The Ethics of War and National Security

"War is, of course, a wrenchingly difficult subject that demands serious thought and consideration. Among the issues that are central to any theory on the morality of war are the balancing of national security with freedom, justifications for war, rules of conduct during war, and the relationship between war and the formation of national policies.

"How should Judaism influence the way that we formulate our own views of war? . . . Jews have not had much historical experience in waging war and in responding to the questions that it raises. As such, we cannot just cite authoritative texts and deduce what we should do from them. Rather, we need to plumb the Jewish tradition for its underlying values. These include the following:

• "the sanctity of every human being as created in the image of God

• "the obligation to protect our own lives and health

• "the consequent duty to defend ourselves against attack

• "the responsibility to come to the aid of anyone whose life or health is threatened

• "the strong ties that each of us has with our community, and the duty to take an active role in the decisions and policies of that community

• "the sense that war is not to be undertaken lightly: in traditional sources, wars were permitted only when the Sanhedrin (the supreme Rabbinic court) and God (through divinations of the High Priest) agreed to them; while in modern times, it is not clear what, if any, process authorizes Jews to go to war

• "the obligation to fix the world to the extent that we can to avoid the conditions that lead to war

• "the duty to seek peace and pursue it

"Intelligent, morally sensitive, and Jewishly committed people may well differ on the issues that this volume raises. This, of course, is true of any modern moral issue. But it is especially true however for matters of war and peace — where life and death hang in the balance — about which we have so little guidance from our tradition, and which become even more ethically complex and dangerous with each technological advance.

"At the turn of the 20th century, the relative lack of widespread military conflict in Europe led many people to hope that they could live in a world without war. This dream, of course, collapsed with the advent of World War I, and the 20th century ultimately witnessed some of the most horrific wars that humanity has ever experienced, in both the sheer numbers of people who died and the depth of depravity displayed in the conduct of the warring soldiers and governments. Unfortunately, the 21st century has not started out with much promise for changing this record."