My blog posts revolve around my interests and vocation as a historian: the intersection of history and contemporary church life, the intersection of history and contemporary politics, serendipitous discoveries in archives or on research trips, publications and research projects, upcoming conferences, and speaking engagements.
I also blog for two other organizations, the Canadian Baptist Historical Society and the Centre for Post-Christendom Studies.
The views expressed in these blogs represent the views of the authors, and not necessarily those of any organizations with which they are associated.
“By early in the twentieth-first century it was apparent that the inherited scripts for future war were inadequate.” Lawrence Freedman, The Future of War: A History (2017)
Freedman’s observation should be a pressing concern for Christians concerned for the just use of force. The world is changing quickly, and there are many developments in the evolution of warfare and technology that require thoughtful consideration.
Two traditional categories of the just war tradition are jus ad bellum (the justice of war – or “just cause”) and jus in bello (justice in war – or “just means”). A relatively new category is jus post bellum (“justice after war”). The first relates to why a war is fought, and who is making the decision. The second deals with how a war is fought. The third focuses on ending and after a war. In all cases the central issue is justice, the right use of violence, and discrimination (the least amount of violence necessary, and the protection of non-combatants).
However, over the centuries considerations of what is just have had to evolve as political events and weaponry have changed. For instance, the medieval Peace of God and Truce of God was an attempt by the church to limit the extent of violence associated the breakdown of central authority, marauding knights, and quarrelling lords. The call was for the necessity of what today is called non-combatant immunity (ie. no targeting of women, children, clergy) and limited targets (eg. unnecessary damage to churches, crops, homes).
The invention of the crossbow, a deadly but democratizing weapon that allowed a mere peasant to pierce the armor of mighty knights was a new technology that was simply too upsetting to the social order. Its use against Christians led to papal denunciations and was condemned at the Second Lateran Council (1139): “We prohibit under anathema that murderous art of crossbowmen and archers, which is hateful to God, to be employed against Christians and Catholics from now on.”
The sixteenth-century decline of traditional notions of chivalry and the increasing impersonality of war led to a rethinking of the waging of war and the application of just war norms.
The twentieth century saw the rise of infinitely more lethal weaponry, inventions that threatened to wipe humanity from the face of the earth. Apocalyptic visions of gas and bombs dropped on cities by planes (a relatively new application of the discovery of flight) fueled the surge of anti-war movements between the two wars, and the postwar development of nuclear weapons made even those fears pale in significance.
The use of poison gas in war was acceptable in the First World War, but any nation that uses it now is a pariah and rogue state. The same for nuclear weapons – used in one war, but in no others. Those types of developments are to be applauded, but other indiscriminate weapons such as landmines and cluster bombs remain controversial, with pressure put on militaries to ban them.
But not everyone agrees on such matters. For instance, Vatican Two and subsequent bishop’s statements all sought to restrict the use of nuclear weapons at the height of the Cold War. But there were also critics of those statements.
Even the calls for non-combatant immunity need to be contextualized. In the industrial age, when men (and now women) are marshalled – often conscripted - en masse by the millions, an individual person’s opinion or value or identity is virtually irrelevant. But can a Christian simply be reduced to a number or bar code with no personal responsibility for one’s actions?
The development of modern mercenary forces also raises questions about the legitimacy of the state downloading the use of the sword to commercial enterprises.
My point here is simply to note that the Christians responses to war and how it is waged cannot be static, but must continue to evolve to meet new developments.
In conclusion, the following are developments that Christians need to be aware in regards to evolving trends.
(This is blog post #9 in the series entitled “Christians, War, and Violence: Reflections on Possible Futures.”)
 Second Lateran Council, Canon 29.
 Malcolm Vale, War and Chivalry: Warfare and Aristocratic Culture in England, France and Burgundy at the End of the Middle Ages (London: Duckworth, 1981), ch.5.
 For instance, see The Fostering of Peace and the Promotion of a Community of Nations in Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 1965 (Vatican Two); The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response, 1983 (American Bishops); Out of Justice, Peace 1983 (Joint Pastoral Letter, West German Bishops); Winning the Peace, 1983 (Joint Pastoral Letter, French Bishops).
 Of course, mercenary forces are not new, nor are Christian reflections on their use. See Ulrich Zwingli, The Ox (1510) and The Labyrinth (1516). For the rise of Blackwater, a modern mercenary force used extensively by the United States, see Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army (New York: Nation Books, 2007).
 A must-read on these developments is Lawrence Freedman, The Future of War: A History (New York: PublicAffairs, 2017). Good website searches start with janes.com.