The Application of Just War Theory

I just watched the national news talking about the killing of an Iranian general. Our government says he is responsible for terrorism and was currently planning attacks against American citizens.

I do not want to make any judgment on the killing of the Iranian general (which President Trump admits to ordering). Rather, I want to use it as an opportunity to talk about one particular element of Just War Theory, the “Probability of Success”. For those unfamiliar with Just War Theory, you can read it about in my article, Just War Theory .

Before we talk about the probability of success of any particular action or long-term plan, we must first talk about what success is. In simplest terms, it is what we are trying to accomplish. Here I will mention that another element of Just War Theory is “Right Intention”. What is our motive for our action or plan? For example, are we trying to protect lives or is our goal to control all the world’s oil.

In the case of the killing of this Iranian general, a narrow-minded view of success might see it in this case as the killing of the general. They would say success has been achieved. That view is too narrow. Yes, the general was killed. At what costs? Iran is already promising retaliation.

A broader and better view of success would ask what is accomplished by this killing. Here are some things to ask or consider:

  • Have any lives been saved?
  • Our government says they acted to prevent attacks currently being planned. That could be true.
  • One might wonder if even a single life has been saved.
  • Based on the promise of retaliation, will it actually cost lives?

I have no way of knowing the answer to these questions. That’s why I don’t pass judgment.

Besides saving lives, another way of defining success in such situations could be “peace”. Of course, one has to consider what peace is. Is it simply the “absence of war”? This might be accomplished by threatening the use of force to scare people into not attacking. Can peace through threats really be peace? Can it ever be a lasting peace? Instead of trying to accomplish “peace” by force, is not a lasting and true peace better accomplished by changing peoples hearts to respect and care for one another a better way?

I acknowledge that this is not always possible and that force may be necessary sometimes for the safety of others. That does not give anyone free reign to use force at will. While this one action does not constitute a “war”, the elements of Just War Theory still are an important tool to use in evaluating what action can be taken.

I began by saying I wanted to use this article to reflect on the “Probability of Success” element of Just War Theory. I realize now that I could not limit myself to just the one element. This has also become a much longer article than I intended. Everything is intertwined. I am going to trust I went where the Spirit led me in writing this.

I hope that “success” is defined here as attaining peace in the Middle East. How probable that is, I don’t know. Here I turn to Matthew 19:26, “Jesus looked at them and said, “For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

I pray that people from all nations and groups open themselves to allow God to change their hearts towards his will. I end with the words of the Prayer of St. Francis.

Lord, make an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal life.


Fr. Jeff


  1. It is a blessing to be able to read the ‘mind’ of this great, intelligent man. We are blessed to have his inspired, intelligent grace in our parish! You are an inspired gift!

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