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Can War Ever be Justified?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1107 words Published: 10th Aug 2017

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It is hard to think about the future of warfare without being terrified. The new weapons of war-nuclear, chemical, biological-will only get more lethal and more widely available. And the testimony of the world’s madmen and mad states suggests that once they possess such weapons, they will soon use them, or try to enslave the world’s free societies with their threats of mass killing. War inevitably brings death, destruction and suffering, which ruin lives and nations. Using, ethical theories religious guidance and general arguments to decide if killing and war can ever be justified.

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War in self-defence is an attempt to apply the philosophical principles of ethics to warfare seems, on the surface, to be oxymoronic. And yet, ethics do apply – not only to the basis on which the conflict is waged but also to the policies that dictate how it is to be fought. The reasons why one nation enters into warfare with another reflect the ethics of the aggressor nation. The means by which a war is prosecuted by each participant is also established through decisions based on the ethics of the cultures of both nations at war.We must understand that a nation’s ethics in general, and any specific ethical position in particular, are an inescapable result of that nation’s worldview, of their epistemology (theory of knowledge) and, more specifically, of their understanding of the origin and nature of man. Just as everything else in life is affected by our worldview, our perspective on war and violence in general is likewise affected. A nation with a morality based on the perspective that man is made in the image of God would approach conflict differently than a nation with a humanist worldview. For more than 17 centuries, the church and society in general have argued the validity of any specific conflict on the basis of several moral criteria. This concept, known by the Latin phrase justum bellum, has been debated in secular and religious circles. For instance, four of these criteria  were explored further in The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). Using these criteria, the conflict’s purpose is evaluated as to whether it represents a “just cause.” Wars fought for a “just cause” are considered valid and moral. Those that fail to meet the criteria are condemned as immoral. The criteria for declaring a “just war” are many and varied. Several criteria address the treatment of innocent individuals under the regime against which violence is being used. Protecting the lives of innocents is a worthy moral objective. Regimes that commit human rights violations of the most flagrant and egregious kinds are generally recognized as being immoral regimes and, consequently, violent conflicts against such regimes – being aimed at bringing an end to these atrocities – are seen as justifiable. Through related reasoning, wars designed to prevent the future occurrence of atrocities are also considered justified, although not all people agree on the kinds of atrocities that rise to this level of justification. Pre-emptive strikes against a nation on the verge of committing crimes against innocents fall into this area and are also considered “just cause” actions. This is, of course, as long as there is sufficient compelling evidence of such impending crimes.Causes for war that are considered “just” also include a nation’s attempts to protect itself from invasion or warfare declared to reclaim lands and people captured by an enemy through force. The protection and reclamation of personal property is second only to humanitarian concerns. This includes the assisting of a friendly nation in its efforts to protect itself, its people or its property, especially when there is a  preexisting alliance with that nation. As already mentioned, the “just” nature of conflict involves not only the reasons for which a war is declared (jus ad bellum) but also the means by which it is conducted (jus in bello). A war that is declared for “just” reasons but is prosecuted by “unjust” means is still considered an “unjust” war.

A Utilitarian approach is “The greatest good for the greatest number”. This can be applied to the theory of ‘Just War’. For Utilitarians the end justifies the means. In other words, a country would not need a just war cause other than having the right intentions and making sure the war would produce the greatest good for the greatest number (Act rather than Rule). The idea of jus ad bello is to make sure that less evil will come about if the war is fought.

Utilitarians would agree with the just war theory as war may be necessary to make the world a better place as long as the war was justified through just war. However can war be justified,’ you must look ahead to see what the consequences of a war will be – if the war will have a greater overall benefit, thinking of future generations. This rule will give a different answer to each case: If a war’s outcome will cause more suffering than good, Utilitarianism would say that that war could not be justified; yet if a war, in the long run would bring greater good than harm, Utilitarian thinkers will say that that war and killing can be justified.

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Of course, there have always been those who feel that all violence is immoral, regardless of its purpose. Some have tried to base this belief on one of the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13). On this basis, several groups have developed convictions leading to a “conscientious objection” to all war. Others have taken positions against such things as capital punishment on the same basis, while still others have tried to apply this commandment to personal defense, claiming that the use of deadly force is never justified. ,To a large extent, these arguments are based on a misunderstanding of the commandment in question. Hebrew is the language in which the Ten Commandments were originally written. Of the several Hebrew words that communicate the concept of killing, the term used in this commandment refers specifically to the murder of innocents, as demonstrated by its use again in Numbers 35:16-21. There is no biblical prohibition against what we know as “justifiable homicide.” Capital punishment is not only allowed but specifically affirmed in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.


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