As a citizen of the United States, I am part of an institution that has been, and is currently, killing people. Whether or not all or some of these killings are ethically defensible is a difficult question to answer and most people simply never confront the issue. I will evaluate literature on the topic, identify the different justifications for killing in time of war and decide if they legitimize our actions. After describing some compelling arguments, I will defend my own position that pacifism is the only ideal which mankind should embrace.
According to traditional just war theory, a just cause must serve peace and not simply protect an unjust status quo. War must be used as a last resort and all pacifistic approaches must be undertaken. So, if your country is implicated in immoral actions such as oppression of a group of people that terrorist represent, before responding with military action against that group, it is necessary to stop the unjust oppression. If by upholding unjust policies, a society makes peace with a country of people impossible, then military action would just be an extension of that country's unjust policy. This would not be a just war because the reactionary war would be itself an instrument of injustice, and the action would contain an unjust intent.
In “Nipping Evil in the Bud: The Questionable Ethics of Preventative Force”, Douglas P. Lackey holds government responsible for acting militarily when the following conditions are met: it is certain a group of terrorists have the means and intent of attacking, the attack is eminent. He distinguishes between preventative and preemptive basically as whether or not you can prove intention. Lackey makes another assertion. He says that more then proving intent, to legitimize military action, you must prove that military action is the last resort and all other options have been attempted. The logic behind this reasoning is that in the last stages of a plan unfolding, one has the ability to deflect and reduce evil. Later I will defend the claim that this logic is flawed and war is never just, that participating in any war has significant moral implications. Lackey disputes what he calls the “Preventative Force Argument” which he defines as the assumption that preventative force and preemptive force are the same thing and acting representatively is morally preferable. A “God's eye view” would be needed to legitimize preventative action and those in support of war should hold the burden of proof when justifying war. He compares the military to police and terrorists to a person on a path to deciding and eventually attempting murder. He draws parallels between someone's legal rights and the rights of a prospective terrorist group not to be attack preventively.
Next, Lackey argues against the use of any preventative force at all, including detention. The rest of his article pertains to the loss of innocent life involved in preventative war and just killing, and then on preventative restrictions of liberty. He holds that sometimes killing innocent people in time of war should be permissible. He justifies this claim with an analogy of a runaway trolley headed for a group of children. On way to the children is a track the trolley can turn on but will hit one child. So turning the trolley in this case would be comparable to killing that one child, but saving ten. Under normal circumstances killing one person to save a group of people is not morally defensible, but in his analogy it is, he says, because you are only deflecting evil, not creating it. Lackey claims that preventative force supporters fail to see that there is a morally significant difference if one acts to early in the unfolding of an evil plot. When dealing with possible threats the following analogy is more realistic: there are 5 different points before the group of kids that the trolley could take off the track, each one resulting in the death of one child. Acting preventively is...
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