The notion of “justice” and the realities of war seem to be in opposition. Is it possible to legislate or judge armed conflict between peoples, regardless of the nature of the conflict, if both groups are fighting in their perceived self defense? If the actual fighting happens to people who would be killed for not fighting, isn’t it always in self defense? Can resorting to violence ever be accepted legally by states, especially if a country has not been the victim of an armed attack?
War is, at its essence, one group – or multiple groups – fighting to preserve their security, integrity and (ultimately) survival against another group. The notion behind a “just” or “legal” war is that it is not done on a whim; there must be grave implications for going to war to prevent countries from partaking in unwarranted acts of aggression. Can necessity be defined with such broad brush strokes? Can another country accurately judge whether or not another country’s acts are necessary especially given that they almost always lack all the facts in an era where intelligence-gathering and espionage is critical for all countries? Do the ideological differences between countries and regions of the world even allow for an objective “need” to be definable? At best, the question seems debatable.
Is war inevitable? Albert Einstein said that “so long as there are men, there will be wars.” Human history is riddled with conflict against other individuals and peoples. Can we ever assume that wars will end? World peace seems to be an unreachable ideal because war stems from some source of conflict or tension. As long as there are disputed borders, as long as countries feel that their right to existence is threatened, as long as people are competing for resources, it is impossible to imagine that war will end. Does this make war natural? Humans are not the only animals that engage in “war.” Chimps have been demonstrated – in the wild – to form groups and fight other chimps of the same species to gain land and precious resources such as food and living space. Ants, bees and other insects, similarly, organize together with members of their colony to combat exterior threats, from the same species as well as others. If war is natural, then, does it mean that war is permissible? Does war become a “necessary evil” that we must live with? Does this put war above the realm of something we can assign “good” and “evil” qualifications to since it appears to be inherent in our nature?
From here, the winding path of moralizing only becomes more convoluted. It is impossible, as an individual with no military experience, to pretend to understand the thought process of a soldier in war. In an age where more and more politicians and decision makers lack military experience is it presumptuous to apply “rules of war” to combatants? It seems arrogant to assume that a person with no real-life experience (or even in-depth study) should decide what is permissible for a soldier. One underlying truth behind this is the nature of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other serious psychological effects of combat. They are literally life-altering for individuals involved in conflict and are occurring at rates believed to fall at least between 10-15% (if not higher) for soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. How can we then hold soldiers to a similar level of accountability as in a situation where this isn’t the case? Are they as responsible for their actions if they are so mentally and emotional altered?
Another important question is the nature of self-defense. For a “moral” war under today’s standards, each country must have, in essence, some aspect of self-defense. This holds true on the individual level as well. However, in conflict, soldiers on the battlefield are always at risk and therefore always in self-defense. Further, when it is difficult – if not impossible – to know who the enemy is it only accentuates the fear and anxiety experienced by combatants. This causes soldiers to at least perceive that they are in danger. Is this all that matters? Can we objectively say that there is “threat” outside of what we perceive? It seems impossible to conclude that threat can be objectively realized. Who gets to decide what a “threat” is? How threatening must a situation be? What is the appropriate response? Does the contest determine the appropriate response? How does PTSD factor into the “threat” perceived? Do feelings exist outside of our own mind enough to be put into a box? Can you legally ascertain a “threat” and how it must be responded to? If, then, soldiers are always acting out of this perception of threat then mustn’t they be acting out of self defense? And haven’t we already concluded that self defense is morally – or at least, legally – defensible?
War is not a game. You cannot simply assign broad rules and regulations to something as fluid and entropic as war. The phrase “war is Hell” seems to sum it up. If states or individuals are acting out of their own self defense, a vague term used here to describe a perceived threat to that state or individual, aren’t they always in the right? Of course, there are exceptions such as killing unarmed civilians, killing in cold blood and other war crimes. But doesn’t the overall concept hold true?
Is war simply a reality of our existence? Can we end war? If we as people are always fighting over a finite number of resources, won’t there always be conflict?
Thoughts? Questions? Answers? Reblog?