Foreign Policy

The Case for Just War Theory

It's time for our foreign policy to return to first principles.

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, both GOP presidential aspirants, recently had what one might call a frank exchange of views on foreign policy. After Paul wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal opposing further intervention in Iraq, Perry suggested Paul is (paraphrasing here) a hopeless naïf whose fraidy-cat isolationism presents a standing invitation for terrorists to bomb America into rubble. Paul replied that Perry is a shoot-first maniac who would send American sons and daughters to their deaths because he refuses to learn from the past. "Any future military action by the United States," Paul wrote, "must always be based on an assessment of what has worked and what hasn't."

That would be a good start. But only a start. The foreign policy debate shouldn't end there — although, unfortunately, it often does.

Perry's and Paul's concern over what works and what doesn't ignores an equally important consideration: what's right and what's wrong. Except for one brief clause, in which he credits Ronald Reagan with "moral and strategic clarity," Perry ignores the question. So does Paul, aside from arguing that the best approach is one that "seeks peace, faces war reluctantly, and when necessary acts fully and decisively."

Maybe they both ignore the question because they assume the U.S. can do no wrong. It's lovely to think so. It's also treacherous. Nothing guarantees that future presidents and congresses will always choose wisely. What's more, assuming they will could increase the odds they won't: Certainty breeds arrogance. Arrogance is dangerous, and doubly so when military force is at issue.

Unless you think nations are little more than rival mafia families, which wage peace and war only to gain tactical or strategic advantage, you need an ethical framework for thinking about the role of force in the world. Fortunately, history has provided one: just-war theory, a body of thought that began (roughly) with St. Augustine and that others have improved upon over time.

Just-war theory's two prongs are jus ad bellum, which judges the entry into conflict, and jus in bello, which judges the conduct of it. Briefly, the theory holds that no war is justified unless it meets several criteria:

(1) It must be launched for morally justifiable reasons, such as self-defense or protecting the innocent from genocide.

(2) It must be waged with the right intention. Even a war begun in self-defense can be unjust if the defending nation intends to exterminate every citizen of the aggressor country.

(3) It must be commenced by the proper authority. In the U.S., this means Congress. (Almost by definition, an illegitimate government, such as North Korea's, cannot be a proper authority.)

(4) It must be a last resort.

(5) It must have some reasonable chance of success.

(6) It must be proportional: The harm done by the war must be, in some sense, "worth it." While the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was wrong, it would not have justified global thermonuclear Armageddon.

Failure to meet any one of those criteria renders a war unjust. Likewise, failure to meet the criteria for rightful conduct within the war also renders it unjust. Those criteria are:

(1) Discrimination. As Michael Walzer, a widely regarded contemporary just-war theorist, has put it, soldiers should target only those who are "engaged in harm." Never intentionally target innocent civilians, or butcher soldiers who have surrendered, and strive always to minimize the unintended harm inflicted on the innocent.

(2) Proportionality. Leveling an entire city to destroy one munitions factory is not proportional.

This is the barest summary of a subject that fills whole library shelves, and different sources present the subject in different ways. Some, for instance, include prohibitions against methods malum in se, or evil in themselves, such as poison gas, and some include jus post bellum, or justice in the conclusion of warfare (e.g., war crimes of the victors should be punished as well as those of the losers).

Just-war theory sometimes takes heat from "realists" who consider it excessively idealistic, and from more pacifist types who think it tries to put a moral face on an intrinsically evil business. If an unwilling conscript fights only because a tyrannical regime will kill his entire family if he does not, it is fair to ask whether killing him — even in a firefight — ever could be considered an act of justice.

Most people, however, intuitively accept some, if not all, of the just-war tenets: We understand that unprovoked aggression is wrong; that slaughtering people because you hate who they are, or covet what they have, is heinous; that it is one thing to shoot a soldier who is shooting at you, and something different to shoot a soldier who is shaving outside his tent. Just-war theory offers a systematic framework for thinking about such questions.

What's more, it also helps to clarify contemporary situations that can get muddied by ancestral disputes. We do not have to re-litigate the 1667 Treaty of Andrusovo to consider Vladimir Putin's incursions in Ukraine unjustified aggression. We don't have to dissect the entire history of the Middle East to find the ethical calculus of the current Israeli-Hamas conflict highly asymmetrical. (And — attention, Rand Paul — applying just-war ideas to relations between the government and the individual also can offer a grounding for libertarian domestic policy. When is the state ever justified in initiating force against a person who is peaceably minding his own business?)

Just-war theory shows that, throughout history, most wars are unjust. Most of them are, in fact, little short of cold-blooded murder. Which is why politicians should concern themselves with far more than "what has worked and what hasn't." Any common cutthroat can ask himself that.

NEXT: U.S. Claims Satellite Images Show Russia Fired Artillery Into Ukraine

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  1. “Unless you think nations are little more than rival mafia families, which wage peace and war only to gain tactical or strategic advantage,…”

    Well I guess I can stop right there.

    1. Actually that would be preferable to the people currently running our governments, the omnipotent busybodies.

      Besides, at least when an autocrat wages war they intend to GAIN something for their nation. When Republicans wage war, they intend to LOSE wealth/soldiers in order to gain NOTHING (i.e. Iraq, wasting thousands of lives to NOT get the oil. It’s so funny how liberals attack Bush with “blood for oil”, when Bush attacked to STOP Saddam from selling cheap oil and the USA did not carve up Iraq and take it’s oilfields as it SHOULD HAVE if it wanted wealth/prosperity and stability in the Mideast.

