Just War- Is all really fair in love and war?

Visual by Shreya Sharma

"All is fair in love and war" is often a saying that we use. It seems to imply that war and love exist in different universes, a universe where usual standards of fairness and rules can be dismissed. War seems to exist on the extreme fringes of human experience, where life itself is on the line, where self-interest and necessity reign supreme. Morality and law seem to be misplaced in this world when men and women do whatever it takes to protect themselves and their communities. As the old Latin aphorism goes- 'Inter arma silent leges', or 'in times of war, the law falls silent. It is used to defend acts that our unjust and inhuman, a way to deflect the guilt of the crimes we inflict on our fellow human beings. It reveals a terrible truth- strips away our civilized adornments, and our true naked nature is revealed- blood-thirsty, fearful, self-concerned, driven, murderous.

However, despite its apparent truth, we are not satisfied by this kind of doomed apathy. The moral posturing of mankind compels us to sign treaties, put up international courts and establish a framework of legal reproach during conflicts. This tradition to try and fir war neatly back into the moral landscape is perhaps as old as war itself. It is an important and influential endeavour because we realize that pacifism can be self-contradictory. In many contexts, the principled refusal to use violence can encourage the violent part to become more aggressive in their tactics and can lead to the most terrible and bloody outcomes. Despite all its downfalls, there seems to be a legitimate use of force in international relations. For instance, a pacifist position in the Second World War would have been completely toothless in the face of a regime like the Third Reich.

A just war is a war that is declared for right and noble purposes and waged in a specific manner. The doctrine of just war emerges out of Christian Pacifism- saying that violence should not be unconstrained. The use of violence should be tailored to certain moral ends, and the means chosen should be proportionate to the selected ends. In the traditional sense, a just war is not a 'good' war; instead, it is a conflict that Christians believe is necessary or 'just' under the circumstances when all other options have been exhausted. It is both an unavoidable evil and a final resort.

The doctrine set standards for assessing whether a war should be fought, whether it could be justified (jus ad Bellum), and how it should be fought (Jus in Bello). Hence, this judgment has a duality: first, in terms of the reasons states fight, and then, in terms of the tools they use to fight. Jus ad Bellum compels us to make decisions about aggression and self-defence, whereas Jus in Bello concerns the adherence or breach of established and positive engagement principles. Both types of judgement are logically distinct. A just war can be waged unjustly, and an unjust war can be fought in precise conformity with the rules. As Michael Walzer, the American political theorist, notes- aggression is a crime, but aggressive warfare can be a regulated activity. Resisting aggression is right, but it must be done with moral restraint.

Just like any doctrine, when taken away from the exalted level of theory and applied to real-life faulters, so has the just war doctrine. The just war doctrine has had to face the harsh reality of actual war loss of human life, break-down of entire cultures and withering away of commerce. Above all, the just war doctrine has been weakened by the belief that war is justified to defend nation-states. War has been used on the bloodiest occasions in the history of humanity, be it the medieval times of the crusades that were considered a holy war or the industrialization of wars leading to the mass devastation we see today. The just war doctrine also blurs the lines between political ends and moral imperatives. The notion of a just war seems nothing more than a convenient mask hiding ulterior, irrational motives fueled by greed and the constant offensive aggressiveness of tyrants and dictator states. Politicians use the guise of morality and justice to justify mass death. There may even be a fundamental contradiction in the idea of a 'just war' as it seems to be an oxymoron- the reality of war is inherently unjust. The people who sacrifice the most- their lives, families, safe haven, livelihoods- are innocent and rarely the ones who will the war in the first place.



  1. Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars

  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Just_war_theory

  3. https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zbygjxs/revision/5

  4. https://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/war/just/introduction.shtml

  5. https://www.abdabrs.com/peace-and-conflict.html

  6. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00545jx

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