Just War?

Why Can't I Be the LeaderThe Reach And Teach team travels in various circles of folks, ...

from absolute pacifists - for whom war is NEVER the answer,

to just-war-theorists - who try to weigh the circumstances leading to war and the way in which war is carried out to determine if that particular war is appropriate, and finally,

and even a few hawks - for whom most wars are justifiable and most behavior by the United States in war is considered noble and good.

Most people who have some form of faith life base, at least partly, their decisions about war on what their faith-life has taught them. PBS' Religion and Ethics program has produced a wonderful set of lesson plans around the issues of faith and war.

Talking to young people about war can be difficult, but if we are to work towards a more peaceful future, it is vital that we do so. For the very young, books like Playing War and Why Can't I Be the Leader provide a good starting point. As children get older, books like Howard Zinn's Young People's History of the United States are terrific discussion-starters.

Responding to the War on Terror

Howard Zinn Book

With the release of the new Howard Zinn "Young People's History" books, we've been searching for lesson plans that people can use along with Zinn's books to create a holistic learning experience for children. The PBS lesson plan is a wonderful supplement to the explorations of war found in Zinn's books, especially the chapter dealing with the so-called "War on Terror."

Here are some of the resources PBS makes available to teachers (and parents and anyone else planning to work with children on the thorny issues of war).

  • PBS Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly: Perspectives -- Religious Views on War and U.S. Response, September 21, 2001.
    An exploration of what various religious traditions and international law have to say about military retaliation and the idea of a "just war." The most relevant part of the article starts from the beginning and ends after Dr. Esack's second comment with the words, "And so these people do in fact see that the United States is embarking upon the movement as a war against Islam." For the purposes of this lesson, you may instruct students to stop reading there.
  • PBS Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly: Perspectives -- Religious Views on War with Iraq, September 13, 2002
    Presents various religious views on the issue of whether the U.S. should launch a unilateral, preemptive attack on Iraq. Also considers the just war theory in relation to Iraq, and whether the "just war" idea changes in the face of modern technology (i.e. weapons of mass destruction held by many nations of the world).
  • "Religion, War, and Violence" videotape from Religion and Ethics.
    Visit this area of the Religion and Ethics Web site for information about obtaining a copy of this 90-minute VHS videotape. Note: The following clips from this video are included in this lesson, though the second one can be replaced by the "Religious Pacifists" Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly Feature below.

    • Just War. Run time: 8:08 (can cut at approximately 6 minutes). A look at what constitutes a "just war," and whether recent conflicts such as Kosovo, Rwanda, and the Gulf War can be considered "just" (or might have been considered "just" in the case of Rwanda, where no one intervened.) The section that is most relevant to this lesson ends after approximately 6 minutes, when interviewee Jean Bethke Elshtain says, "We know the Iraqi people have suffered terribly in the aftermath of those conflicts."
    • Religious Pacifists. Run time: 8:30. An examination of religious pacifism in a number of religious communities, a look at the new challenges pacifists face, and their proposed non-violent responses to the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001.
  • PBS Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly: Feature -- Religious Pacifists, October 19, 2001
    Examines the views of a number of religious pacifist groups toward military retaliation, as well as a number of the criticisms and accusations made against pacifists by other religious and non-religious Americans.

    Note: Use this text resource if you do not show the video clip of this show (see "Religion, War, and Violence" videotape above).
  • About the War Resisters League.
    Includes concise sections on the philosophy and politics, history, and statement of purpose of this long-standing pacifist organization.
  • Veterans for Peace: Statement of Purpose
    Brief statement from an organization of war veterans who have committed themselves to the abolition of war.

Reach And Teach has reviewed these lesson plans and we believe they are excellent, allowing children to truly explore these issues and consider their own beliefs in light of the information presented.

Click here to view the entire program at the PBS web site.


Speaking of war....... pop-quiz........

What is considered the last battle of the revolutionary war?

Shays's RebellionShays's Rebellion: Another resource we discovered in our hunt was a lesson plan and some other great resources on Shays's Rebellion.

From the National Park Service:

By 1786, the American Revolution, it seemed, had almost gone too far. That Fall, General George Washington wrote:

"I am mortified beyond expression when I view the clouds that have spread over the brightest morn that ever dawned in any country... What a triumph for the advocates of despotism, to find that we are incapable of governing ourselves and that systems founded on the basis of equal liberty are merely ideal and fallacious."


Others in the political elite held the same opinion -- even Massachusetts' onetime Revolutionary agitator, Samuel Adams:


“Rebellion against a king may be pardoned, or lightly punished, but the man who dares to rebel against the laws of a republic ought to suffer death."


Only the young Thomas Jefferson -- reflecting more philosophically and from a safe distance in Europe -- disagreed:


"A little rebellion now and then is a good thing. It is a medicine necessary for the sound health of government. God forbid that we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion."