      “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
      – CS Lewis

  2. What’s so civil ’bout war, anyway?

    1. What is it good for ?

      1. Political institutions and statist profiteers.

        1. And gamers of the future.

  3. I see that my Opus Dei colleagues have a Catholic mole in the reason staff. All I have to do is hope nobody notices…drat!

    1. Worth noting the Supreme Court has ZERO Protestants (despite it being the largest religion in the USA). It’s 6 Catholics and 3 Jews.

      And something is weird with the Bush family, they claim to be Protestants, but George W. Bush is a member of the Knights of Columbus (Catholic Masonic-like group), his brother Jeb Bush converted to Roman Catholicism, and his other brother worked with Joseph Ratzinger (previous Pope) on a “inter-faith” group trying to get all Protestants to come back to Catholicism.

      So W. Bush was probably a liar who was actually a Catholic. It makes sense given his love of Crusades and calling his wars a “crusade”. Whereas most Protestants remember being on the victim side of Catholic crusades (most Catholic crusades were to genocide/kill Christians like the Hussites, Waldensians, Cathars, and Protestants, basically anyone who refused to call the Pope “holy father”, which is a title of God Himself and is blasphemy against God).

  4. Let’s get something straight.

    The is no such thing as a JUST war. Since when is killing people without due process just?

    War is sometimes necessary as an option of last resort, but trying to justify it as anything other than a complete failure in human interaction serves only to make them more prevalent. War is the most evil thing people do. PERIOD!

    1. I respectfully disagree. Largely for the same reason I see a distinction between killing and murdering.

      If you are attacked or otherwise aggressed against, if your liberties are being trampled in insidious and overwhelming ways, you have not merely the right to respond with sufficient force to neutralize that threat, you have the duty to yourself and your posterity.

      It is indeed just in such a circumstance. Doesn’t mean it’s enviable or something to be embraced or celebrated. Simply means it’s appropriate and moral to defend oneself.

      Obvious caveat being that none of this would apply to further US military intervention in Iraq.

      1. I would agree EXCEPT, the people you are killing are not those responsible for the transgressions (in the case of warring armies). Your average soldier has NOTHING to do with the decisions made by his government and he is killed with NO due process. And that’s not even taking civilian casualties into consideration. War is immoral. ALWAYS.

        It is also, sometimes, required.

        1. War is a tool, it is neither moral or immoral in a vacuum; we need qualifications. It is moral to wage war in self-defense; immoral to say annex Eastern Ukraine out of ethnic chauvinism and delusions of grandeur.

          That soldier has options. Did he volunteer? That was a choice. He could defect or desert. More choice.

          1. Please.

            1. How many militaries are all-volunteer?
            2. You don’t get to see the conflict you’ll be fighting in BEFORE you sign up. You assume your government will be on the “right” side and won’t send you needlessly into harm’s way.
            3. What happens to deserters?

            When was the last time the US fought a war for survival? EVERY war we’ve fought since the Civil War has been fought for ONE reason…to get politicians reelected.

            Killing for votes. It doesn’t get any more immoral than that.

            1. Yea, because nothing could go wrong in a world ruled by Nazis, right?

              1. Um…

                War is sometimes necessary as an option of last resort

                – Me

                WWII was necessary. It wasn’t “just”.

                1. You’re off the rails here; based on your last 2 posts, we entered WWII to get politicians reelected.

                  1. Two separate trains of thought (not mutually exclusive). One refuting Cyto’s absurd notion that the soldiers are guilty of the crimes of their government leaders.

                    And regardless, WWII was not a war for survival. The US would have survived regardless of its involvement. It was a war to help out our neighbors, who we trade with. So to some degree, it was votes. (Also didn’t say it wasn’t necessary)

                    I don’t think you are quite grasping my point.

                    Justice is punishing the guilty. Many, many innocent people die in war. Punishing the innocent violates the NAP and is immoral by definition. War punishes the innocent and therefore cannot EVER be considered just (or moral).

                    I also understand that we must, at times do immoral things in the name of defending our rights.

                    But trying to talk yourself into calling wars “just” because they are necessary, is simply an excuse to ease the consciences of the week of mind and servers to make it easier to get involved in more of them.

                    War, all war, is immoral and unjust and is therefore something to be avoided (see the Kirk quote below).

                    1. Agree with Francisco. War is not the worst of things, but it is a very bad thing. A large part of the reason is that it subverts justice. Name any area in the world that is constantly at war, and I will show you a place without justice or properly functioning rule of law. This is why one of the most valid ends of war must be to establish a balance of powers such that peace can thrive — not a result of the benevolence of potential participants, but as a result of interests and incentives.

                    2. an excuse to ease the consciences of the week of mind

                      And here we have a textbook example of how a failure to proof your comment discredits everything you said.

            2. If you think that WW2 or the Cold War were only fought for votes, then you’re stupid.

              1. I don’t dispute the value of fighting communism. I dispute the value of fighting communism by incinerating Vietnamese fishermen. I don’t dispute the value of fighting terrorists, I dispute the value of incinerating fucking children to do it. It’s so easy to see right from wrong when you take off the statist blinders.

