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Can War Be Justified?

War inevitably brings death, destruction and suffering, which both ruin lives and nations. Using religious guidance, ethical theories and general arguments, I will decide for myself whether or not war can be justified. The most unjustifiable consequence of war is the loss of innocent civilians’ lives. Civilians, who could have lived to make a huge impact on the world, pose no direct threat to the ‘enemy’ and might not even share the motives of the side they have been presumed to support. War eradicates the hopes and dreams of millions, destroys homelands, frightens and oppresses people. Nothing that, in the end, brings worse than it does good can be justified.

Going to war in the name of peace cannot be justified – it is a complete contradiction: It is using violent means to achieve the very concept of non-violence. If you force soldiers to follow orders and kill mercilessly in wars you destroy their natural instincts of compassion and their ability to think and act freely, creating mere tools for warlords. Nobody has the right to kill the spirit of an individual. War can destroy the will to live in those whose lives have been wrecked by it, and kills the innocence of those forced to kill intentionally. Nobody can justifiably claim the right to control others’ emotions and desires.

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War is usually an enormous economic hole into which a country’s resources and labour are poured. It often keeps civilians working hard without giving them any direct rewards. Many countries over-spend on labour and resources to meet ongoing war needs, depriving their population of other necessities. This economic deprivation can take years to recover from. If the outcome of war brings more good than harm, war can be justified; even if the actual reason for war is not a morally acceptable one. Anything that, on a worldwide scale, improves the quality of life for the majority is acceptable. If the evils a war is fought against, like racism or terrorism, are universally immoral, war is also acceptable.

Going to war to protect the innocent and persecuted or to attain freedom and human rights is acceptable because no person should be denied these basic privileges. As long as war does not injure the innocent and deny other parties these rights, then it should continue and make life worth living for the persecuted people. Wars that are fought to stop the advance of a morally corrupt power are justifiable because they are destroying an evil that would cause suffering to a greater number in the long run. War in self-defence cannot be argued against, as otherwise, you are vulnerable. Finally, going to war as an ally is justifiable because of the fundamental decency to aid and be loyal to those who would return the support.

But this is only when that neighbour’s reasons for going to war are acceptable and if their aim is a moral one. However, it is controversial as to whether countries at which war is not directed should join that war: they often worsen the situation by interfering. Debating whether or not to go to war in defence of a neighbour presents a ‘right vs. right dilemma.’ There are two conflicting sets of morals: either loyalty (to the neighbour) vs. justice (if their reasons for going to war are unjust) or loyalty vs. non-violence. To decide whether war can be justified, not only in the case above but in general, we can be guided by ethical theories. Utilitarianism is a principle stating that ‘to do the greatest good for the greatest number ‘ is the best action. When applied to the problem ‘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 can be justified. The ‘Rules-based’ principle advises people to think ‘if everyone in the world followed the same rule of action I am about to follow, would the world be a nice place to live in?’ Applied to this problem, you would think whether the world would be a nice place if everybody was at war or if nobody was at war. Obviously, living in a place where everyone is at war would be terrible, so a rules-based thinker would say that war cannot be justified.

‘Cares-based’ thinking says the most loving and caring action is the best one. As no violence is caring or loving, care-based thinkers would say that war cannot be justified in any circumstances. This principle also includes ‘the rule of reversibility,’ telling people to imagine how they would feel if the action they want to take was reversed, and done to them instead. As nobody wants war waged against them, this again concludes that going to war is unjust. In general, Christians reject war, as they are pacifists, but not all reject ‘just war,’ as it can bring peace. Christianity gives guidelines on when it can be justified to go to war.

The Church teaches that only a legitimate government can wage war – not, for example, terrorists; that war must be a last resort; that war cannot only be waged to do a moral deed such as saving the innocent, but it must be done for the right motives too; that the evils a war is fighting must be bad enough to justify killing; and that it is only acceptable to go to war if war will stop more evil than it causes. It also says it is wrong to start a war you are clearly going to lose. On conducting wars, the Church advises never to use a tactic that will bring about more harm than it stops or will prevent a just peace or reconciliation in the future and most importantly never to hurt innocent civilians. Jainism is a religion that honours ‘non-violence’ above everything. Jains are committed pacifists and condemn all war and violence. Violence for Jains is evil and Jainism teaches that in no way can war be justified as a virtue.

Jains agree that all who are attached to the physical world and have a social obligation to protect the lives of others are unable to dispense with war and violence as a defence. Even though they cannot be rid of defensive violence, they must keep violence to a minimum. They must never cause suffering to ignorant and innocent people in wars at all costs. It is hard to justify sending men to their deaths, but I personally believe that, on balance, most wars can be justified. Inevitably it causes suffering and ruins life for many, but I agree with the principles of Utilitarianism. I believe that if a war improves the way of life for more than those it causes suffering too, it has to be justified.

It is far better, in my opinion, to have many generations of happy citizens living in a free society than generations of persecuted people, enduring a miserable existence – even if a relatively small number of soldiers – and sadly, often civilians too – have to die to achieve this state of peace and freedom. For wars to be justified, I believe there must be a degree of morality in the way a war is fought. This entails treating the enemy with respect after the battle, treating prisoners of war humanely, and at all costs, not targeting innocent civilians. I do believe that there are some wars that cannot be justified at all. Wars that persecute innocent people are despicable and unnecessary. There is no definitive universal answer as to whether or not war can be justified – each case has individual circumstances. In the majority of cases, however, I conclude that war can be justified.

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Can War Be Justified?. (2021, Apr 11). Retrieved May 5, 2021, from