Assassinations, Just War Theory, and lower-case gods.

Sep 24, 2013 | Thoughts, Writings | 0 comments

Their mission was simple: the capture or destruction of the false god known as the Regent of Breezes.

This was my first first line of my new novel. As the line suggests, the story is about a war against false gods, and what better way to start it than with the attack on one? It was the first first line because the more I thought about it, the less I liked it, and not just because of my obsessive-compulsive editing.

The problem lies within Just War Theory.

Traditional Just War Theory prohibits assassination attempts, for a variety reasons. Among them is that assassinations usually involve treachery, which is condemned for its own reasons. There is also the possibility of civilian deaths, such as innocents killed by a bomb blast or cup-bearers poisoned. Whether there is moral justification in killing the target, presumably a military or civilian leader (neither of which is usually considered an active combatant), is another question.  Lastly, there is no guarantee that assassination will have the desired consequences. A dead hero may bring more recruits than a living one, and peace talks are obviously hampered if one party requires necromancy to negotiate with the other.

These questions remain, or grow worse, when we add forces vastly superior to humans to the mix. Namely, if a being equivalent of an entire army is on the enemy side, is it right to attack solely for its death or capture? Perhaps it is. But what if this being is not an active combatant, but merely a potential combatant? The situation quickly becomes muddled. And unfortunately, the Catechism does not have a category labeled “Bizarre Hypothetical Questions Answered”, nor does the Summa or the Catholic Encyclopedia. The last does have an entire and quite interesting section on Tyrannicide, but a quick read through shows that this instance would fall into the second category of Tyrant by Oppression.

Now, why, you might ask, do I care about Just War Theory? Why not have our heroes simply ignore it and go their own way? Certainly the Allies did not always follow Just War Theory in World War II.

The problem is that I am writing for young adults, and I want to be responsible. Having the heroes on the first page go out and violate natural law on the first page is far from that. Yet my muse insists on the death of a god in the prologue. Thus my quandary.

It occurred to me that, however, targeted destruction or capture of property has far less rules to it. While still not allowing total war, there is no reason in natural law to prevent the theft, appropriation, capture or destruction of weapons of war, all the more so given their power. For example, a targeted bombing of a weapons depot, in the midst of a just war, is morally acceptable. Thus, if the target of our heroes was not specifically a god but his weapon, then there is no room for complaint. And if, I realized, for certain spoilery reasons, the weapon was more dangerous than the god, all the more reason to target the weapon instead.

As it happens, the Regent of Breezes is still doomed, though for different, and more moral reasons.

Thus, my new, for now, first line:

Their mission was simple: the capture or destruction of the Skybreaker, a star weapon—the sixth star sword, to be precise.


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