Daniel Shays (1747?-1825, born Hopkinton, MA), a decorated Revolutionary War army captain, led a rebellion against unsettled economic conditions and against laws that were grossly unfair to farmers and working people in general. Excessive taxes on property, polling taxes (which prevented the poor from voting), unfair actions by the court of common pleas, the high cost of lawsuits, and the lack of a stable currency made life in the new republic worse than before the war. The rebels rallied for the government issue of paper money since there was a variety of paper monies in circulation, but little that was honored at face value.

The Revolutionary War was over, but the United States hadn't created effective government institutions. The proposed Constitutional Congress had yet to convene, and the country was descending into chaos.

The rebels protested against governmental and court systems wrought with dictatorial and oppressive laws and against excessive salaries for government and court officials. They mobbed the court buildings in Northampton, Great Barrington, Worcester, Concord and Springfield to prevent the sitting of the courts.

On August 29, 1786, rebel mobs stormed the courthouse in Northampton to stop the trial and imprisonment of debtors. The next month, Shays and about 600 armed rebels stormed the courthouse in Springfield. Massachusetts Governor James Bowdoin soon assembled 4,400 militiamen under the command of General Benjamin Lincoln to defend the courts and to protect the Commonwealth.

The insurgents chose the Continental Arsenal in Springfield to be their next target. Shays and his veteran infantry, with reinforcements led by Luke Day of West Springfield, planned to seize the Springfield arsenal. However, there was a mix up and Day and his regiment weren’t able to join Shays on the planned date. Day sent a letter to Shays just before the assault was to begin explaining that he would not be there to support the attack. Unfortunately for Shays, he never received the letter from Day. It was intercepted by militia.

General Lincoln had earlier marched westward from Boston to defend the debtor court in Worcester. Shays, with about 1,500 fellow rebels behind him, marched on the arsenal five days later late in the afternoon on January 25th, 1787. It was on the grounds of the Springfield Armory National Historic Site that the high-water mark of this violent and wide-spread rebellion, or “Regulation” as it was known at the time, crested in the bloody clash at the arsenal in an effort by the rebels to seize the barracks, cannon, muskets, and ammunition stored there.


The armed rebel column, of about three regiments, advanced from the east along Boston Road (now State Street) toward the militia emplaced on the grounds of Armory Square (the grass quadrangle in front of the Springfield Armory NHS Museum). Militia General William Shepard defended the arsenal with 1,200 local militiamen who, as the rebel column approached, fired his field pieces (a brass field gun and a howitzer) into the ranks of the advancing rebels, killing four and wounding many. The rebels never fired a musket at the defending militia. Nor did the militia fire their muskets. Crying "murder" -- for the insurgents never supposed their neighbors and fellow veterans would fire on them --, the Shays men retreated in disarray toward Chicopee to the north.


General Lincoln arrived in Springfield a few days later with reinforcements and quickly chased Shays's army northward. On the morning of February 3rd, the insurgents were taken completely by surprise in Petersham, Massachusetts. General Lincoln had marched his troops from Hadley through a snowstorm the previous night to attack as Shays and his men sat down to breakfast. The regulators scattered, and the rebellion was effectively ended with some fighting and bloodshed continuing in the months ahead in the Berkshire hills to the west.


Most of the insurgents later took advantage of a general amnesty and surrendered. Shays and a few other leaders escaped north to Vermont.

The Supreme Judicial Court sentenced fourteen of the rebellion's leaders, including Shays, to death for treason. However, they were later pardoned by the newly-elected Governor John Hancock. Only two men, John Bly and Charles Rose of Berkshire County, were hung.


A newly-elected Massachusetts Legislature in Boston began to undertake the slow work of reform. That summer, the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia struggled to create a stronger central government that would "establish justice and insure domestic tranquillity." Shays's Rebellion is considered the one of the major turning points leading to the formation of the United States Constitution.

The Bill of Rights Institute put together a lesson plan on Shays's Rebellion which works well with Howard Zinn's book and the National Park Service web site, which includes comprehensive documents and images about the rebellion.


YOUR TURN: We're on the lookout for great lesson plans to go along with Howard Zinn's new books. Do you have one you'd like to share? Contact us and let us know where it is. We're happy to help modify it to work with the new books and we'll certainly make sure credit is given where credit is due! Join us in helping to make alternative teaching of history more widely available.


Howard Zinn Books Previously, parents had to use Howard Zinn's more adult-oriented history book but in May 2007 Zinn (and children's author Rebecca Stefoff) released A Young People's History of the United States.

We're proud to offer these very well written books through our online bookstore and at events. Teachers, parents, grandparents, faith-based organizations, and countless other people who work with children will want to make sure these books are available to children as supplements to or replacements for standard textbooks. Americans have much to learn from our history, but we can only learn the real lessons when the truth is presented and too many textbooks omit too many facts. Combining Zinn's take on history with standard textbooks, primary sources, literature, and books like Amelia to Zora, Akira to Zoltan, and America's Daughters will provide a much more comprehensive view of American history, good and bad, than any single textbook could possibly achieve.

Click here to visit the Reach And Teach store where you can find all of these books.