fear. A path of hope rather than distrust. A path of love for one another, even our enemies, rather than hatred and revenge. 

In my opinion, wars are unethical and morally wrong. My views are informed by my faith in Christ and his teachings, particularly the instruction he gave when he delivered the “Sermon on the Mount.” Jesus addresses conflict and violence clearly and resolutely as recorded in the gospel of Matthew. Consistent with this teaching, Jesus overcame violence with love. A love that required him to deny his own self-interest, the expectations of his community and lay down his life. He invites humanity to overcome violence through love in much the same way.  

My pro-life perspective also shapes my opinion that the costs of war in human lives, physical and mental injuries to people and violations of human rights, including the right to life, are unacceptable.

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Finally, my views are shaped as an attorney who is committed to justice and the rule of law. There is no justice in war, and no war can be justified. Every war represents an assent to the end of diplomacy and dialogue in favor of destruction and death. War unveils the evil capacities and weakness in humankind, and is often the result of greed, power struggles and lack of respect for others.

In the wake of the violence inflicted on the Ukrainian people by an invading country, as well as the violence against Israel by a well-funded gang of thugs who call themselves “Hamas,” many reading the words of this column are probably angrily saying to themselves, “The people of Ukraine and Israel did not ask for this violence. They are answering the violence inflicted upon them by vigorously defending their people and their borders. Therefore, their war is justified until our borders are secure and our people are safe.” 

It is true that the violence of self-defense in war and other armed conflicts can be a necessary evil in some situations. However, it is important to recognize that such violence is still evil because it is rarely proportional to the threat or harm and almost always leads to the loss of innocent lives. Often, war perpetuated under the guise of “self-defense” is really just a rationalization for revenge.

True self-defense involves using only reasonable force to protect against serious and immediate danger. When truly acting in self-defense, state actors exercise restraint and limit their response in a manner proportional to neutralizing the threat.

On the other hand, state actors, including the United States, driven by a desire to avenge the harm done to them and their citizens seek to inflict catastrophic harm on their enemies and, in so doing, justify every injury and dead body by pointing to the harms and deaths caused by the other violent individuals, political groups or countries.

Therefore, self-defense is not always justified, and rarely, if ever, leads to the kind of peace and security that is sought when engaging in such wars. 

If there is any doubt that war and violence are ineffective at bringing peace, recent history, when viewed honestly and objectively, is a faithful teacher. For example, the so-called “war to end all wars” did not end all wars despite the earnestness and bravery of the participants of World War I to face the evil of their time.  

While deaths arising out of armed conflict have declined in recent history, the violent revolutions, civil wars and insurgencies, no matter how noble, over the past 100 years have only given birth to more violence and death.

The goals of war do not justify the violent means to achieve those goals because violence always begets more violence. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best when he said, “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”

Many people are calling the Hamas attack on Israel “Israel’s 9/11.” If it is, I hope Israel will learn the hard lessons of the United States’ response.

For example, the blind rage of our nation and rush toward exacting vengeance and retribution on those believed to be responsible for the attacks on our country led to a war in Iraq, a war in Afghanistan, and violence in many other places across the globe under the propaganda of the so-called “Global War on Terrorism.”

President George W. Bush justified this war by stating, “The attack took place on American soil, but it was an attack on the heart and soul of the civilized world. And the world has come together to fight a new and different war, the first, and we hope the only one, of the 21st century. A war against all those who seek to export terror, and a war against those governments that support or shelter them. … Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there.  It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated.”  