                1. I don’t dispute the value of fighting terrorists, I dispute the value of incinerating fucking children to do it.

                  You cannot accomplish the first without having the second.

                  1. I dispute that. And I’m not talking about collateral casualties. I’m talking disregard for collateral causalities and the direct targeting of uninvolved civilians to achieve some desired military effect.

                    I may have a right to defend myself with a firearm, but I also understand that I am responsible for who those bullets hit, even if it’s for the noble purpose of saving my own or someone else’s ass.

                    1. I think it’s better to incinerate the civilians. I would counsel shooting the unarmed, in the back if possible. They’re very unlikely to get the drop on you. And they have friends who care about them, and will surrender to you or will shoot their own people in the back to prevent you from killing, maiming, or torturing them. I would make this policy known to all potential enemies; I have no intention to fight clean, only dirty, and if I can’t cheat I ain’t playing.

                    2. FS, do you actually believe the US military intentionally targets civilians or are you speaking hypothetically?

        2. That being the case, my POV us that the best thing is to take innocent hostages & threaten to kill them, because it presents the least danger to yourself while being very effective in stopping aggression. I say kill civilians 1st, and seek military confront’n as a last resort only. Don’t attack bodyguards, bypass them.

    2. The is no such thing as a JUST war. Since when is killing people without due process just?

      When those people are trying to kill you?

      By your logic Poland, because it killed German Army soldiers without due process, fought an “unjust war” when it defended itself from invasion.

      You might want to rethink your theories a bit.

      1. If the Canadian government bombs New York, does the American government have an obligation to firebomb men, women and children in the suburbs of Toronto?

        There may exist an obligation to strike furiously at the Canadian government and it’s soldiers but there does not exist an obligation to set babies on fire, morally or practically. This is the entire problem with the modern democratic and ideological wars. Wars become conflicts where civilians are targeted as strategic objectives and their murder touted as ‘just’.

        1. If the Canadian government bombs New York, does the American government have an obligation to firebomb men, women and children in the suburbs of Toronto?

          Yes, if it is necessary to bringing decisive victory against the Canadian aggressors at minimal cost to America.

          This is the entire problem with the modern democratic and ideological wars. Wars become conflicts where civilians are targeted as strategic objectives and their murder touted as ‘just’.

          What utter nonsense. In the real world, soldiers fighting against say Taliban aggression have to fight with one hand behind their back because ‘innocent’ civilians might get hurt. The death is redistributed from the aggressors and those near them to those fighting the aggression.

          1. Yes, if it is necessary to bringing decisive victory against the Canadian aggressors at minimal cost to America.

            See for me, lighting children on fire is wrong under all conceivable circumstances. Maybe I’m closed minded, or more moral, either way I part ways with your kind on points like this.

            What utter nonsense. In the real world, soldiers fighting against say Taliban aggression have to fight with one hand behind their back because ‘innocent’ civilians might get hurt. The death is redistributed from the aggressors and those near them to those fighting the aggression.

            So it’s utter nonsense that once wars become ideological contests, they become far more brutal? Well I mean you’re the guy saying baby murder is justified under the circumstances of defending national interest, so I can see why you think that position is nonsense.

            1. See for me, lighting children on fire is wrong under all conceivable circumstances. Maybe I’m closed minded, or more moral, either way I part ways with your kind on points like this.

              You have an inferior destructive moral framework.

              So it’s utter nonsense that once wars become ideological contests, they become far more brutal?

              I think the worst conflicts are based on ethnicity.

              1. You have an inferior destructive moral framework.

                Yeah my unwillingness to accept the murder of children is my great moral failing. Or maybe it’s logically consistent morality that you find so offensive.

                I think the worst conflicts are based on ethnicity.

                The idea that the Germans were superior and should rule over and exterminate ‘lesser peoples’ (as defined by ideology), was in fact ideology. The Hutu and Tutsi had their own ideological framework to justify the genocide in that conflict too.

                Unless you’re arguing that certain phenotypes themselves make wars brutal, in which case we need to have another conversation altogether.

            2. See for me, lighting children on fire is wrong under all conceivable circumstances.

              Of course, and because so many people are like you, it pays to threaten to do so. Nobody wants to see children lit on fire, so how do you prevent it? Simple: by being nice to the people who would otherwise set children on fire.

        2. Aren’t the leaders of a democracy elected by their people, and if those people elected a government that attacks us, why should those people be left to repeat that mistake?

          1. Aren’t the leaders of a democracy elected by their people, and if those people elected a government that attacks us, why should those people be left to repeat that mistake?

            Mass death sentence by indirect electoral association. A form of collective guilt, you must be a true believer in the social contract, individual consent be damned.

            If Obama unilaterally provoked a nuclear holocaust in your hometown, would you feel that your incinerated family were legitimate targets in the squabbles of national governments? Because you know, democracy and stuff.

            In fact your argument is a great justification for terror attacks and genocide. A people’s leaders are elected, and those leaders are guilty of the actions perpetrated by their leaders vis a vis democracy. Taken to it’s logical conclusion, one may even use that argument to justify genocide, even children can be considered future electoral enemies, no?

