War and Ethics

Topics: Peace, Morality, Thomas Aquinas Pages: 5 (1644 words) Published: April 24, 2013
“No war can ever be justified since any war will put innocent civilians in danger”. Evaluate.
Indeed, there is arguably no human activity more destructive and more detrimental to the global community than the fighting of war. In the context of this discourse I refer to war as a large scale armed conflict between two or more nations or other political entities. While some may argue that war is morally permissible under certain circumstances, it is my opinion that the cost of any war is far too high to justify. Some contend that war is inevitable, a fact of human life, and that to argue against it is futile. However, I maintain that war only seems inevitable because of the current geopolitical climate, and the failure of political states to act as responsible moral agents. Before further introducing the positive points of my argument, I will describe the two most common pro-war ideologies, and consider their flaws.

The just war theory, commonly attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas, is the most commonly regarded war philosophy. It states that as long as certain conditions are satisfied, war can be just and moral. These conditions are as follows: 1) A state must have a just cause, or a proper reason or justification for entering a war, such as self-defense. 2) The state must enter a war based only on the established just cause; there can be no ulterior motive. 3) The state must have the proper authority to carry a war in the name of the people or nation it represents. Thus, if these three conditions are fulfilled, any war, and the destruction and violence it may bring, can be morally justified. However, I do not believe that there is ever a circumstance that a war may be called “just.” I find the just war theory to be outdated, idealistic, and impractical. If one were to examine all the wars fought in the last century, maybe only a handful out of the hundreds could be considered completely just. And even if a war has a just cause, the actions that war promotes are inarguably unethical. The nature of warfare has changed dramatically since the time the just war theory was written. Wars are no longer fought by kingdoms with huge armies of foot soldiers clashing in open fields. They are fought in densely populated urban centers, by soldiers armed with weapons thousands of times more destructive than those used during the time of St. Aquinas. Why then, are we still using the same justification for war? The just war theory is also contingent on a state’s desire to be moral, which cannot be in any way verified. If a state feels that war is justified, there is no higher authority that can judge otherwise, even if in fact a state is wrong in going to war. Finally, war is in all cases detrimental to human civilization as a whole, and any ideology that concludes war to be moral is one that is impractical to adhere to. A world where war is moral will end up far worse than a world where war and violence are condemned.

The second theory by which philosophers conclude that war is morally permissible is referred to as realism. According to realism, war is a part of human nature, and inherent to our existence. Realists argue that war is unavoidable, and inescapable, and that morality cannot be applied to the realm of international affairs and politics. The world as it relates to politics is anarchy and that every state is obligated to pursue its own interests be anything by any means necessary. States are not subject to the same moral scrutiny as private individuals, their only duty is to protect and promote the interest of their citizens. Since different members of the international community adhere to different moral standards, states should not attempt to live by their own, subjective morals. A state attempting to be moral can find itself in a “sitting duck” position, competing against states which may or may not share similar moral standards.

While proponents of realism argue that the international community is an anarchical,...
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