American Boots on the Ground: A Moral Basis

by Dr. L. John Van Til

Jesus Teaching Gun Safety
American Boots on the Ground: A Moral Basis
The Center For Vision & Values
The Center For Vision & Values

Grove City, PA –-( Americans can see or hear about dozens of terrorist acts every day. They can tune in to their favorite TV shows or go to the local cinema and be bombarded with violence and mayhem endlessly. Perhaps these events should be called “virtual terrorism.”

Consider this as you read more.

Americans can also, of course, tune in to media outlets that are continuous accounts of terrorist acts. These accounts describe suicide bombers, mass slaughter of innocent civilians, car bombs, and much more. The most disturbing terrorist acts at the moment involve public beheadings of reporters or other civilians who happen to be in the path of Islamic radicals in ungoverned parts of Iraq or Syria. Reaction to these beheadings has brought a sense of revulsion to new highs. Words to describe them seem inadequate, though they include “barbarian,” “uncivilized,” “heinous,” “depraved,” and “wicked.”

If a single word were to be used to describe terrorist acts, it would be EVIL. Defining terrorism and discussing its relationship to morality may lead to less heat and more light on the subject.

Most current uses of the term terrorism assume that audiences know what the word means; likely they do not. Consider the following definition: Terrorist acts surprise and shock people with the threat of brutalizing violence or sudden death which, in turn, create extreme fear, feelings of desperation, acute anxiety, and panic—all elements of a most disturbing psychological condition.

Terrorist acts may be by a person who mugs someone on a city street, or in an elevator, or who rapes a lone jogger, attacking his victim with a gun or knife without warning, therein creating terror in the heart of his victim. Obviously in these cases people are astonished and shocked by the threat of immediate and grave danger. Attackers in such cases are often referred to as “lone wolf” terrorists.

Political terrorists, however, are different. Usually, their acts are well planned by radical ethnic, religious, or political organizations. They seek notoriety for their cause, realizing that world media will be focused on them while they act. It’s sobering to note, too, that a whole government may be one grand terrorist organization. Peel back a layer or two of North Korea’s government and that is what one finds.

Most comments in American media on these acts imply that they are morally wrong, using the words listed above. Islamists, on the other hand, believe in the validity of what they call “jihad” to drive Americans and other “infidels” out of the Middle East that once was part of an Islamic empire—a caliphate. Jihad is, of course, often referred to in Islamic culture as a “holy war.

In addition, to rid the planet of the Western infidels has become a sacred mission.

American commentators feel these acts are evil. Yet, they seem to have no moral basis for this feeling, much less a logical one. The absence of a moral basis on which to firmly condemn Islamic terrorism stems from the fact that few Americans understand Christianity’s Just War doctrine and its place in the Western world’s past. If they did, it would be obvious to some at least that the slaughter of innocent non-combatants is murder, and thus, morally wrong. And, where did this idea come from? It is embedded in the 1600-year-old Just War Theory attributed to St. Augustine (354-430).

As to a logical argument about the morality of terrorism, consider the following.

While American observers intuitively understand that terrorism is morally wrong, they should also grasp it intellectually in light of Just War Theory. Islamic practitioners, on the other hand, believe that their jihadist “holy war” is justified. Their justification is based on disputed obscure passages in the Koran. Both parties are referring to the same acts. Can both sides be correct? A first principle of logic states that something cannot be true and not true (that is, false) at the same time.

If American political leaders took a good look at the Just War Theory and its use through time, they would conclude the following: First, that Islamic terrorist acts in the Middle East violate this time-honored theory’s condemnation of the use of “excessive force.” Second, this violation constitutes justification for opposing Islamic terrorist acts with combat forces.

Their principal duty would be three-fold, applying the foundational principles for a just war:

  1. Suppress Islam’s use of excessive force.
  2. Protect the remaining non-combatants who are at risk of being slaughtered.
  3. Re-establish legitimate borders in the region.