            1. There is no such thing as self-defense genocide.

              Any German civilian that supported the German government willingly in any way deserved to die. There was no injustice in killing them. Self-defense by any means necessary.

              1. The fire bombing of Dresden was self-defense under your criteria. All those men, women and children got what they deserved.

                Any German civilian that supported the German government willingly in any way deserved to die.

                Great point. I bet you would’ve been first to sign up for the firing squad to shoot the Hitler Jugend after the war. Or maybe you would’ve rounded up all the people who fed their family by working in one of the myriad of state-run industries. They all deserved death. Hell, why stop there? If you kill the children, you’ll never have problems from the Germans again. National interest… served

                There was no injustice in killing them. Self-defense by any means necessary.

                Yeah, the word any is a pretty broad one. I guess for you it stops being genocide when you can somehow provide a national defense rationale or some other relativistic garbage that alleviates your guilt. A rose by any other name…

        3. “If the Canadian government bombs New York, does the American government have an obligation to firebomb men, women and children in the suburbs of Toronto?”

          Yes, that is exactly what our response should be, if attacked first.

          1. Those babies deserve death. Its what they get for being the involuntary subjects of their local legal mafia. That’s in the social contract right?

  5. (5) It must have some reasonable chance of success.

    I think Rand Paul’s opposition to further US military involvement in Iraq is a focusing on this very aspect of the Just War doctrine. Paul has been very vocal in his concerns over the rights of Christians being trampled in Islamist countries (it was one of his key selling points in successfully convincing the religious right not to support Syrian rebels via arms transfers).

    I think he’d be otherwise open to the use of limited military resources to combat IS if he believed it had some high chance for success (especially given that the current state of affairs is largely a result of our own actions there to begin). But I think his argument that our govt is incapable of fixing the problem and would likely end up creating other problems on top is his way of negating the just war argument in this context.

  6. Just war theory is utter bullshit, because war is itself never “just” as a measure to seek recompense for a wrong. The reason for this is quite obvious: war has no outside governor to impose a specific judgement (and how can justice be served if the process is as random and arbitrary as war tends to be?), and its judgement’s costs are not borne by the true belligerents (the state) but rather by its people. In point of fact, just war often prolongs conflict by imposing unnecessary or absurd restrictions on the prosecution of war or on the severity of terms imposed, often for aesthetic reasons. The example of Israel is instructive: because there is a notion that response to an aggression must be proportionate, there is never any lasting conclusion to the conflict. To the degree that Israel follows just war theory, it enables the next war by limiting the damage such that the enemy is not demoralized or destroyed.

    An instrumental theory of war is far more useful, and is moral when coupled with an individualized morality: does it carry out your interests, is what you are doing useful for preventing conflict in the future, and are the soldiers’ actions within that context moral on an individual level? When they are not, do you have a system to carry out justice on that individual level to the best of your ability? That is far more important than some aesthetic objection as to what constitutes a severe or disproportionate response, when there is no way to judge such.

    1. In point of fact, just war often prolongs conflict by imposing unnecessary or absurd restrictions on the prosecution of war or on the severity of terms imposed, often for aesthetic reasons. The example of Israel is instructive: because there is a notion that response to an aggression must be proportionate, there is never any lasting conclusion to the conflict. To the degree that Israel follows just war theory, it enables the next war by limiting the damage such that the enemy is not demoralized or destroyed.

      FUCKING NAILED IT

      1. That doesn’t negate the portions of the calculation that involve when to go to war. It merely governs the prosecution of the war itself.

        I concur that all concerns of justice should be mitigated in the prosecution of the war. But a decision to enter the war should be made on some basis of what is indeed just.

        1. Even that basis provided by JWT is junk. See my linked article below. Why should war be a ‘last resort’? Why should we wait to be attacked? There is only one reason a free nation needs to go to war: to protect the rights of its citizens.

          1. By killing human beings, when other options exist?

            1. When those other options will get more citizens of the victim nations killed, they are immoral.

              1. Because YOUR human beings are better than THEIR human beings. There’s some logic for you.

                Justice is predicated upon the guilty being punished.

                While I admit, it is required at times for self defense, killing the innocent is NEVER just.

                1. It is the duty of the government of a free nation to defend the rights of its citizens, so yeah in war with an aggressor it should only have regard for its citizens. The blame for all of the deaths of the innocents falls upon the aggressor.

                  1. So babies on the other side of the line deserve what they get. +1 sociopathy

                2. Cyto is relying on notions of collective guilt and TIT is just out and out endorsing utilitarian genocide. Philosophy and justice are not their concern as you can tell.

                  1. You don’t understand what genocide and collectivism are.

                    1. You are the one citing the collective guilt of civilians and their justifiable murder on the statist grounds of national interests. But yeah, I’m the one who doesn’t understand something.

                  2. TIT is just out and out endorsing utilitarian genocide

                    Uh… what? Where did I do that?

                    1. . In point of fact, just war often prolongs conflict by imposing unnecessary or absurd restrictions on the prosecution of war or on the severity of terms imposed, often for aesthetic reasons. The example of Israel is instructive: because there is a notion that response to an aggression must be proportionate, there is never any lasting conclusion to the conflict. To the degree that Israel follows just war theory, it enables the next war by limiting the damage such that the enemy is not demoralized or destroyed.

