The Israelites lived under a theocracy ; God, as Supreme Lord of all the earth, in specific instances, by the exercise of His supreme dominion, transferred the ownership of alien lands to the Israelites ; by His command they waged war to obtain possession of it, and their title to war was the ownership (thus given them) of the land for which they fought.
The privation thus wrought upon its prior owners and actual possessors had, moreover, the character of punishment visited upon them by God's order for offenses committed against Him.
The decisions of American courts lean toward the proposition of universal obligation : English jurists are not so clearly or generally in its favour.
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The judicial condition of the contending parties to the war is spoken of as a state of belligerency, while the term war more properly applies to the series of hostile acts of force exercised in the contention. In like manner the use of force beyond the region of defence and reparation, namely for the imposition of punishment to restore the balance of retributive justice by compensation for the mere violation of law and justice, as well as to assure the future security of the same, is reserved to public authority, for the reason that the State is the natural guardian of law and order, and to permit the individual, even in a matter of personal offence, to be witness, judge, and executioner all at once -- human nature being what it is -- would be a source of injustice rather than of equitable readjustment.
To present here the position of Catholic philosophy in this regard, it will be convenient to discuss in sequence: I. Now the State has corporate rights of its own which are perfect; it has also the duty to defend its citizens' rights ; it consequently has the right of coercion in safeguarding its own and its citizens' rights in case of menace or violation from abroad as well as from at home, not only against foreign individuals, but also against foreign states.
It has been argued that the extension of a state's punitive right outside of the field of its own subjects would seem to be a necessity of natural conditions ; for the right must be somewhere, if we are to have law and order on the earth, and there is no place to put it except in the hands of the state that is willing to undertake the punishment.
Still, the matter is not as clear as the right to interfere in defence of the innocent.
The common good of the nation is a restricting condition upon the exercise of its right to go to war; but it is not itself a sufficient title for such exercise.
Thus the mere expansion of trade, the acquisition of new territory, however beneficial or necessary for a developing state, gives no natural title to wage war upon another state to force that trade upon her, or to extort a measure of her surplus territory, as the common good of one state has no greater right than the common good or another, and each is the judge and guardian of its own.
War, in its juridical sense, is a contention carried on by force of arms between sovereign states, or communities having in this regard the right of states. to make use of physical force to conserve its rights inviolable. every right involving in others an obligation in justice a deference thereto, to be efficacious, and consequently a real and not an illusory power, carries with it at the last appeal the subsidiary right of coercion.
The term is often used for civil strife, sedition, rebellion properly so called, or even for the undertaking of a State to put down by force organized bodies of outlaws, and in fact there is no other proper word for the struggle as such; but as these are not juridically in the same class with contentions of force between sovereign states, the jurist may not so use the term. A perfect right, then, implies the right of physical force to defend itself against infringement, to recover the subject-matter of right unjustly withheld or to exact its equivalent, and to inflict damage in the exercise of this coercion wherever, as is almost universally the case, coercion cannot be exercised effectively without such damage.
Francisco Suárez, it is true, is inclined to seek the right of war as a means not precisely of defence, but of reparation of right and of punishment of violation, from the international law, on the ground that it is not necessary in the nature of things that the power of such rehabilitation and punishment should rest with the aggrieved state (though it should be somewhere on earth), but that mankind has agreed to the individual state method rather than by formation of an international tribunal with adequate police powers.
However, the argument given above shows with fair clearness that the power belongs to the aggrieved state, and that though it might have entrusted, or may yet entrust, its exercise to an international arbiter, it is not bound so to do, nor has it done so in the past save in some exceptional cases.
But it must be noted that civilized nations, in their effort to ameliorate the cruel conditions of warfare, have sometimes consented to allow, as the less of two imminent evils, that which is forbidden by the natural law.