President Obama could clear up his uncertainty and apparent confusion as to what would be an effective policy in this region. A quick tutorial on St. Augustine’s Just War Theory would help; he probably did not learn about it while going to school in Indonesia.

To conclude with emphasis: Islamic terrorism is morally wrong because it is murder and murder is a moral absolute. Our political leaders would be smart to embrace the Just War Theory as a basis for a wise Middle Eastern policy, even using American “boots on the ground” to terminate such jihadist evil.                         

Dr. L. John Van Til is a fellow for humanities, faith, and culture with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.
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Paul Quinton

I think all citizens of every country should have the right to carry arms of any sort whatsoever, and that they should use them to overthrow anyone they see as a tyrant and oppressor. I see ISIS and the Taliban and Boko Haram are doing this now, North Korea is fully prepared to do it – and it is their God-given right to do it. We should support them in this right to bear arms and accept that we must defend ourselves – God will know who should win and He will be on their side – He always has… Read more »


I don’t know where this moral high ground is but one thing I do know, we Americans won’t find it with all this…military adventurism in the middle east or anywhere else our weapons of war are bought, used and welcomed unless it’s right here in between our borders fighting the treasonous enemy within. The criminals in our own govt that are making war all over the planet while scheming on how to take your God given rights to guns away – there’s the real problem. No…we need to deal with first things first and to stop playing the world’s policeman… Read more »


This is an interesting definition for “Terrorism.” Most often it is defined more along the lines of “actions taken by political groups intended to cause great fear, horror, and terror among the civilian populace in order to destabilize an existing government in order to remove it, or to force it to change its policies and behavior in favor of those supported by the “Terrorist” group.” This removes muggings and similar crimes, although they DO often involve creating terror in their victims, from the realm of Political terrorism, which is what we typically mean when we use the terms “Terrorist” and… Read more »


If we widen the Gulf of Aden with a hydrogen bomb do you think Somalia and Yemen will get the ‘message’ and pass it on their ‘friends’?

ray hampton

How can we live in peace with the rest of the world WHEN THE REST OF THE WORLD WANT TO KILL YOU


The picture prior to this column is extremely offensive. My Savior, the God of Love and Salvation, would not hold a gun. Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay for our sins. Yes, he could have stopped it and would not have needed a gun. He saved us with love not violence. I realize the artist was trying to make a point but there are much better ways. I do think we should take this war to the enemy and not stop until it is finished. However, we should not embarrass ourselves with silly pictures. The author had a… Read more »


Perfect article. When I discuss “whether we should get involved or not” at work with co-workers, there are some that say it’s not our business. So I posit this to them: They are not home one day, and I am walking past their house. I see a group of young thugs go in, and hear my co-workers wife / children / mother yelling for help. It’s not my house – they are not my family. So it’s not my business. BUT, I am aware of the crime there, the imminent danger to his family. Does he want me to go… Read more »


The situation isn’t as black & white as this article tries to make it. Decades of US intervention (direct war, war by proxies, support for dictators, support for Israel) in the Middle East have to be taken into consideration. The just war doctrine works against the US. The US started intervening in the Middle East before they started any terrorism against us. A better approach would be to try living in peace with the rest of the world instead of maintaining the world wide empire we have now. If we keep this empire terrorism against us is one of the… Read more »


We always get into the wrong wars on the wrong side and then when the right one comes along, we are too spent out to do anything.

Lee Cruse

Yes, we have a hard time with the obvious sometimes. Just as a group of “armed citizens” if given the legal go ahead could stop the illegal border crossing from Mexico.


Those that behead children in the name of religion is psychotic. Any government, person or group that supports this has no right to life on this planet. Mercanary groups could end ISIS much easier than the US dropping bombs.But everyone knows Obama admistration is more interested in spending trillions of US munitions to kill 30k people. PMC’s money would be the wrong people making the big$.