                      If I take your criterion to it’s conclusion, eradicating the entire population of Gaza would satisfy Israeli interests. Morality is less about results and more about how you get those results.

                      And you finish off with a bit of moral relativism

                      An instrumental theory of war is far more useful, and is moral when coupled with an individualized morality: does it carry out your interests, is what you are doing useful for preventing conflict in the future, and are the soldiers’ actions within that context moral on an individual level? When they are not, do you have a system to carry out justice on that individual level to the best of your ability? That is far more important than some aesthetic objection as to what constitutes a severe or disproportionate response, when there is no way to judge such.

                      which is just a great legitimizing argument for state-sponsored atrocities.

                    2. If I take your criterion to it’s conclusion, eradicating the entire population of Gaza would satisfy Israeli interests.

                      Yes, it would — but it would not satisfy the individualized morality of those undertaking the action. Murder is wrong. So is forcing your subordinates to murder. Therefore, while it would be useful, it would not be moral at that individualized level and can therefore be ruled out.

                      What I oppose is applying a schematic, “social” morality to warfare, not applying good moral sense at an individual level.

                      It is not immoral in the slightest to use your technology and the best of your abilities to bring the war to a speedy end, nor it is in any way immoral to annex, reform, destroy, or otherwise terminate the sovereignty of a belligerent nation over the territory or people it claims to control. Nor is it unethical to substitute in its place a regime which is undemocratic in nature or aligned with one’s foreign policy, so long as that regime is moral at an individualized level (i.e., protects the rights of those living there).

                      To use the Israel example, were Israel to eliminate the current Gazan government and establish a military government with no representative institutions in response to aggression, it would be perfectly fine provided that the property and individual liberties of Gazans are respected in the framework that is devised.

                    3. War is a tripwire.

                      Unless you are prepared to wage total war, you probably shouldn’t be doing it.

                      It should be the option of absolute last resort, but once you decide it is necessary, you should finish it decisively so you need not revisit it.

                    4. There is no ‘individualized morality’, we’re not talking about your screen saver. Moral obligations apply to everyone equally. Rape is not okay for some people, and forbidden for others, it’s morally repugnant for everyone equally. You can call it “social morality”, I just call it morality.

                      It is not immoral in the slightest to use your technology and the best of your abilities to bring the war to a speedy end, nor it is in any way immoral to annex, reform, destroy, or otherwise terminate the sovereignty of a belligerent nation over the territory or people it claims to control. Nor is it unethical to substitute in its place a regime which is undemocratic in nature or aligned with one’s foreign policy, so long as that regime is moral at an individualized level (i.e., protects the rights of those living there).

                      Indeed no state on earth has a ‘right’ to exist. The question is whether such state actions can legitimately include the murder of civilians along the way. Murder is murder even if it’s in the interest of a government.

                    5. it would be perfectly fine provided that the property and individual liberties of Gazans are respected in the framework that is devised.

                      I am by no means a fan of the myth of Palestine so this may not be the best example, with all it’s baggage. But on that example… The question posed here is a moral one, concerning individuals, governments are not moral issues. If targeting civilians is justified in warfare, their liberties and property are most certainly not being respected.

                    6. Moral obligations apply to everyone equally

                      Of course. My contention is that nothing within “just war theory” rises to the level of a moral obligation. Moral obligations are from one individual to another; war being an inherently collectivist affair between states means that war at no point directly deals with individuals outside of state apparatus and does not lend itself to moral analysis of the sort preferred by libertarians, much less to the conclusions reached by just war theory. This does not mean giving in to one’s inner Genghis Khan or that we should learn to love genocide or any of a list of absurdities claimed by anti-war libertarians, but it does mean that, unless one is a pacifist (in effect surrendering to the tyranny of the foreigner’s demands), one must make some concessions to reality and realize that war is a lesser evil.

                    7. Moral obligations are from one individual to another; war being an inherently collectivist affair between states means that war at no point directly deals with individuals outside of state apparatus and does not lend itself to moral analysis of the sort preferred by libertarians,

                      So if walk into a school and shoot the kids it’s murder. But if an collective institution bombs the school, well then it’s not murder?

                      unless one is a pacifist (in effect surrendering to the tyranny of the foreigner’s demands), one must make some concessions to reality and realize that war is a lesser evil.

                      It doesn’t make me a pacisifist because I acknowledge the injustice of murdering civilians and their children.

                    8. Bombing a school that is owned by a government is not itself wrong. It is a building which is owned by a government at war with us, and provided it is empty there’s nothing wrong with bombing it. It is when you ask about who is in there, what it is being used for, and what the context is that bombing a school becomes right or wrong. Obviously bombing a school with nothing but children and teachers is wrong and a war crime. We prosecute those in the military who carry out such actions (not perfectly). If OTOH this building is 75% filled with innocent hostages and 25% filled with enemy combatants who are using it as a base of operations from which to launch offensive attacks, it may well be legitimate to destroy this building even if one of the outcomes is a lot of dead kids. I don’t like that, but such are the choices one is given in a war — and I would support the morality of my view both during a war and in a peacetime scenario, though immanence and the likelihood of continued aggression of course factor into how good a decision on practical grounds bombing a school-turned-warzone would be.

                      I would never voluntarily turn a school into a warzone, but I would fight in one if that is what my enemy has turned the school into.

