The unfortunate civil war in Syria provides an opportunity for students, as Catholics, to research and evaluate the arguments they hear about the United States making air strikes against the country. Their thoughtful reflection may lead them to contact their senators or representatives in the US Congress.

You may want to use the Engaging Faith blog entry, The Catholic Just War Theory Lesson Plan for the criteria for a just war.

Review or introduce the just war doctrine to the students. Ask them to look at a map of Syria, noting which countries surround it. Explain some basic things about the country. (The CIA has basic information and map about each country online

Ask students to evaluate these articles suggested below (or others of your choosing) in pairs or small groups and be ready to talk about the perspectives they have read in light of the just war theory. The first reading is from the US Catholic bishops. The next three articles are from key North American newspapers, one Canadian. The last is a statement by the UN Secretary General. As the students read through their articles, ask them to look for the answers to these questions.

  • What is the writer’s overall thesis?
  • Does the writer use data to support the thesis?
  • Do you find any contradictions in the article?
  • Does the writer use past examples of US military intervention to make his or her point? If so, what do these examples suggest?
  • Which elements of the just war doctrine does the article address? Does the article support these principles?
  • What question might you want to ask the author?

Suggested articles, letters, and statements:

Most Reverend Bishop Richard E. Pates, “Letter to Secretary of State Kerry,” August 30, 2013, USCCB Media News Releases

The Editorial Board, “Debating the Case for Force,” The New York Times, September 2, 2013

Robin Wright, “The Risk of Taking on Syria,” The Los Angeles Times, August 29, 2013

Tom Miles and Yara Bayoumy. “Number of refugees fleeing Syria tops 2 million: UN,” The Globe and Mail, September 3, 2013 (The Globe and Mail is a Canadian newspaper out of Toronto.)

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, “With Syria ‘Biggest Challenge of War and Peace’ Today, Secretary General Says at Peace Palace Commemoration, ‘Stop Fighting and Start Talking,’” The United Nations Department of Public Information, August 28, 2013

Teacher Background Information Link