Terrorism and Just War
Published online: 4 August 2006
Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2006
I will begin by arguing that just war theory helps us understand the wrongfulness of
terrorism, and then I will do two things with this argument
first, consider the choice of
terror as a political strategy, and then worry about some of the problems of combating it.
What can go wrong in the
against terrorism, and is just war theory equally helpful in
thinking about this
where the scare quotes are always necessary?
Terrorism is the random killing of innocent people, in the hope of creating pervasive fear.
The fear can serve many different political purposes, none of which, as I will argue later on,
need figure in the definition (it
s easy to imagine a terrorist organization, as it might be
portrayed by Franz Kafka, say, that has no purpose at all). Randomness and innocence are
the crucial elements in the definition. The critique of this kind of killing hangs especially on
the idea of innocence, which is borrowed from just war theory
and often misunderstood.
functions in the theory as a term of art; it describes the group of noncombatants,
civilians, men and women who are not materially engaged in the war effort. These people
whatever their government and country are doing and whether or not they are
in favor of what is being done. The opposite of
Disengaged civilians are innocent without regard to their personal morality or politics.
But why are all civilians immune from attack, while soldiers are collectively at risk?
According to the rules of
jus in bello
, once the fighting has begun, it is entirely legitimate to
kill soldiers at random, as they come within range, so to speak, and it is legitimate to try to
terrorize the ones who never come within range. And yet, a lot of soldiers are not actual
combatants; they serve behind the lines; they are involved in transportation, the provision of
food, the storing of supplies; they work in offices; they rarely carry weapons. And no
soldiers are always combatants; they rest and play, eat and sleep, read newspapers, write
letters. Some of them are in the army by choice, but some of them are there unwillingly; if
Philosophia (2006) 34:3
M. Walzer (
School of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study,
Einstein Drive, Princeton, NJ 08540, USA