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Just War Against Terror

The Burden of American Power in a Violent World


Jean Bethke Elshtain (View Bio)
Hardcover: Basic Books, 2003; Paperback: Basic Books, 2004.

Just War Against Terror

"With this book, Elshtain — a professor of ethics at the University of Chicago and a member of the editorial advisor board of First Things — launches a rhetorical fusillade at the theologians and other academics who responded evasively to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The usual suspects are here — Edward Said, Jean Baudrillard, Mary Beard — and Elshtain demolishes their claims in clear-eyed and convincing fashion. She also provides a fascinating introduction to the arguments that have informed thousands of years of just-war scholarship.... 'Where is the legacy of Niebuhr and Tillich?' Elshtain asks in desperation. The answer is simple: Their legacy lives on in the writers who, like her, make clear to the world the dangers of Islamofascism." — National Review

"Those opposed to the war on terror and Bush's decision to move into Iraq would do well to read Elshtain's sophisticated primer on political ethics and its relevance to America's unsought imperial burden." — Washington Post Book World

"This is an important and stimulating book that may force many readers to clarify their own thinking on war." — BookPage

"Not afraid to make a bit of noise, Elshtain sends her arguments rolling across the lawn, everywhere encountering weedy clumps of prejudice and ill-conceived assumptions, and everywhere leaving behind a well-trimmed swath of intellectual clarity, which is pleasing to see." — The New York Times Book Review

"Jean Bethke Elshtain shows clearly and persuasively how 'just war' teaching meets both the imperative of peace and the responsibility of a government that has to defend its people.... JUST WAR AGAINST TERROR challenges theologians and preachers to apply theological discernment more rigorously and realistically when they reflect on terrorism, and at the same time faults the academy's reaction to counter-terrorism as evasive and simplistic. Speaking vividly and directly to the moral decisions America is making, Elshtain provides a service to us all." — Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., Archbishop of Chicago

"Jean Bethke Elshtain has written an answer to the apologists from terrorism and a compelling moral argument in defense of freedom. Her voice rings with the force of democratic conviction and moral courage. It will resonate with people around the world who share her commitment to freedom and her refusal to submit to the forces of fanaticism and intolerance." — Carl Gershman, National Endowment for Democracy

"Jean Bethke Elshtain debates the moral dimensions of the war on terrorism with a seriousness that has seldom been seen since the days of Reinhold Niebuhr and the early Cold War. Those who think that the rights and wrongs of this conflict are simple — one way or the other — are urged to read this important book." — Francis Fukuyama

"Brilliant and erudite." — Library Journal

"An important and timely book. With the courage and clarity that have made her one of this country's leading public intellectuals, Jean Bethke Elshtain offers us a sobering appraisal of the changes that terrorism has already wrought in our world, and a penetrating analysis of what we need to do to confront the new readily." — Mary Ann Glendon, Learned Hand Professor of Law, Harvard University

"[Elshtain] has addressed what is probably America's most important — and difficult — moral and ethical debate.... [She] raises questions we cannot, as a nation, afford to ignore." — Henry Kissinger

"Since the attacks of September 11, academics and policy experts have scrambled to reassess the international role of the U.S. in the face of rising Islamic fundamentalism. Most agree that there can be no reconciliartion with extremists who want to destroy the U.S. and that it is our responsibility to use force to fight terrorism wherever it may be. Elshtain adds to this conventional wisdom by providing the moral framework for America's war against terrorism, convincingly arguing that U.S. military action is not only necessary for self-preservation, but it is ethical. Chiding pacifists who equate justice with a total rejection of violence, Elshtain introduces a more subtle theory of a just war in relation to the current conflict and argues that there are times when we must use force to stop evil and punish wrongdoers. As in the struggle against the Nazis and imperialist Japan, she says, the case against al-Qaida and bin Laden is clear, and a legitimate war deployed in the name of decency and righteousness should actually lead to a more peaceful world by restoring order and security. In fact, Elshtain, a highly regarded professor of social and political ethics at the University of Chicago, argues that the U.S. has an obligation to prevent violence and help establish civic peace and promote nation building.... [The book] presents well the moral case for U.S. military engagement in the world and gives credence to those who advocate the use of force as a response to terrorism." — Publishers Weekly

"A useful guide to determining what is permitted and required now of Americans, both in and out of uniform. Elshtain...assail[s] the American tendency to assume that there is no evil as long as their is peace, and no morality as soon as there is war.... Elshtain captures the character of the challenge well: 'The heavy burden being imposed on the United States does not require that the United States remain on hair-trigger alert at every moment. But it does oblige the United States to evaluate all claims and to make a determination as to whether it can intervene effectively and in a way that does more good than harm.' We have the freedom and power to act.... Modern liberal democracy can provide, protect, and to some extent even foster the space in which human beings seek to satisfy their deepest religious longings. Absent such protection and fostering, we risk degenerating into what Elshtain aptly labels ideological secularism. Responsibility for this task falls to clergy and laity alike. At a moment such as ours, when recourse to arms is sure to continue if we choose to shoulder the burden of American power, responsible believers and thoughtful nonbelievers must regain what George Weigel has called 'moral clarity in time of war.' The just-war tradition is a vital means to that end." — The Weekly Standard

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