The Morality of War

The morality of war is hard to determine. You have to break war down into the elements that make it up. War can contain a lot of different properties, which I will discuss later. In this paper I will try to explain the morality of war to the best of my abilities.

The definition of morality according to the American Heritage Dictionary is a system of ideas of right and wrong conduct. The problem with this definition is that it leaves too much room for interpretation. It is solely based on the ideas of individuals and societies. You can never truly determine the morality of something. There is no right or wrong for everybody. Morality needs to be based on what is right or wrong for the majority of society.

War is a state of open, armed, often prolonged conflict carried on between nations, states, or parties. By this definition, war could be considered moral. Until you break it down into its basic components you don’t see its bad qualities. Break war down into conflict. Conflict is a state of open, prolonged fighting. Is fighting immoral? Fighting is the attempt to harm or gain power over an adversary by blows or with weapons. This is beginning to sound immoral. The intent to harm anyone, no matter what the circumstances are, is immoral. To harm someone is to bring physical or psychological injury or damage. Can you honestly say that’s not immoral? Would you want someone to try to harm you or some one you care about? Out of harm you get injury and damage. Injury means damage or harm done to or suffered by a person or thing. Damage means to harm or injury done to property or a person, resulting in the loss of value or the impairment of usefulness. War, once broken down this far seems immoral, but it can still be broken down even further.

In war, killing occurs whether by accident or purposeful intent. The most common form of death during war is through killing, which means to commit murder (American Heritage Dictionary definition). Murder is the unlawful killing of one human by another, especially with premeditated malice. Does this sound moral to you? What makes something lawful? If society makes the laws, then is everything accepted by society lawful? Malice is the intent, without just cause or reason, to commit a wrongful act that will result in harm to another. We’ve already determined that to harm someone was immoral, therefore if harm results from malice, it must be immoral.

According to the Ten Commandments, “Thou shall not murder”. In war, killing happens all the time. No matter how hard you try to prevent the killing of others during war, there will always be some unavoidable deaths. Do you consider it murder to fire on and kill someone who shot at you first, or in self-defense? Does it make the killing any less intentful? It may make the person feel better about it later due to the fact that he fired in self-defense, but is it still murder? I can’t speak for society, but I don’t believe it is. I can’t answer this question for you. You need to figure that out for yourself. Does society accept murder as moral? It doesn’t as far as I know. If you are fired upon by someone and can prevent injury to yourself without killing him or her, and you kill them anyway, is it still self-defense? You”ll never be able to tell. The immorality of your actions can’t be determined. The only way to determine this is to attempt to immobilize someone without killing them and see if you”re successful. If you”re not, you”re dead or they”re dead. I”d rather not take those risks, how about you?

Put yourself in this scenario. You are either a Muslim from Serbia in the 90’s, a Kurd from Iraq in the late 80’s early 90’s, or even a Jew from Western Europe in the late 30’s early 40’s, and you and every other person who shares your beliefs are being killed off. The term for this form of mass killing is ethnic cleansing. Would you fight for your right to believe whatever religion you want and your right to live? Would you take up arms against other human beings with the possibility of having to kill someone? If you said yes, you”re human. It is instinct to defend yourself and your beliefs. You have the God given right to. It’s self-defense. What you don’t have the right to do is attack others because of their beliefs. In the eyes of society it is okay to defend yourself from attack. It is not all right to attack someone else though. That’s what society should believe, but they don’t. They see it as okay to attack someone in certain circumstances. One example of this is still going on currently, Operation Iraqi Freedom. Iraq did not directly attack the United States or Great Britain. There is a theory that they provided support for the attack on the World Trade Towers and Pentagon, but there is little to no evidence to prove that. Was it moral for the U.S. and Great Britain to attack Iraq?

As I stated in my introduction, the morality of war is hard to determine. After breaking war into its many components it is easily seen as immoral. However, in some situations it is unavoidable. I believe that war is immoral in most circumstances, but there is always one instance where it is moral. If you are attacked, you must defend yourself. If you are truly defending yourself, war can be moral. It can be used as a last resort when all else fails. It should never be used for anything more.

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