In Defence of War

Author: Nigel Biggar
ISBN: 978-0198725831
Date: 2013
Price: £18.99
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Publisher: Oxford University Press

The centenary of the outbreak of the Great War produced a forest of new books, many of them outstanding. While less has appeared dealing with the conflict from a theological angle than one would have hoped, it is worthwhile to examine it afresh in the light of Christian teaching, and in particular the Just War tradition. Nigel Biggar, who is Regius Professor of Moral Theology at Oxford and a Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, has written a very important contribution. Its deep scholarship and carefully argued judgements will make it a standard work on the tradition for many years, even for those of us who disagree strongly with its conclusions.

To summarise his work briefly: Biggar examines in some detail the history of the Just War tradition and then examines in the light of it three conflicts of the last century: Britain’s decision to go to war with Germany in 1914 (as opposed to the morality of the war in general), the NATO bombing of Serbia in defence of civilians in Kosovo in 1998, and finally the Second Iraq war of 2003. In all three cases he concludes that broadly speaking the actions can be justified in terms of the tradition.
My first criticism is perhaps what one might expect from a Catholic journal. Biggar chooses largely to ignore theological developments in teaching from within the Catholic Church in the last century, not only at the level of official teaching but the contributions of Catholic theologians, particularly in the United States.

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