War being one of the cardinal facts of human history, what is to be made of it? How are we to regard it? Four broad points of view which exist along a polarity that might be termed “the degree of acceptability of war” may be distinguished:
- The radical position, exemplified by Gandhian satyagraha, in which no violent resistance to any offense whatsoever is deemed justifiable, i.e. total pacifism;
- The position that war is usually an abomination, but that in certain select circumstances there is such a thing as a just war, what might be called a “weak legitimacy” position;
- The position that was taken by Clausewitz, that war is a fact of politics, that war is an “instrument” of politics, a “continuation” of politics and is thus a fact of life in human affairs, a “realist” or “strong legitimacy” position;
- The position taken by such thinkers as von Bernhardi and Treitschke, that war is a positive duty of the state and that, in Social Darwinian terms, the waging of war is a virtue, a “militaristic” position.
In a research paper on war, you may want to discuss the second of these four positions, the “weak legitimacy” or “just war” position, as an idea which has developed and grown, an idea that is an intellectual artifact of human history that is still in the process of development. As we shall see, key aspects of the just war theory have had a very distinguished set of advocates. But the question before us is, were they right and are those moderns who have built a fully articulated JWT on their thought right?
Augustine of Hippo, in the fifth century C.E., theorized about just war in the nineteenth book of his City of God. In chapter 11 he established that “peace is the end of our good”. In the following chapter he found that peace is also the end of war, “For every man seeks peace by waging war, but no man seeks war by making peace.” But the intent to seek peace through war must be an intent for a “just peace” rather than an “unjust peace” or “peace of unjust men”. Other writers at Paper Masters have noted that this idea of right intentions was a moral milestone in the history of mankind. It banned the kind of thing we have seen in the “Melian Dialogue.” They have further noted that Augustine’s just war theory invoked enforcement of what God has ordained as a reason for engaging in conflict. This notion is one which calls into play the notion of going to war under proper authority, a feature of modern just war theory.
Just war theory is a kind of intellectual hot-house plant, an attempt to confine something that is inherently evil and vicious, in an ethical chalice that cannot contain it. We do not support any of the alternative notions of war. Gandhi’s satyagraha worked with the British; it would not have worked against Hitler. “Realist” theories of war lead to situations like that portrayed in the “Melian Dialogue,” and the notion of war put out by Social Darwinists represents a puerile form of philosophical adolescence. This student believes that engaging in war is sometimes an ethical necessity. But all wars—because of the emotions they evoke, because of the desperation they produce, because they cannot be well controlled, because of their unpredictability, because of the manifold horrors they bring forth—are doomed to be ethically soiled and no war, given the chaos and the fog of war, will ever meet all of the criteria of a just war.
There can be no just war. There can only be a conflict in which ethics become inverted, i.e. in which the horrible is pursued in order that the unthinkable will not happen. Such a thing is not “just”; it is a defensible suspension of justice made under conditions in which there is a possibility that all justice will be extinguished. World War II may have been a conflict of that nature. Few conflicts come anywhere close to even that degree of moral acceptability.