Morality and Contemporary Warfare


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James Turner Johnson

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When is the use of military force by a nation morally justified? Why has the long accepted moral requirement to protect civilians from intentional attack eroded in recent years? How can the tendency toward unrestrained warfare between parties with major cultural differences be controlled? In this thought-provoking book, James Turner Johnson refocuses the moral analysis of war on the real problems of today’s armed conflicts. Moral debates about nuclear war and annihilation fail to address the problems of actual contemporary uses of military force, Johnson argues. We must address the type of armed conflict that has emerged at the end of the twentieth century: local wars--often inflamed by historical, ethnic, or religious animosities and usually fought with conventional weapons that can be carried by individual fighters.

Johnson sets out a moral basis for understanding when armed force can be justified. He analyzes specific problems posed by contemporary warfare: the question of military intervention to ameliorate or end conflicts, the question of warfare against noncombatants, the problem of cultural differences inflaming conflict, and the tension between those who would punish war crimes and those hoping to reconcile adversaries. The author concludes with a discussion of how to reshape and renew an international consensus on the proper purposes and limits to war.

James Turner Johnson is professor of religion and a member of the graduate program in political science at Rutgers University. He is the author of Can Modern War Be Just? published by Yale University Press.

"In Morality and Contemporary Warfare, Johnson offers a synthetic summary of the just-war ethic and engages new issues of politics and strategy. This book . . . will enrich the normative analysis of politics and war. I recommend it highly. . . . This is a very good book on an important topic."—J. Bryan Hehir, Commonweal

"A penetrating and authoritative analysis of the ethics of contemporary armed conflict. . . . This succinct, well-written book is an important contribution to the scholarship on international political ethics because it provides a compelling moral assessment of postmodern wars. . . . This study should be in every major academic library."—Choice

"Johnson here provides us with a timely attempt to apply traditional just war principle to a new breed of post-nuclear warfare. . . . Johnson does a nice job of guiding the reader through the moral intricacies of just war theory. He shows the reader how just war principles are especially helpful in providing restraints on intervention by large states, the killing of noncombatants, and resort to war for ideological reasons. . . . Johnson’s book provides us with an example of how a very old moral tradition is still able to handle contemporary moral problems."—Virginia Quarterly Review

"A most excellent work."—John R. Popiden, Theological Studies

"In his latest book, James Turner Johnson, one of the great American exponents of the just-war approach, demonstrates its values by applying it with sustained rigour to the conflicts of the past decade, starting with the 1991 Gulf War. . . . Johnson[’s analysis] exudes wisdom."—Lawrence Freedman, Times Literary Supplement

"Johnson writes in an accessible, engaging manner, drawing upon recent and contemporary conflicts to illustrate the enduring relevance of the just war tradition. . . . Morality and Contemporary Warfare will vie with Walzer's classic Just and Unjust War as the textbook of choice for courses on the subject."—Douglas C. Peifer, Journal of Military History

“Johnson is one of our most important thinkers on the ethics of war. His volume on the changed types of war encountered in the world today will be much discussed in a variety of circles.”—G. Scott Davis, University of Richmond

Selected by Choice as an outstanding academic title for 2000
ISBN: 9780300091045
Publication Date: September 10, 2001
272 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
Can Modern War be Just?

James Turner Johnson

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