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American History and the Idea of the Just War  

The idea of the 'just war' has engaged historians, theologians, and moral philosophers for centuries. This guide will assist you in analyzing the legitimacy of armed conflict.
Last Updated: Feb 24, 2014 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

Getting Started Print Page

What is in this guide?

This guide offers suggestions on sources for history research in the Green Library at St. Mark's. The guide contains tabs about various stages of a research paper including:


How do I begin?

Begin your research by using the databases at your disposal in the Green Library.  Links to these databases may be found under "Basic ways to find scholarly articles" on this page.  Below is information from Dr. Perryman's handout which will prove vital as you begin your research.  The terminology listed below is a good starting point as you identify key words for researching your topic both electronically and in print:

James Turner Johnson has written several books on this topic, including Morality and Contemporary Warfare

Although there is no definitive list of just war criteria accepted by all historians, philosophers, and theologians, Johnson and many others have identified seven widely acknowledged criteria determining when the right to use force is justified, and two criterian that ideally should govern the use of force once the conflict is underway.  Most refer to these two different sets of criteria as 'war-decision law' and 'war-conduct law.'  Here is the abbreviated list of Johnson's table identifying the criteria widely accepted as needing to be met in order to justify and legitimately prosecute war:

War-decision Law: Criteria Determining the Right to Use Force

  • Just Cause
  • Right Authority
  • Right Intention
  • Proportionality of Ends
  • Last Resort
  • Reasonable Hope of Success
  • The Aim of Peace

War-conduct Law: Criteria Determining How to Wage a Just War

  • Proportionality of MEans
  • Noncombatant Protection/Immunity

Basic ways to find scholarly articles for historical research


How do historians do research?

The study of history offers students an opportunity to investigate the past, gain perspective on the present, and develop their critical faculties and their imaginations. History provides an integrating principle for the entire learning process, and students gain a sense of human development and interrelatedness and an understanding of social processes. History demands a confrontation with the mythologies and achievements of our own society and with the reality of "otherness," both at home and in the larger world.

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