What do you think about when you hear the word war?

You probably think of armed conflict, bloodshed, and death—and lots of it. That is the nature of warfare. It’s also why war presents one of the most challenging issues to address from an ethical standpoint. Given this difficulty, most Christians have adopted just war theory, which requires engaging only in just wars and fighting those wars in a truly just manner. But such an ethical ideal takes great wisdom, courage, and dedicated moral discipline. Here are several brief thoughts to consider when someone asks what you think of war.

“If You Want Peace, Prepare For War”

One of the hard lessons of the last century or so is that freedom requires the will to fight. In other words, to have a free society (democracy), that freedom will likely, if not inevitably, be challenged by totalitarian forces and will have to be defended. Thus the common Latin expression with its roots in antiquity: Si vis pacem, para bellum—translated: “If You Want Peace, Prepare For War.”

A thinker I reference often in this field is the classics and military scholar Victor Davis Hanson. I have read a number of Hanson’s books including The Second World Wars (2002), which is one of the best contemporary books on World War II. I highly recommend Hanson who also writes and speaks on historical, cultural, and political issues.

What follows are three of Hanson’s engaging quotes on democracy and war that help us to think through what a free people must consider when it comes to warfare. I then help clarify his statements. I’ve used these stimulating quotes to spark reflection in my college classes on the ethics of war.

1. Democracy and Warfare

“Democratic citizenship requires knowledge of war—and now, in the age of weapons of mass annihilation, more than ever.”1

It is extremely uncomfortable to reflectively consider the possible results of war, especially in the nuclear age. And democracies so enjoy freedom, pleasure, and peace that they conveniently forget that freedom must be defended. Yet, as Hanson notes, prudent free citizens seek to learn and remember the enduring lessons of war.

2. A Democracy’s Moral Need to Fight

But wars—or the threat of war—at least put an end to American chattel slavery, Nazism, Fascism, Japanese militarism, and Soviet Communism. It is hard to think of any democracy—Afghan, American, Athenian, contemporary German, Iraqi, Italian, Japanese, ancient Theban—that was not an outcome of armed struggle and war.2

War is sometimes evil and always tragic but there are times when it is morally necessary. Fighting evil and injustice and protecting the innocent are grounds that justify war. Citizens of democracy must be ever vigilant because history reveals that freedom isn’t free and it never will be in an imperfect world of sinful people.

3. The Ever-Present Danger of Inaction

“If Westerners deem themselves too smart, too moral, or too soft to stop aggressors in this complex nuclear age, then—as Socrates and Aristotle alike remind us—they can indeed become real accomplices to evil through inaction.”3

When it comes to military aggression, history painfully reveals that inaction can have serious consequences. From ancient to modern times people have refused to confront evil for various reasons. But while no rational person wants war, sometimes moral inaction can facilitate the terribly evil actions of others.

War is a difficult moral topic and maybe especially for Christians who prize peace and value human life. But Hanson challenges us as free people to think diligently about this immensely important ethical issue.

Reflections: Your Turn

Does possessing freedom (democracy) require the will to wage war? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.


Check out more from Reasons to Believe @Reasons.org

  1. Victor Davis Hanson, The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2010), 4.
  2. Hanson, The Father of Us All, 16.
  3. Hanson, 45.


About The Author

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that "all truth is God’s truth." That historic affirmation means that when we discover and grasp truth in the world and in life we move closer to its divine Author. This approach relies on the Christian idea of God’s two revelatory books - the metaphorical book of nature and the literal book of Scripture. As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. My writings and lectures at RTB focus on showing how the great doctrinal truths of the faith (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, creation ex nihilo, salvation by grace, etc.) are uniquely compatible with reason. This approach reflects the historic Christian apologetics statement - "faith seeking understanding." I work to help myself and others fulfill Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:18: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Kenneth Richard Samples began voraciously studying Christian philosophy and theology when his thirst for purpose found relief in the Bible. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and social science from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. For seven years, Kenneth worked as Senior Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and regularly cohosted the popular call-in radio program, The Bible Answer Man, with Dr. Walter Martin. As a youth, Kenneth wrestled with "unsettling feelings of meaninglessness and boredom," driving him to seek answers to life's big questions. An encounter with Christian philosophy in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis led Kenneth to examine the New Testament and "finally believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world." From then on, he pursued an intellectually satisfying faith. Today, as senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), Kenneth uses what he's learned to help others find the answers to life's questions. He encourages believers to develop a logically defensible faith and challenges skeptics to engage Christianity at a philosophical level. He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference, and has contributed to numerous other books, including: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, The Cult of the Virgin, and Prophets of the Apocalypse. He has written articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal, and regularly participates in RTB's podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. He also writes for the ministry's daily blog, Today’s New Reason to Believe. An avid speaker and debater, Kenneth has appeared on numerous radio programs such as Voice America Radio, Newsmakers, The Frank Pastore Show, Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, Talk New York, and Issues Etc., as well as participated in debates and dialogues on topics relating to Christian doctrine and apologetics. He currently lectures for the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Kenneth also teaches adult classes at Christ Reformed Church in Southern California. Over the years Kenneth has held memberships in the American Philosophical Association, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Press Association. The son of a decorated World War II veteran, Kenneth is an enthusiastic student of American history, particularly the Civil War and WWII. His favorite Christian thinkers include Athanasius, Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. He greatly enjoys the music of the Beatles and is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Kenneth lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.

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