                    9. Respect for liberties & property makes sense only in a situation of pre-existing civility. People don’t go to war unless they recognize that that circumstance doesn’t exist.

          2. Why should war be a ‘last resort’? Why should we wait to be attacked?

            Why should lethal force by an individual be a ‘last resort’? Why should an individual wait to be attacked?

            What makes government different?

            1. Indeed, if someone is about to attack me I do have the right to use lethal force to stop me -great point Sarc!

              1. Actually, no. If someone is about to punch you you do not have the right to kill them. Especially if you goaded them into it.

                1. What if someone is about to punch you, knock you out, then beat you to death? Do you have the right to shoot them then?

                  If so, what if their intentions are not clear? Maybe they only intent to beat you into a coma and leave you scared for life, but not kill you. Do you still have a right to shoot them dead?

                  You can’t wait until an attacker has already got you on the ground and is stomping your skull in to determine their intent.

                  1. In that case it comes down to what you can prove in court. You kill an unarmed person who hasn’t yet attacked you, but is intent on beating you to death with their fists, then you better have it on video or have some witnesses. Otherwise you’re going down for murder. Right or wrong.

                    Unless of course you’re a cop. But that’s different.

                    1. Oh, I’m not saying that it’s OK to gun down anyone who looks at you cross-eyed, but one punch is sufficient cause to put two in the chest.

                    2. What if someone is about to punch you, knock you out, then beat you to death? Do you have the right to shoot them then?

                      As Sarc pointed out there are practical concerns regarding the accessibility of information by third parties. However it’s perfectly moral for you to shoot that person, but your ass is going to be in a sling unless you can raise some reasonable doubt that it wasn’t plain ole murder.

                  2. You can’t wait until an attacker has already got you on the ground and is stomping your skull in to determine their intent.

                    You can wait, and you must if you wish to claim the moral high ground.

                    1. You’ve never been in a fight, have you?

                    2. Several.

                      And you are conflating justice and warfare. Two different things.

                  3. I think criminal law has done a good job of sorting these difficult questions.

                    The test for whether one can justly kill another is this: Did the person reasonably believe his or someone else’s life was in danger of death or serious bodily injury?

                    If yes, then the killing is just (deemed to be “self defense” or “defense of another”).

                    Whether it is reasonable depends on the circumstances, so, naturally, it’s largely a question of exactly what happened that brought about the killing.

              2. And you have a right to burn their house down and kill their entire family in self-defense, or no?

                The guy who says it’s justice for national governments to attack civilians may not want to delve too deeply into analogies of self-defense and national defense. He may quickly find himself advocating all sorts of murderous garbage, or if he has a shred of morality left in him he may acknowledge the inconsistency.

                1. And you have a right to burn their house down and kill their entire family in self-defense, or no?

                  Screw that! Raze the entire block! Right Cyto? That guy looked at you funny! He’s going to attack! Burn the city down!

                  1. Well now let’s be fair, Sarc. Would it be in your household’s interest to burn down the entire block, or just half the block?

    2. What Trowser said.

    3. If someone is attempting to murder or enslave you, is it just for you to respond with sufficient force to overwhelm and counter that threat, up to and including the assailant?

      If that is just, I see no reason why Fins fighting a defensive war against the Soviets would not also be considered just.

      Again, this applies strictly to purely defensive actions to prevent annexation from a power hellbent on conquest and would have to pass the test of reasonable chance of success. It doesn’t mean that every action that occurs within the context of war is just (recognizing that war inevitably has the effect of causing harm to parties that may not wish for war or be involved in the decision to go to war). But self-defense is a fundamental right precisely because it is just.

      1. up to and including killing the assailant?

        Fixed

      2. War cannot be considered just because it does not discriminate or discern between the guilty and the innocent. It is just for me to seek recompense for a specific crime against a specific assailant; it is not just for me to hunt down and murder the assailant’s entire family in the hopes that I kill the person responsible for the wrong done against me.

        Often those responsible for violence are a small group of ministers within a given government and their subordinates in military and foreign policy. I believe that there are legitimate casus belli which can be distinguished from illegitimate, but war is in a sense its own category — collectivism is so inherent to the enterprise as to negate the very principle of justice at that level.

        It is, however, an extremely useful method for deterring aggression, and for preventing tyranny. The functional outcome of complete pacifism can be described as pre-emptive surrender; for a libertarian, one is substituting the temporary excesses of a wartime state with the permanent tyranny of having to satisfy any foreigner with an army and a threat. The latter is far more dangerous than the former, in most cases. Therefore, war is in some sense necessary, and can sometimes be legitimate — but it is not just in the sense that we usually use for the word.

        1. That is why war must be fought such that it is as brief as possible and results in total victory for those acting in self-defense.

        2. There is no Just War for much the same reason that there is no Just Communism. The idea sounds noble but the reality, the execution is never going to live up to the idea. In fact, it often transforms into just the opposite.

          Even in a “Just War” innocents will be killed, war crimes committed, soldiers sacrificed to the concerns of the wealthy and politically influential, property destroyed, etc. Putting a pretty face on it with phrases like this is mental shenanigans to avoid the awful nature of war.

          You might be able to convince me that a war was necessary. You will never be able to convince me that it was “Just”. The diffusion of responsibility and consequences among the guilty and innocent both will see to that.

