We were delighted to get to interview with David Kwon about his new book Justice after War: Jus Post
Bellum in the 21st Century. He received his Ph.D. in moral theology from Boston College. He also holds
an MBA from Johns Hopkins University and degrees in social work and social policy (AM/MSW) as well
as MDiv from the University of Chicago, and draws on his education and professional experience (both
military defense companies and American Friends Service Committee, a Novel Peace awarded
organization) in these fields in his work as a theological ethicist and war and peace scholar. David Kwon
is assistant professor of theology and religious studies at Seattle University.
Q: How did you come to take an interest in studying ethics of war and peace, and post war justice specifically? Was it a passion you discovered while studying moral theology, or did you study moral theology because of its ties to just war and just peace literature?
A: Peacebuilding. My scholarly interests are united by my deep commitment to being a theological and
philosophical educator in the service of church and society, as well as a conflict analyst with extensive
expertise in war, social conflict, and contemporary cultural and political division, especially in postwar
societies. My overarching aim as a theological ethicist is to find ways of bridging these divides and work for the common good. This commitment aligns with my conviction: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God” (Mt 5:9). Further, I am very much into developing peace and war ethics into other fields together such as business ethics and environmental ethics, discussing the emerging topics such as “peace through commerce” and “ecological peace” or we call “comprehensive security” which is also very much important in postwar, post-conflict, and/or post-traumatic contexts – such as removing mines and explosions and other chemicals harmful to the nature, not just directly humans.
Q: How does your perspective as a theologian shape your understanding of postwar justice and peace in comparison to how a secular military ethicist or non-Christian philosopher may think of it? On top of that, tell me more about your book, Justice after War, why was this so important for you to publish this book and what is your biggest goal with the piece?
A: I can answer these two questions by emphasizing how I believe this book offers three elements that set it apart from similar writings. First, this book presents a multidisciplined, conversational approach to the
ethics of war and peace that helps readers understand a wide spectrum of today’s complex and urgent
postwar justice and peacebuilding issues. These conversations include, but are not limited to, expanding jus post bellum to embrace a “Responsibility to Protect” strand of advocacy, promoting strategic peacebuilding practices with a proven tendency to defuse potentially destructive hostilities, reforming the body of international law in compliance with a vision of empowerment to the local community, and casting the Church (and FBOs) as an alternative body politic in the modern, liberal nation-states. In this sense, we can also think about the ongoing tragic Ukraine-Russian war and afterwards.
Second, and related to the first, this book employs a wide range of literature to explore how contemporary scholars view the idea of just post bellum and how this new development fits within the Christian ethics, a moral tradition that is historically interdisciplinary. With this attempt to construct a coherent cross-disciplinary body, this book adopts a holistic approach toward navigating the competing demands of post-war peacebuilding, namely, centering on human security and political reconciliation, proffering three attendant practices: just policing, just punishment, and just political participation.
Third, this work carefully intersects with present day instances – new sociopolitical complications, new
institutional changes, and new cultural movements have outpaced the Church’s capacity to initiate a critical analysis of, or to moderate a meaningful conversation about, such developments. This book engages current responses to questions about if and when Christians can support their nations’ efforts to end wars and to what extent they should participate in, or challenge, them. In so doing, this book intends to propose a fresh and relevant way to our contexts in the twenty-first century, especially when globalizing world is facing increasing political and economic insecurity and widespread violence and conflicts.
Q: In comparison to just war theory, which has been part of military ethics for centuries and focuses primarily on jus ad bellum (the right to go to war) and jus in bello (just conduct in war), why has jus post bellum (postwar justice and peacebuilding) only been developed in recent years?
A: This is a very interesting question. I believe many scholars and institutions (from grassroot non-violence communities to governments; and think tanks like USIP and religious leaderships like USCCB’s International Justice and Peace) vary on this. One thing I can tell is that people are getting tired of just war voices, whether they are defensible rhetoric, common good seeking discourse, or any philosophical and religious ethos driven approaches. Some might argue that the traditional just war doctrines are immoral, while others see that there is no place for ethics in war, whether jus ad bellum or jus in bello based. I also often struggle with that the doctrine does not apply in the conditions of modern conflicts. However, one thing we should remember is that this doctrine itself is a theory – while it maintains the central importance of human dignity and rejects the “offensive” view that there are no rules of conduct in war situations, it has its limits to explain details in a practical manner.
I think the jus post bellum discourse has its own distinct way to contribute to this complex literature of war and peacebuilding ethics—because the discourse is not only limited to just war rhetoric but also to civil society peacebuilding literature. My book discusses a conventional just war theory and introduces jus post bellum as part of it. However, I also invite reflection on postwar conflicts linked to broader structures of inequality that promote interpersonal and group violence and structures of terror. For example, in Chapter 7, I explain that just political participation as a central mission of just peacemaking, of which the fundamental characteristics must be nonviolence and just and sustainable peace, contributes to the entire postwar justice scheme. This mission leans in the direction of a civil society peacebuilding agenda that has been further manifested by just peacemaking approaches: building schools and hospitals and working hard on peacebuilding and reconciliation as just peace thinkers, such as Glen Staseen and Lisa Sowle Cahill, my Boston College mentor, emphasize. Here we can see the innate idea of jus post bellum, which can be distinguished both from pacifism, because it does not exclude the entire coercive intervention option (e.g., sanction), and from traditional jus ad bellum and just in bello driven just war theory, because its overriding agenda is nonviolent negotiation for both human security and political reconciliation.
Q: What do you think is the greatest benefit of a liberal arts education?
A: This book is intended as a theologically inspired introductory text in jus post bellum ethics geared
primarily toward just war thinkers and peace scholars but is also appropriate for those of the general
audience who are interested in the ethics of war and peace. In addition, this book is expected to appeal to
advanced undergraduate and graduate students in departments of theology or religious studies of which the curriculum is particularly interdisciplinary, thematic, or fairly praxis-driven. It could also be used for other discipline programs that often teach religion or the role of faith in social life as key subjects, such as
philosophy, peace studies, and international relations. My goal in writing this book is to encourage moral
discourse and theological reflection on ethical issues in jus post bellum rather than resorting to ready-made and prescriptive answers to concrete dilemmas.
For more information on David Kwon and his book Justice after War, check out the Justice after War
discussion forum (Center for Law and Religion at St. John’s University School of Law) and connect with him on LinkedIn and Facebook.