Responding Justly to Terrorism

Crisis Magazine, November 1, 2001.

There is no question that our nation will respond with force to the horrific terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. What will our response look like if it is shaped by the Catholic understanding of principles of justice in warfare?

The first question that arises is whether war is a proper response at all. Some will insist that international terrorism should be treated as a matter of criminal law enforcement, rather than war. If, however, as appears at this writing, the attacks were the work of international terrorists operating as part of a network that is harbored and abetted by regimes that are sympathetic to both their aims and methods, then a military response can certainly be justified.

Of course, a just war can be waged only as a last resort. All reasonable nonviolent options must be explored before force can be justified. Hence the pleas of Pope John Paul II for all nations to search for alternatives to war. In current circumstances, however, the United States and its allies have exhausted every means short of war to deter and disable the forces of international terrorism. The murderous attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are powerful evidence that nothing short of war will be sufficient to protect innocent Americans and others from future terrorism….

Crisis Magazine