    4. So presumably if Palestinians had the means, they would be justified in wiping out Israel?

      1. No. They have no righteous cause whatsoever. Only people who want to create/maintain a free society can have a just cause. Palis would create a ‘nation’ centered on barbarity and aggression to its neighbor. They already have to some degree.

        1. They might disagree with you about the righteousness of their cause. I’m going by TIT’s standards. Wiping out Israel would surely prevent future conflict.

          1. Palis would also punish you for being gay and after destroying Israel they’d fight each other because they are bunch of savages. BTW you’re supposed to hide your Judenrein fantasy.

            1. BTW you’re supposed to hide your Judenrein fantasy.

              I LOL’d

            2. Being savage is a symptom not a cause.

              1. A symptom of a degenerate society sure.

      2. Depends on what you mean by that. If the Palestinians who unjustly lost property to Israel’s citizens resolve themselves to establish a government to properly establish these rights without damaging the rights already protected by the Israelis, they have a legitimate cause and my blessing to proceed with conflict so long as there is a reasonable chance that they can conclude it and that they will reach the standard of individualized morality in their conduct.

        That is not, of course, what is going on as a cursory reading of the Hamas and Fatah charters will indicate, and thus the Palestinian casus belli is not a legitimate means to start a war.

        1. I’m not sure they would claim to have started it.

          1. For the purposes of this discussion, I’m not sure I care. I’d rather not turn an interesting discussion into a tedious Palestine-Israel slapfight; my example was purely illustrative.

            1. Saying there exists ‘individualized’ morality and regular morality is the same as saying there’s ‘justice’ and then there’s ‘social justice’. It’s just a euphemism used to grant moral absolution for things that by any reasonable standard cannot be described as being moral. The murder of children is wrong if your a child murderer or even if you’re acting on behalf of a collective of child murderers funded by taxation.

              1. You misunderstand what I mean by ‘individualized morality’. What I mean by this term is a morality which applies to (and is applied by) the individual rather than some societal, overarching scheme of “justice” — individualized morality *is* morality. For an example of false morality based on a scheme of social justice, see Rawls or just war theorists.

                Murder and rape is wrong, and should be prosecuted at the individual level. It should not be attributed to the war what inhumanities an individual soldier does to a non-combatant; those individuals should be tried by the courts. OTOH, it should not be held against a war that those actions occur so long as they are prosecuted in good faith; likewise with other actions occurring in the context of war.

  7. “War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.” – William Tecumseh Sherman

    When I hear talk of surgical air strikes or avoiding boots on the ground, I think it’s just a way to mentally avoid the truth in Sherman’s statement.

    1. Sherman was effective at what he did. That’s all I have to say about that.

      1. One of the greatest Americans ever.

        1. And Stalin was one of the greatest Russians ever.

    2. +500,000.

  8. “it is one thing to shoot a soldier who is shooting at you, and something different to shoot a soldier who is shaving outside his tent.”

    The entire premise that a war must be “fair” is nonsense. What exactly does it accomplish to allow the soldier who is shaving to finish, and then pick up his rifle and start shooting at you? It accomplishes nothing other than to allow the shooter some sense of personal justification; an easing of guilt for a wholly necessary act.

    The same is true on a national level. If you know you will be attacked, there is no point in waiting to counterattack.

    “It is well that war is so terrible — lest we should grow too fond of it” (Robert E. Lee)

  9. Just War Theory is disgusting and it has no place in a rational society or in Reason or libertarianism. JWT should be renamed ‘altruistic death redistribution’ because it charges that a nation that is victim of aggression has a moral duty to sacrifice its own citizens to save the citizens of the aggressor.

    ‘Just War Theory’ just needs to be junked and replaced with American Self-Defense (in the context of America).

    http://ari.aynrand.org/issues/…..filter-bar

    The requirements of “proportionality” and “discrimination” are deadly to the nation that takes them seriously. A nation fully committed to defending itself must value the lives of its citizens more than the lives of its enemy’s citizens;…Self-defense may well require killing more of the enemy’s citizens than the enemy has killed of ours. It is commonly necessary in war to break the spirit of a foreign people whose nation has initiated aggression in which they are complicit. This often requires killing civilians, and in some cases even targeting them, as America did in World War II. These actions were regarded as just by leaders who viewed civilians of enemy nations as part of the national war machine and rarely truly innocent ? and who viewed any deaths of actual innocents, including children, as wholly the moral responsibility of the nation that initiated war.

  10. Death, destruction, disease, horror. That’s what war is all about, Anan. That’s what makes it a thing to be avoided. You’ve made it neat and painless. So neat and painless, you’ve had no reason to stop it.

    I’ve given you back the horrors of war.

    -JTK

    1. ^This^

  11. I totally disagree with #6.

    If you force us into a fight, it won’t be proportional. It will involve far more casualties to your soldiers and civilians than ours. We will fuck your shit up if your insist.

    1. This. My dad always told me when I was a kid that there’s no such thing as a fair fight, never has been never will be.

      1. My dad said nobody remembers why things started or what happened just who was still standing at the end.

  12. “All war is a symptom of man’s failure as a thinking animal.” -Steinbeck

    1. *snort*

      Oh how ironic, coming from an animal that doesn’t know how to think.

