James G. MURRAY.  War’s Ends: Human Rights, International Order, and the Ethics of Peace.  Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2014.  pp. 232.  $29.95.  pb.  ISBN 978-1-62616-027-9.  Reviewed by Moni MCINTYRE, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA  15282


James G. Murray brilliantly articulates and carefully nuances the just war theory and tradition in such wise way as to convince all but the most determined pacifists that conditions cited for going to war in some instances might be justified.  Replete with numerous ancient, modern, and contemporary examples, Murray examines successful and less-than-successful attempts to stave off and engage in war at the international level.  This text presents the kind of rigorous scholarship that one expects from the best of the Jesuit tradition.

The author states his goal for the book in this way: “to illuminate, clarify, and suggest amended interpretations of the classical just war criteria to be met when a government or the United Nations decides to resort to armed force, or when the leaders of an insurrection decide to take up arms against oppression” (209).  His thorough analysis of the jus ad bellum criteria incorporates his own insights with support from theorists who both agree and disagree with his interpretations.  Displaying astounding control of his material, Murray reveals both obvious and subtle significant differences among the perspectives of the experts in the field.  He wrestles with the contentions of such notables as Brian Orend and Michael Walzer as well as David Rodin and Stephen C. Neff. Always respectful, Murray nevertheless makes clear his points of disagreement.

Murray’s heavy emphasis on historical illustrations points to the necessity of understanding the events of war from both the perspective of international law and the politics of the time.  A focus on jus ad bellum solely as a moral issue denies the complexity of the subject by neglecting its context.  Furthermore, such negligence invites the observer unfairly to dismiss the just war tradition as naïve or even inadequate.  Murray maintains that an ethical approach to the just war theory must include political as well as legal approaches.  His chapter by chapter analysis of each of the conditions of jus ad bellum clearly underlines the imperative of a tripartite approach that requires the political and legal settings in order accurately to assess the morality of any decision to go to or refrain from going to war. 

Murray examines the nature of war itself and criticizes the naïve pacifist who fails to consider the possibility that going to war may be the only moral thing to do.  Far from being a trigger-happy hawk, Murray urges restraint until conditions warrant belligerence.  At that point the aggressor’s conduct and intention must meet stringent criteria if they are to be viewed as moral.  Murray’s articulation of these criteria challenges both political and military leaders to be in constant conversation so that goals may be identified, agreed upon, and met.  Even success in war defies easy explanation: “winning” and exit strategies must be defined, agreed upon, and planned for well in advance of a decision to go to war.
Throughout the book, Murray insists that the just war theory should not be employed only when the threat of war is imminent; rather, a carefully thought out and nuanced understanding of this theory needs to inform all of foreign policy.  Respect for human rights and the importance of the common good seep onto every page and provide the backdrop for each of his claims.  There exist no easy formulas for calculating when to go to war, and one may not short circuit the process.

This book’s clarity and imminent readability make it a logical choice for an upper level undergraduate or graduate text in political science, public policy, human rights, and the like.  Murray’s well-written words challenge the reader to examine her or his own approach to the just war theory.  Moreover, exposing students to this text offers them an opportunity to improve their writing as well as to learn what they can about “war’s ends.”