The human costs of this war have been unconscionable and have failed to accomplish the objective of ending terrorism. The “Costs of War Project” has compiled overwhelming evidence demonstrating just how staggering the human costs of this war has been. Some of the Costs of War Project’s main findings include:

The Iraq War alone caused a significant loss of life, with estimates ranging from 150,000 to 1,033,000 fatalities in the first few years of the conflict. Civilian deaths accounted for approximately 61 percent of the total death toll, or at least 100,000 deaths, along with tens of thousands of military casualties. Furthermore, the war in Iraq between 2013 to 2017, a consequence of the invasion and occupation, resulted in at least 155,000 deaths and the displacement of over 3.3 million people within the country

Ironically, a 2019 U.S. Army study concluded that Iran was “the only victor” of the war on terror in Iraq. This is now the country that is supplying arms to Russia in Ukraine, as well as the country funding Hamas and Hezbollah attacks on Israel. 

Moreover, the Iraq War has sparked civil warinsurgencies and regional instability that have made the world far more dangerous than it was before the “shock and awe” military campaigns that rained fire and fury on these foreign lands. Finding and killing Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden did not achieve the stated objectives of disarming Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein’s support for terrorism, and to free Iraqi people. As it turns out, there were no weapons of mass destruction, terrorism thrived without Hussein, and the Iraqi people are arguably more oppressed and beleaguered than they were before Hussein was deposed.  

Even the allies of the U.S. could not ultimately justify the war effort. In 2016, the Chilcot Report, which was a British inquiry into the decision of the United Kingdom to go to war, found that there were other peaceful alternatives that could have been explored. The report stated that the process of identifying a legal basis for war was unsatisfactory and that, considering all these factors, the war was unnecessary.

The lessons arising out of the U.S. response to 9/11 should teach Israel that war and vengeance will not resurrect the lives of the innocent lives lost to the terror attacks of Hamas. War will cost the loss of a multitude of innocent human lives, will not bring lasting peace and will actually perpetuate more violence, war and death.

What is the alternative to the violent response to 9/11-type violence modeled by the U.S.? 

First, deal with the immediate and present threat. In Israel, this means restoring order and securing the borders of the country.  

Second, unequivocally condemn any and all actions that target civilians, regardless of their nationality, ethnicity or faith. The right to make a political statement to the world concerning oppression or to use violence in self-defense of a nation does not justify the deaths of innocent lives who are inevitably the victims of a conflict.  

Third, work on diplomatic and peaceful ways to bring bad actors to justice and resolve the conflict. In this regard, the region — led by Saudi Arabia — has been working toward a peace agreement involving Israel and the Arab world in the region before the Hamas attacks.  

Clearly, there are those in the region who do not want peace and have instigated this conflict to provoke Israel and others into war. The escalation of violence and the declaration of war by Israel, in this instance, serves the interests of Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS and those in Iran who oppose the peace process and refuse to participate in peace talks in good faith.

So, why give the proponents of violence what they want and engage in more violence? No, instead, resist the impulse toward vengeance and work harder on a regional peace agreement that includes bringing violent groups and their leaders to justice.

Finally, establish a specialized international justice system that specifically adjudicates the disputes that arise in the region in a competent international court of law that will have real authority to resolve disputes.

Freedom and peace are not free. They require sacrifice. But, not the sacrifice of the lives of soldiers and civilians in furtherance of state-sanctioned vengeance. Rather, the sacrifice of diplomacy, candid communication amongst enemies, compromise, forgiveness and reconciliation. This sacrifice, coupled with a commitment to the rule of law, fidelity to the agreements made in treaties, and a justice system to address and resolve conflict when it arises, is the pathway to peace. 

Violence and war are easy. Nonviolence and peace are hard. If Israel, the U.S. and the nations of the world want to provide a peaceful future for our children and their posterity, they must engage in the hard work and sacrifice that peace requires and resolve that violence and war are no longer justifiable options to resolve disputes.  

It is my hope and prayer that all parties involved, their political leaders and authorities will engage in sincere dialogue, seeking lasting solutions that promote justice, peace and reconciliation.

Jason D. Guinasso is the managing partner of law firm Hutchison & Steffen’s office in Reno. Licensed in Nevada and California, he is a litigator and trial attorney. He also teaches business law at the University of Nevada, Reno and is a graduate student in the MALTS program at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia.


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