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War Is Not Moral

by | May 31, 2017

I recently finished an article where I lay out why I think war itself should be considered immoral, and what an alternative could be.

When I was in the military, I struggled knowing that my hard work was helping get people killed.  Those who maybe deserved it but also those who definitely didn’t.  I learned a lot about war and history trying to come to terms with this, and ultimately started feeling that war was just wrong.  I didn’t have a clearly articulated philosophical basis for these feelings, at first, so I developed one.  I discovered that concretizing my feelings led to a self-consistent philosophical paradigm.  In my article, I present this paradigm detached from my personal and spiritual feelings.

I’d like to leave a few blog posts that summarize some of these ideas, for those who don’t have as much time.  Today, I present my essential argument.

War can only be moral by invoking the logic of self-defense.  Why is it okay to kill in self-defense if killing in general is wrong?  Why is killing wrong?  What are the specifics?

Taking for granted the answers to those questions, suffice it to say that in order to justify the use of lethal force for self-defensive purposes, one must employ logic that is consistent with whatever logic is used to say that killing is wrong.

When self-defense is used in civil situation, even in many cases when the police use it, there is a need to justify with evidence before a court of law that the action was appropriate.  Just use of self-defensive force has to include notions of reasonable threat and proportionality.  To not litigate such a situation is to declare that the moral logic which prohibits killing in general just isn’t relevant to a self-defense case.  It certainly is.

In war, there is no litigation.  The Westphalian system grants states the right to create morality-free zones in which indiscriminate killing without any kind of discrete litigation of guilt occurs.  War is a situation in which the state concedes that trying to stay within normal moral boundaries is inconvenient.

You could theoretically be in a group of armed persons that can justly use force defensively against an aggressor group.  But if you’re not the state, this would result in a huge legal proceeding.  That’s the cost of civilization.  Litigation is a process of injecting moral logic into social norms.

War, by suspending morality expediently, multiplies suffering.  The logic of war is that morality’s return requires victory.  Thus, the leeway to rationalize immorality in war is juxtaposed against the need to win at all costs as a prerequisite to reestablish morality and justice.  This is how Holocausts and Hiroshimas happen.

How often do the costs of war greatly exceed the national grievances it is meant to address?

War is immoral.  As necessary as it might be in the minds of some, they can not be permitted to continue to get away with rationalizing war as an ethical practice.  Every cent spent on war needs to be matched by a cent spent towards finding or implementing an alternative.  We can’t just write off the lives of soldiers as somehow deserving the sacrifice they sign up for.  We should be panicking over the position we’ve put them in as we scramble to seek just alternatives.

There are alternatives.


About Zack Sorenson

Zachary Sorenson was a captain in the United States Air Force before quitting because of a principled opposition to war. He received a MBA from Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan as class valedictorian. He also has a BA in Economics and a BS in Computer Science.

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