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Is war ethical?
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While conflicts should be solved peacefully, wartime promotes extraordinary violence

We have the option to resolve our conflicts in peace and have even built structures to strengthen diplomacy such as the United Nations, yet wartime eradicates the priority of reconciliation. We confuse winning with resolution, even if it costs lives. War can seem like a solution, but it ends up increasing conflict.

The Argument

Serving as a sort of beacon of light, the United Nations formed in the wake of the devastating Second World War. Although the influence of the United Nations is debatable, the primary goal is “the maintenance of international peace and security,” according to the official website. The notion that humans are inherently confrontational is an excuse; in reality, we put ourselves in situations that call for violence and quick fixes. The United Nations focuses on all facets of the development of a conflict, by using “preventive diplomacy and mediation,” “peacekeeping” during a conflict, and “peacebuilding” to ensure that the aftermath of a struggle does not send a nation into disarray. However, wartime is far too complex to be stopped by a third party once it has started.[1] According to Jim Powell for Forbes, “war is the most costly, violent and unpredictable thing governments do.” Woodrow Wilson is far from a moral role model but he was a bit of an isolationist and an advocate for prioritizing peace as World War I approached. Powell cites Wilson’s “Fourteen Points” speech with which he tried to “negotiate peace.” However, even when a powerful leader like Wilson rallies for diplomatic conflict resolution, a relatively rare occurrence, violence still prevailed. According to Powell, about a million British soldiers and civilians died, along with 1.7 million French soldiers and civilians. He goes on to explain that aside from the violence, “hundreds of thousands succumbed to the influenza pandemic” likely because of intolerable conditions. It is nearly impossible to stop a war in its tracks once the damage has begun.[2] According to Powell, it is important to note that allies during wartime are just as unstable as the conflict itself. He explains that if the allies have “conflicting aims,” the skirmish is likely to end detrimentally for at least one of them. If a nation finds itself in a life-threatening struggle, it will always sacrifice another country for its own people, no matter the apparent solidity of the alliance.[2] In the summer of 1945 during World War II, President Truman dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing hundreds of thousands of Japanese people. The aftermath was arguably even worse, due to pervasive and fatal radiation. Such violence was employed under the guise of ‘ending the war.’ The tragedy of this immense loss of life is palpable, but perhaps most troubling is the fact that Japanese people were othered and killed at such an astronomical proportion in order to save American lives. Violence, as they say, begets violence. A war will move players to make horrendous choices so that it does not happen to them first.

Counter arguments

Really, we should be asking whether or not our societal structures are ethical if we are this dumbfounded by the lengths we go to at war. According to A.C Grayling’s book “War: An Enquiry,” war is not the ultimate culprit of historical violence nor is it the foundation. Grayling agrees that the structure of war sets the frame and the precedent for brutality, but really it is the fault of our poorly and selfishly built societies that war is even an option.[3] It is ignorant to claim the only reason we go to war is human nature’s affinity for aggression, which may or may not exist. Really, says Paul Laritzen reviewing Grayling’s work, “war is carried in the DNA of society and the economy.” He writes his review just after Memorial Day and comments on the “sentimentalism and commercialization” of violence, that there is something heroic in using our innate aggression for some kind of ‘good.’ American society prides itself on winning wars and it defends the cause by pretending it is just as inherent to human life as falling in love or growing old.[3] Unfortunately, in a society that glamorizes violence, technology has become inextricably linked with war. The more we technologically advance, the more reason to go to war, because we have a higher chance of winning. Going to war, according to Laritzen, is like studying for the next exam; if something goes wrong, at the cost of lives, we now know where we need more technology.[3] We have no opportunity to determine whether or not violence is intrinsic to our being anyway. Laritzen quotes Grayling to explain that war is a “permanent presence in the budgets, decisions, and attitudes of states.” Grayling does not think that we can do away with wars very quickly; in fact, they might always be on the table. However, he does believe that if we can imagine a society where war is no longer glamorized and consistently prepared for monetarily, we might have a chance at a more peaceful society. Violence should have no place in our cultural identity.[3]



Rejecting the premises


This page was last edited on Tuesday, 8 Sep 2020 at 17:36 UTC

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