I have been invited to discuss as part of this week's topic at the Socrate's Cafe (Simone De Beauvoir) the question of whether there is such a thing as a just war?
It is a loaded question to kick off the Cafe with and has been one that has been debated for many centuries. I don't believe that there can be any consensus as to a definitive universal answer to this question.
I grew up feeling the effects of a civil war in my country all around me despite not being directly involved or affected in any way by it. I feel one must consider several truths (or facts, if you like) about the concepts of war and justice.
The human species as a biological entity is a product of nature; however the inner trappings - the ethics, rules and morals we have created for ourselves have come from our need to conceptualize the world to make sense of it. The concepts and definitions of "war" and "just" and "justice" - of "right" and "wrong" - of "good" and "evil" - of "black" and "white" - are manmade. They are artificially created by humans to somehow organize what we see as a rather chaotic existence. This doesn't make these concepts any less or more valuable but it does mean that we stumble when instead of facing black or white situations within the world, we see grey or even worse other colours.
In the world we currently live in, the human species has deemed certain emotions or the actions to follow through with those emotions as negative and "bad". These actions are bad - they disrupt order, they create havoc. It has been ingrained in us that war must be "bad" if the emotions behind it consist of mere agressiveness and no reasoning or logic whatsoever.
What is justice? Justice itself is another manmade concept. Nature and the rest of universe is arbitary in deciding which species must live and which must die. Life is from the individual species' or person's standpoint is highly unfair.
Before we even consider the concept of what a 'just war' is, we must ask ourselves if it is logical to assume that these concepts can still in any way help explain our experience of existence to us. Is it logical to impose manmade concepts on a fundmentally biological species that like it or not is still governed by the laws of nature, the univers and biology and therefore not just logic or reason?
What are the reasons that one can use to justify a war? There is such a thing as the "just war theory" and it has three main points:
- killing or destroying human life is wrong
- states/nations have a duty to defend their citizens & defend the concept of 'justice'
- in order to protect human life and/or defend the concept of justice or other moral values one needs to resort to use force and violence.
There are conditions by which one has to deem whether the war in question is a just war or not and also conditions as to how a just war should be fought.
So what are the justifiable causes for war according to the "just war theory"?
- self defence in the case of :
- assassination of a prominent person (president etc though personally I don't understand why this should lead to war - it would be much better for both countries involved to keep their heads down and another president be elected)
- attack on national honour - such as embassies
- attack on state religion
- attack on economy - trade embargo or sanctions
- attack on neighbour or an ally
- preemptive strikes - though the UN does not take these into account anymore as a justifiable cause
In all cases, the last few self defense causes vary in terms of how justifiable they are for starting a war. It all depends on the past history between the nations and the current political, economic and social situation. One person dying isn't a just cause but if you don't have another heir to the throne of your monarchy it presents a political problem and that might justify a war dependent on the situation (like if the next heir is the leader of the country that killed the first person off).
- Assisting an neighbour or ally that has been invaded. If you do bring this down to an individual level - would you ask someone to kill for you if you were attacked or merely help you put the attacker into temporary unconciousness?
- Human rights violations - only to be used as a just cause in cases where violation of human rights is so severe it cannot be resolved by any other manner.
- To punish an act of aggression - again it is now jointly agreed that the United Nations or an international committee should decide as to how to best punish an act of aggression - it is not for a nation or state to take this on as a just cause by itself without referring to the United Nations first. This is where the United States failed in their War against Iraq.
St. Augustine stated that there were three just causes:
- defense against an attack
- recapturing property that was taken away
- punishing an act of aggression
These three causes may be seen as being justified, however, who is to judge who owns what (especially when past history might dictate a constant battle for ownership from the inception of both nations so much so that it is no longer clear who the proper owner is), who is to judge what punishment may be meted out and on whom. Is it fundamentally right for the aggrieved nation to mete out punishment or should it be decided by an arbitary party? Again it could be that each side has meted out punishment for the other for so long no one is sure who erred and how in the first place. Each nation's ideology of what is justice and what is punishment will invariably differ as well, casuing more problems with Augustine's theory.
Because there seems to be no consensus between nations and groups of people as to what consitutes a 'just war' if one exists at all, many have agreed that if one were to exist, it would have to be borne out of a United Nations resolution. The UN would have to pass a resolution or an order to send or evacuate troops in or out of certain regions or pass orders authorizing certain nations to take certain actions only if certain conditions are met. This is why people say that the US and UK's actions in sending troops into Iraq was not indicative of a 'just war' as there was no UN resolution to back them up. Others disagrre with this.
Another theory is that force must only be used when there is no last resort - not only in terms of time but alos when no other reasonable alternative can work in the situation. Others say a war is 'just' only if there is a fair chance of reasonable success because it is unethical to go to war and cost lives when one knows one would lose or become worse off. However this does indicate that more powerful countries are favoured over the less powerful ones in being able to use this justification as means for accumulating resources and land via war.
There is also a theory that suggests one should look at whether the benefits of the war will outweigh the costs of the war. Never have I ever seen this personally occur however though presumably most consider the war in Afghanistan against the Taliban to be an example.
In conclusion - so many theories on whether the concept exists or not, so many therories what constitutes 'justice' and 'war'. This is waht I mean by not having universally accepted consensus on the subject. Each of us is now a product of biology, and unfortunately in this case a product of our history and of the history of the concepts we have created to control and make sense of our world. We will always have debate on this topic and we will never reach consensus, until we realise that we have to somehow account for that biological part of us that attaches our emotions to places, ideas, identity, objects, resources, success (in wealth or other terms) and each other. For in the end that is why we have wars, just or otherwise.
Links you may want to look at:
BBC Religion and Ethics Explained
The United Nations website
| ||Posted 10/12/2005 11:55 PM - 354 Views - 24 eProps - 15 comments|
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