Master of Arts (MA)


Philosophy and Religious Studies

Document Type



A disagreement over two questions contributes to further disagreement about the war on terrorism. First, what is terrorism? If terrorism is a term to intensify negative connotations of any activity, then all unjust acts are terrorism potentially. I argue that terrorism is a specific act; it is the use, or threat of use, of premeditated violence against noncombatants, intended to coerce a group into some course of action. Second, is the war on terrorism just? Because terrorism is not a pejorative, we must evaluate terrorism to determine if response to terrorism is response to an unjust aggressor. Using Michael Walzer’s Just War Theory, I show that victims of terrorism and the international community have just cause to respond to terrorism because all terrorists intentionally harm innocents to advance their cause. Even if terrorists have just cause, their terrorist acts are unjust because they maximize civilian risk. When nothing else will stop a terrorist attack, war is just. Just war minimizes civilian risk and only targets people responsible for unjust aggression. The Bush administration’s war on terrorism uses a preventative strategy to eliminate future terrorist attacks. Using war to prevent future terrorism is just only when there is a legitimate threat of terrorism and no alternative short of war will stop the attack. The United States had just cause for the war in Afghanistan because war was necessary to stop al Qa’ida, a legitimate threat, from attacking again; however, the United States did not have just cause for the war in Iraq because although Saddam Hussein was a legitimate threat, means short of war were available to restrain him from supporting terrorists. By defining terrorism properly and using the resources of Just War Theory, we can continue to evaluate engagements in the war on terrorism.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Gregory Schufreider