Journal of Religious Ethics 36 (4):619-651 (2008)

The American experience of war is ironic. That is, there is often an intimate and unexamined relationship between seemingly contrary elements in war such as morality and politics. This article argues that without understanding such irony, we are unlikely to reflect in morally comprehensive ways on past, present, or future wars. Traditional schools of thought, however, such as moralism and political realism, reinforce these apparent contradictions. I propose, then, an alternative—"ethical realism" as informed by Reinhold Niebuhr—that better explains the irony of war. Through an ethical realist examination of the U.S. Civil War, World War II, and the Iraq War, I consider how American political interests have been inextricably linked with deep moral concerns. Ethical realism charts a middle path that ennobles traditional realpolitik while eschewing certain perfectionist tendencies of moralism. Ethical realism provides a conceptual framework for evaluating these other frameworks—a distinct form of moral-political deliberation about war.
Keywords Reinhold Niebuhr  just war  moralism  Iraq War  ethical realism  World War II  U.S. Civil War
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DOI 10.1111/j.1467-9795.2008.00365.x
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Was the Iraq War a Humanitarian Intervention?Kenneth Roth - 2006 - Journal of Military Ethics 5 (2):84-92.
Rescue and Victory in Just War Discourse.Stephen E. Lammers - 1997 - Journal for Peace and Justice Studies 9 (1):19-36.
Is There a Christian Realist Theory of War and Peace?John D. Carlson - 2008 - Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics 28 (1):133-161.

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