Ethics of War

Ethics of War

The morality of War; a Controversial subject


There are essentially three primary positions of which one can take on the issue of whether or not a war can be justified, and what tactics are permissible;

–          Realism    

War is an inevitable function (nothing particularly wrong with war). Some realists go so far as to claim that war is not an issue of morality; but rather amoral.

–          Just War Theory

War is inevitable, but only in absolutely extreme cases of national crimes in opposing states. War can be moral if justified appropriately.

–          Pacifism

War is always immoral and sub-human. Pacifists often compare war with murder, in which murder, regardless of the situation, results in punishment by the court of law.

Many realists, in terms of war, justify their belief that war is necessary by claiming that the soldiers in frontline and military of the state are fighting for their own nation’s freedom and equality. Realism is often biased and arrogant, but it is quite valid in the political view of war, for history evidently shows that remorseless military leaders succeed by not considering morality in interstate conflict. The pacifist of war believes in the contrary to the realist, comparing war with mass murder.

The “Just war” theory is in between the realists and pacifists, as such theorists consider the implications and necessities of war. This theory is rather dependant on the individual’s opinion, but it generally claims that war is only necessary when the opposing state is committing brutish acts of immorality and political movements, particularly when it affects their own state.

“Right… is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”


Thomas Hobbes, a 17th Century English political philosopher, wrote a book titled Leviathan, which discussed the necessity and purpose of a Government, which somewhat justified the realist view on war. The Prince, by Machiavelli, a 16th Florentine political philosopher, also supported the realist view on war by explaining that a politician of the state should dress well to earn respect of the masses and still maintain the position of power as much as possible. Both of these philosophers, as well as Thucydides, argued that the great politician will convince the masses to put their very life on the line for the state.

Personally I believe that War is sub-human, and can be overcome by reasonable negotiation. Unfortunately, many different cultures act sub-human on a national scale, and it is often another country’s duty to intervene – sometimes with force. As for rulers, while Machiavelli offers a lot of merit when it comes to maintaining power amongst a nation, it certainly doesn’t make for a good ruler. In Plato’s Republic (book I), Socrates argues with Thrasymachus as to whether or not the greatest ruler is immoral, Thrasymachus supporting injustice and Socrates supporting Justice. Eventually Thrasymachus submits into Socrates’ persuasion and they mutually conclude that the ruler’s duty is to enforce rules which condone justice and extinguish injustice, and that the ruler’s subject is the people, just as the doctor’s subject is their patients bodies, and not themselves.


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