The idea of a 'just war' is a conundrum. How can one group of people consider their actions 'right' or 'just' to apply military force against an another group. When can one group's actions, which will create devastation, economic difficulty, and death to thousands of people, be considered 'right?' In a civilized society, the concept of a 'just war' has become the centerpiece of many discussions, and has acted as a gate keeper, restraining hawkish tendencies of nations who pride themselves in freedom, and individual liberty. In order for a nation to engage in an activity which creates harm for another group, there must be a justifiable reason.
Just-war theory deals with the justification of how wars are fought, and attempts to give answers for why. Often the justification is based in either theoretical (ethical arguments) or in long standing historical hostilities between peoples. The theoretical aspect is concerned with ethically justifying the engagement of war and as well as the forms of warfare. The historical aspect, or the "just war tradition" deals with the historical body of rules or mutual agreements existing in various wars across the ages. For instance international conventions, like those established at Geneva and Hague are collections of historical rules which are aimed at limiting certain kinds of warfare. The Geneva Convention addressed how prisoners are to be treated, and how war campaigns are to be directed toward military assets, and not civilian targets, etc. Ethics play a tempering roll in these standards in order to stake out a middle ground by which nations can attack each other, and still demonstrate respect for the human rights of others.
Historically, the just-war policies commonly evolve between two similar enemies. When enemies differ greatly in religious beliefs, race, or language, war conventions have rarely been applied because the parties have no common ground on which to base a mutual understanding. Nonetheless, the contention of modern philosophers has been the selective application of these boundaries. If just war theory is based on a universal concern for the well being of all peoples, then the rules of war should apply to all equally; that is, just war theory should be universal. (iep.etm.edu, online)
In some ways, the just-war concept is as old as warfare itself. Early records of individual warriors have included ideas of honor within their ranks in the way the soldiers treated their captives, and conquered peopled. Even television ideologues who wrote about gunfights in the wild, Wild West gave examples of codes of honor. A gunfighter would never 'shot someone on the back,' and thus demonstrate a code of honor within the process of his disputes. While the specifics of what is honorable differ between people groups with time and place, the presence of this argument is evidence that mankind is concerned with the justice of his actions when he picks up a gun, or commands a naval task force with the purpose of delivering deadly force on another individual or group.
The idea of a just war has been discussed as far back into history as biblical times. Then the children of Israel completed their exodus form Egypt, and were about to enter the land which they believed was their divine right, they were given the command to war against the existing peoples and take the land for their own. (Holy Bible, Joshua chapter 1) Entering into modern times, Augustine one of the first faced with the conundrum of justifying a war effort when those participating in the war had declared their religious allegiance to Christianity. Augustine lived in Rome, and after Constantine Edict of Milan which declared Rome a Christian empire, the problem of justifying the military conquests of the empire was first and foremost on philosopher's minds, and tongues. Augustine was one of the first to clearly state a basis for measuring the justice of a war effort. As instances of worthy causes Augustine named the following principles.
A preservation of the well-being of the state, punishment of neighbor nations that had refused to make amends for wrongs committed by their subjects, to restore what had been taken unjustly,
And because he did live in Rome, Augustine had to include the purpose of expanding empire if one was taking land away from a tyrant (City of God, Book 4, Para. 15).
Augustine saw wars as "stern and lasting necessities" even when the results were misery for human beings. War was simply part of the human condition. Even good kings waged wars." (Wells, 1996) Expositions continued to evolve, and were added to by Saint Thomas Aquinas, who was first to clearly and specifically define the ethical basis for a just war. His work is still considered to be some of the guiding tenets of Just War Theory. They include:
Just Cause (usually taken to mean defense against an attack). If a nation is attacked, it has the just right to strike back, and defend itself.
Right Authority (established political authorities, not private citizens). War is just if used as a basis if establishing positive authority which will work in favor of the conquered citizens.
Right Intention (not the love of cruelty or the lust for power). Motive for war is an important aspect of addressing the 'justice' of a war.
Good Outcome (there must be a greater amount of good resulting than the evil done by violence). For example, many today questions the justice of American war planed dropping atomic weapons on Japan. The devastation to military and civilian targets was horrendous. However, this single attack ended a war that would have cost hundreds of thousands of lives on both sides had American forces been forced to land on Japanese mainland in order to end the war.
Proportionality (do not use more force than necessary). This point has to be balance by the desires of the aggressor to use overwhelming force in order to complete the objective.
Reasonable Hope for Success (have a reasonable chance that peace will indeed result). If there is not hope for success, then throwing men into the jaws of ongoing conflict is an immoral act.
Last Resort (all non-violent means of diplomacy must have been exhausted). (Thistlethwaithe, 2002)
Those opposed to the just war concept are those of a skeptical persuasion who do not believe that morality can or should exist in war. These positions are not pacifist positions, rather they address the belief that war is an unjust action, and therefore there is no may of submitting the immoral actor of warfare into a moral or ethical framework. These are various positions against the concept of morality in war, and their positions are divided into the following categories.
Consequentialists and utilitarians claim that if the purpose of a war is victory, then all methods should be employed to ensure victory at a minimum of expense and time. Arguments from 'military necessity' are of this type, and the above example of nuclear weapon usage falls into this category. A consequentialist is likely to suggest assassination of an individual dictator or leader in order to forward their cause. (Wells, 1996)
Intrinsicists also believe that no morality can exist in the state of war, for they claim it can only exist in a peaceful situation in which recourse exists to conflict resolving institutions. Intrinsicists may claim that possessing a just cause for the conflict is a sufficient condition for pursuing whatever means are necessary to gain a victory or to punish an enemy.
Getting to the heart of a just war theory is a difficult philosophical task, but moral people must address these issues if they are to be able to defend their own well being, or protect others from harm on a global scale. What is at the heart of a just war theory is that the term "all's fair in war" is a misnomer. All actions are not fair, right, or just in a war. Even against morally permissible targets, when pursuing a just cause, military forces are to take an approach thus limits destruction, suffering, and injury to the extent it is possible. The just war theory also is not a basis to determine an absolute limit to the amount of morally acceptable destruction, suffering, and injury. The just war theory cannot be used as a measuring stick to find black and white. Just war theory is used to determine shades of gray, and to be used as principles to guide warfare in a direction which will be as humane as possible, rather than allowing armed forces to execute a scorched earth policy, destroying anything and everything in its path.
According to Wells, (1996) the amount of morally permissible suffering depends on two things: how morally important it is to bring the war to a successful conclusion, and how necessary the weapon or tactic causing the suffering is for bringing about this morally important conclusion. Thus just war theory affects the kind of weapons which are employed as well as the methods of…