Since the time of Statesman and Roman Philosopher, both societies and individuals have tried to define exactly what constitutes an unjust and just war. This has led to the moral and legal thinking of war, such as Just war, an understanding, and justification of protecting innocent lives and defending moral values. This paper will focus on the evolution of just war from ancient times to the middle ages. The just war doctrine concerns the morality and legal thinking of when the use of force is ethically acceptable (Chapa, 2021). The evolution of just war from ancient times has been influenced by insurgence globally and the salience of terrorism, which requires the just war doctrine to be re-examined and re-defined to match the present realities. Moral and legal thinking of war has changed the character of war and the ethics of conflict from unjust war to mutual understanding.
Evolution of Just War from Ancient Times to middle Ages
The just war theory has shaped the understanding of the morality of war for many centuries. Just war tradition developed beyond the boundaries of Europe and the advent of Christianity. It’s traced back to Ancient Egypt, where the Egyptians’ ethics focused on Egypt’s cosmological role, the office of Pharaoh, and Egypt’s superiority (Chapa, 2021). The just war notion has evolved over centuries and represented a mixture of different just war theories. Just war has been a protracted normative conversation about legitimacy in the use of force. The centuries of conversations about just war have crystallized around several accepted theories and principles such as Jus ad Bellum, Jus in Bello, and jus post-Bellum, which means the resort to war, the actual conduct of, and the justice after the war.
The moral and legal thinking of war also involved a set of mutually agreed combat rules and proceeded into international laws. Rules of combat occurred when the two warring societies shared an array of values. But when the enemies differed greatly due to religious beliefs, the rules of combat were not applied. Therefore, the just war theory lacked rules to war that appraised the actions of the parties involved. According to Aquinas (2017), the ancient people had a limited understanding of peace, but for the early Christians, peace was a dynamic and positive force that was not only linked to the absence of war but also avoidance of bloodshed and contention. Soldiers and warriors used some moral considerations to limit the devastation of warfare. For instance, they considered children, women, and prisoners where they were enslaved rather than killed or exchanged.
In its earliest appearances in medieval and ancient thought, just war was also linked to a blend of natural law conceptions of morality and Christian doctrine (Brunstetter, 2021). This was aimed at understanding the morality of war as an approach to problems of group conflict of the moral values and principles that govern relations among individuals. During the classical phase of history, the principles of just war were quite varying from the laws of war in their existing form. The just war tradition revolved around two major points: the justness of how war is fought and the justness of a war.
Later in the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, some juridical writers focused on developing an effective account of the law of nations where they began arguing about the principles governing the war practices. The principles were designed in a manner that was more sensitive to pragmatic concerns. This led to a shift in the legal and moral thinking of war with normative dimensions that enabled the war to lay the groundwork for the institutionalization and development of international law of war from the nineteenth century to date (Brunstetter, 2021). The theory of just war evolved in tandem, with much attention paid to the refinement of just war theory. After the end of the First World War, this brought rigorous and serious thinking about moral issues of war.
In the middle ages, the just war theory was conveyed through collective works of jurists, theologians, international policymakers, and moralists to establish war that meets certain moral and ethical standards (Thomas, 2021). Aggression and the idea of self-defense, which brought about killing without justification, led to changes in just war that went beyond promoting change, preserving a balance of power, and enforcing international law. One of the significant writings of just war was Just and Unjust War by Michael Walzer. Michael wrote this work in 1977 to respond to the moral catastrophe of American actions in Vietnam, where he denounced wars of mediation and aggression.
According to Walzer (2015), aggression is the crime of war that leads to people risking lives for the sake of rights. Michael emphasized just war based on collective morality shared by republics and the unchanging human rights. Years later, Walzer critiqued the US decision to go to warfare with Iraq to promote self-governing change. Walzer (2015) condemned oppressive regimes and supported politics short of force. Walzer argued that it’s possible to establish regime change conditions by just means by working with non-governmental organizations that offer individuals the agency to build a civil society.
Just war has evolved into mutual understanding and a world of shared values from ancient times to the middle ages. History has recorded activities of war and the basic condition of its existence. The doctrine of just war has gained renewed interest and attention in the middle ages due to two conditions of the contemporary world. These include the modern technology and new international system that has led to a balance of power system. These have changed the techniques of war and the rationale of war. From the Ancient Egyptians to the rule of combats, the Christian doctrine to aggression, Just War took the form of preventative diplomacy and peacekeeping through international laws.