Just War Theory: Still Relevant?

Howard Kainz: In a time of wars and rumors of war, especially with regard to North Korea, it is essential to look again at just war theory in the age of nukes.

A nuclear North Korea is putting additional strains on just war theory, already under great strains for more than a half-century owing to modern weaponry.

As an Air Force ROTC cadet in the 1950s at Loyola University, Los Angeles, I studied analyses of the logistics and effects of atomic and hydrogen bombs – how many people would be killed in population centers, who would or could avoid lethal exposure, etc., all very detailed and prosaic.

Many people then built bomb shelters in their backyards, and advertisers touted the advantages of their shelter “brands,” special amenities, how to avoid intrusions, etc.
After graduation, I taught in a public school, before going to graduate school. Those over 60 may still remember the government-devised “duck and cover” drills that we teachers inflicted on our students in preparation for a nuclear attack – crouching down under desks – even in classrooms with open windows!

In the 1960s, after the failed “Bay of Pigs” invasion of Cuba and President Kennedy’s close encounter with Soviet missiles, we learned that strategists had devised a new defense against nuclear attack, called “MAD” i.e., “mutually assured destruction.” During the “Cold” War with the Soviets, who were presumably non-suicidal, MAD gave us some assurances – barring possible accidents or failures of communication, although there were a few hair-raisers.

People stopped building bomb shelters in their backyards.

Some of the more rational nations, including Russia and China, joined the non-proliferation treaty (NPT), along with our allies, France and the United Kingdom.

But sighs of relief stopped, as nations that had not agreed to the NPT began to build their own nuclear arsenals – Pakistan, India (which originally signed but withdrew from NPT), and Israel (which still officially denies it has any nuclear weaponry).

After Iraq and Libya eventually gave up their attempts to join the “nuclear club,” Iran took up the torch, and seems to be making consistent progress.

And now North Korea. Does MAD make sense in this new context? Can we trust that Kim Jong-un, with all his threats, is not suicidal?

Click here to read the rest of Professor Kainz’ column . . .

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