Was the Second World War a Just War or a Holy War?
There are several factors to be considered when discussing whether the Second World War was a Just War or a Holy War. Thomas Aquinas’s Just War Theory consists of six criteria or conditions which a war must fulfil to be considered justified.
Firstly, the war must be started and controlled by the authority of the state or the ruler as war’s outcomes would involve the people of the whole country and hence their views must be taken into account and discussed in the Parliament. In the case of the Second World War, it was the critical decision of the British government to declare war on Germany for her blatant aggression over weaker European countries. Therefore, the Second World War fulfils the first criteria as the government was the authority of the state which considered it was necessary to start a war for the protection of European people from Hitler’s exploits.
Moving on, the second condition of the Just War Theory states that there must be a just cause for the outbreak of war and those attacked must deserve it. The outbreak of the Second World War also satisfies this second condition as Britain and France declared war on Germany on the 2nd of September, 1939 because they considered Hitler’s invasions of Poland and Czechoslovakia as a threat not just to Britain and France but to the whole of Europe.
Thirdly, the Theory also mentions that the war must be fought to promote good or avoid evil and that peace and justice must be restored afterwards. From the perspective of World War Two, it can be assumed that Britain and France declared war on Germany with the sensible intention of putting a stop to Hitler’s unjust exploits over her neighbouring countries such as Czechoslovakia and Poland and making him unsuccessful in his wicked mission of conquering Europe. They thought this would avoid a repeat of the First World War so that not another 10 million innocent civilians are killed as a result of mass destruction. They started the war with the protective and safety maintaining aim of putting a dead end to Hitler’s aggressive ideas so that peace could be maintained in the whole of Europe under the authority of Britain and France.
In addition, the war must be the last resort when all the other ways of solving the problem have been tried and failed. Suitably, before declaring war on Germany, Britain and France followed the Appeasement policy of agreeing to reasonable demands of Germany to prevent war, trying to negotiate a peaceful settlement.
However, they realised that if they kept turning a “blind eye” on Hitler’s belligerent exploits over weaker European powers, the invasion of France followed be Britain would soon be his targets as he would take for granted that Britain would not be able to defend such a large empire if she would have to fight Germany’s armed forces in Europe. This is one of the main reasons why Britain and France considered it just to start a war with Germany.
Unsurprisingly, the Theory clarifies that most of a war’s aims have to be fulfilled and that the good gained by the victory must be greater than the evil which led to war. However, this wasn’t necessarily the case in the outcomes of the Second World War as although Soviet forces pushed German forces out of Soviet Union, Poland and Czechoslovakia and Germany surrendered, atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and six million Jews died in the Holocaust. Hence, it is evident that the war’s aim of maintaining peace was not fulfilled as millions of civilians were wounded and made homeless in the mass destruction throughout Europe and East Asia by the time war had ended.
Moreover, the theory demands that the only enough force that should be used as is needed to achieve victory and minimum innocent civilians should be killed. Clearly, this wasn’t the outcome of the Second World War as estimates of total military and civilian casualties varied from 35 million to 60 million killed. Also, as mentioned before, nuclear weapons were used to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki when military powers or peaceful settlements such as agreements made between the countries concerned would have solved the conflict without the use of weapons of mass destruction. This wouldn’t have destroyed millions of innocent lives in those regions. Predictably, the Second World War also failed to satisfy this aim of Aquinas’s Just War Theory.
On the other hand, a Holy War can be described as a war fought between two different religious groups of people for the preservation of their faith. It can also involve one religious group of people attempting to convert the other of their religion. Obviously, this wasn’t the issue at the start of World War Two in 1939 as France and Britain only intended to protect Europe from Hitler’s exploits but didn’t endeavour to convert the Germans into any religious group as such.
However, the religious purposes were apparent in the later stages of the War as 6 million Jews were tormented and killed by the Nazis which had discriminating views based on Hitler’s prejudice and dislike of the Jewish community.
In conclusion, I believe the Second World War can be classified as a Just War to a much larger extent than a Holy War. This is because it satisfies most of the Just War Theory whereas the religious discrimination was not measured a major issue until later on in the war, in the Holocaust.