Are there really justified wars?


  • The question of the justice of war is controversial among philosophers. My answer has three parts. 1. War is never fair. In a completely just world there is no place for war. After all, justice consists in protecting the rights of people, including the right to physical and emotional integrity, the right to food and shelter, the right to personal self-determination and political participation, and the right to property. In every war these rights are violated, people who are not to blame for the war are killed, lose their belongings, their prospects for the future, their health. Every war violates people's rights and so no war is fair. 2. War can be morally justified. Violating people's rights is not fair. But it can nonetheless be morally permissible if there is no possibility of action that does not violate anyone's rights. This also applies to war. People can have a right to have others come to their aid when they suffer gross injustice. If a war is the last and only suitable, sufficiently promising means of ending serious legal violations and if its methods are proportionate, then it can be morally justified. Whether a war has ever really met these conditions is another question. If a war is enough for them, it does not make it fair, but it does make it permissible. 3. It is important not to equate the question of the justification of war with the question of its justice. The distinction between the justice of war and its justification is important. We owe it to those who lose their lives, their loved ones, their belongings, or their minds in permissible wars. They deserve to be acknowledged and apologized for the wrong they have suffered. They have a right to compensation and compassion that is lost sight of once we declare war to be just. On the other hand, if we only look at the injustice of war without considering its admissibility, we are not sufficiently considering the sacrifice of those who expose themselves to great danger in justified wars in order to protect other people from annihilation and total disenfranchisement. Anyone who goes to a war that meets the above conditions deserves, despite the injustice of the war, not contempt, but compassion and respect - and, if he or she does return, support and care. Only if we ask the question of its justification in addition to the question of the justice of the war can we do justice to the people affected by the war.