      1. No, no, lining people against a wall and shooting them if they disagree with you isn’t war, it’s a solution! A Final Solution!

  13. Trouser worded it perfectly. If we are attacked, waging total war in pursuit of the annihilation of our enemy’s ability to fight is precisely the tactic to employ, unless you’re a fan of permanent, intermittent warfare, or a hippie.

    1. Israel is fighting yet another intermittent war against Arab non-states because they have been proportional and measured in their response to attacks.

      1. Precisely. And it’s always been that way. Carefulness — and this is something Islamist apologists will never admit to — has been the hallmark of Israeli military policy in the grand scheme of things. The conflict is a shit sandwich all around, sure, but Israel’s prolonging its own suffering with their restraint in retaliation.

        1. The restraint and hesitancy of the Israeli government is monstrous and immoral they should be defenestrated just for the cease-fires let alone for allowing Hamas to exist since 2009. Time for TOTAL WAR.

          1. Total war makes sense when you are at war with a government. Put enough pressure on the people, and the government will tell its soldiers to stop fighting.

            The problem with uniformed terrorists is that there is no central authority that will tell them to stop fighting based upon pressure from their constituents. It doesn’t work that way.

            I don’t have a solution to fighting terrorists, but I can tell you that total war is not it. If anything, total war becomes a recruitment tool for the people you are fighting, because of the toll on the innocent.

            1. “I don’t have a solution to fighting terrorists…”

              I do. You kill them, and if that doesn’t work, you kill their children, and if that doesn’t work, you kill their women. After awhile, when there’s nobody left but old women past child-bearing age, the problem is solved.

              1. And you don’t let them run anything – much less a small country like Palestine.

                After WWII, the Soviets showed that it is possible to empty out a country.

            2. War is a test of wills. It matters not if its a government or non-state actor that you are warring with, you crush their will through sheer brutality and you will spare the lives of your own citizens as well as the descendents of your combatants.

    2. a fan of permanent, intermittent warfare

      A lot of ‘anti-war’ libertarians sure do love endless war. They make every excuse to preserve states that sponsor terrorism like Iran.

  14. The modern ‘just war’ concept primarily came out of a product of late Renaissance and early Enlightenment. St. Augustine and Aquinas’ concept of ‘just war’ is a lot more basic then anything present here.

    Modern ‘just war’ is also primarily a product of the tactics of its time, which used large standing armies in localized engagements., where population was the key factor in army growth and foraging was key to logistics.

    The problem is, warfare has changed. Industry is now the driving factor behind war. Total war was established as a concept SPECIFICALLY because it is extremely difficult to defeat a prosperous industrial nation in modern mechanized warfare unless you’re willing to destroy their industrial base. Which means the killing of civilians.

    Now, this might not be applicable in say, Afghanistan, where the tactics are not those of an industrialized state. But it’s important to understand why the concept of just war was popularized in the Enlightenment and then faded away when industrialization came into play.

    1. Now, this might not be applicable in say, Afghanistan, where the tactics are not those of an industrialized state

      Industrial production facilities are generally concentrated in areas of low population. In a total war against a conventional advanced industrial power, you can destroy industrial capacity at relatively low collateral cost.

      Conversely, the problem with guerrilla forces, especially those whose view their mission as inspired by the word of GodAllah, is that they view civilian casualties among even their own citizens as acceptable martyrdom for the cause. But that is in part because the advanced industrial power that wars with them seeks to mitigate such carnage.

      Let their streets run with the blood of every man, woman, and child in a city of millions and then see how committed they remain to their quest for martyrdom.

  15. Need some Judge Holden:

    This is the nature of war, whose stake is at once the game and the authority and the justification. Seen so, war is the truest form of divination. It is the testing of one’s will and the will of another within that larger will which because it binds them is therefore forced to select. War is the ultimate game because war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence.War is god.

  16. Nothing on the 100th anniversary of Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war against Serbia today, Reason?

  17. Two main problems with the enumerated criteria:

    (4) It must be a last resort.

    Absolutely not! Submission and enslavement is the “last resort”. By this definition, the colonists should have just let the Crown do whatever it wanted because war is only the “last resort”. Less ridiculously, signing a treaty to give “only” half of your country to the enemy isn’t the “last resort”, and yet is intolerable.

    (5) It must have some reasonable chance of success.

    Also incorrect. I could go through the (just) military encounters that had no reasonable chance of success and still succeeded (meaning it only had an “unreasonable chance” of success), but I don’t think that is necessary. Look at the Spartans at Thermopylae who had no reasonable chance of “success” and still fought and lost. So what? (In this case,) their war was just. It isn’t an injust war just because you fought and died knowing there was no chance of success.

    1. But those reasons are why surrender exists. It’s hard to get things done in the material world when you’re dead, while you will be able to get some things done even if you’re a slave. So if death is certain, then, yeah, surrender. If it’s not, then it’s a gamble.

      1. That’s also why life insurance has a price.

      2. That doesn’t speak to the morality of the war, but to whether or not it should be waged.

        If you prefer surrender to death, then surrender. If I prefer death, then would you say that I made the immoral choice to stand up for my rights?

  18. How do you expect politicians to determine what’s right and what’s wrong? I’d start with what’s worked and what hasn’t.

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