Saturday, 04 September 2010 12:12

Hellish Nature of War

“It is also reasonable to show some sort of imprisonment by another, how to show something that actually does not exist by something else that exists.” – Daniel Defoe.

Even if the hell described in the sacred literature does not exist, it unveils itself during the war. When we are dealing with the war it seems that no matter what the goal is,what is its reason (ius ad bellum), no matter what measures are used for its conduct (ius in bello), once the war is initiated, the war resembles hell. But what allows us to make such a comparison? Is there anything that lets us call war “hell on earth”?

At the outset of the essay I present theological concepts of Hell and dwell upon the hellish nature of war; subsequently I attempt to draw parallels between the two. [1] Next, I focus on war crimes carried out by soldiers who pushed into “hell”, catch “the bug” of evil-doing, and by doing so they increase the evil of war, turning the victim into an executioner. Moreover, I consider who carries the blame for the crimes committed, and therefore, who is morally responsible for this "hell"- soldiers or their commanders. After discussing it, I concentrate on the infernal logic of war, which is a “constant urge to moral extremes”. At the end of the essay I ask whether "hell" of war can be avoided. I would like to point out that my analysis is only a brief discussion of the above-mentioned issues, as a more thorough study would require significantly more space than the essay provides.

 In my analysis I rely primarily on the book, Just and Unjust Wars, written by the theorist of Traditional Just War Theory, Michael Walzer. I also draw upon the Millennium Bible passages and the edition of “the British and Foreign Bible Society”; fragments of Diaries of St. Faustina Kowalska and the Book of predictions written by Sister Lucy of Fatima are among the theological sources I consider.I refer to articles in the national press, Gazeta Wyborcza and Rzeczpospolita also to the article of Jeff McMahan entitled “The Ethics of Killing in War”, as well to the work of Carl von Clausewitz, On War.

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Like Jeff McMahan said, occupation involves both the threat of military force and the use of military force; hence it is akin to war - references to the occupation of Iraq. In reference to war the occupation is divided between the principles ius ad bellum (that is, that govern the resort to and continuation of war) and ius in bello (that govern the conduct of war). Naturally,this division may also apply to the occupation.

The theory of occupation will thus face similar problems as the theory of war - problems revealed by Jeff McMahan arguing against the theoretician of Traditional Just War Theory, Michael Walzer. I try to show these problems and provide possible solutions by following Jeff McMahan’s train of thought. I examine the unjust occupation and the moral status of the occupation as such. This is the starting point to the key considerations in my paper, i.e. considerations concerning the degree of moral responsibility of soldiers participating in an unjust occupation.

Michael Walzer argues that soldiers involved in unjust wars can be justified morally on the basis of arguments from ignorance and the argument from coercion. McMahan, however, is of a different opinion. He believes that these soldiers can only be explained, and not justified, and proved it by basing argument on thesis brought about by Walzer. After a comparative analysis of both stances I approach the issue from the perspective of Judith Lichtenberg, as she also tried to judge the "unjust soldiers"- "unjust combatant" in terms of their responsibilities.


The above text is an abstract from Begina Slawinska’s paper, delivered at the conference "Why help a stranger. Ethical aspects of global justice", which took place on 11-12 December 2010, at  the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. Organizers: Interdisciplinary Center for Ethics of the Jagiellonian University and the Institute of Philosophy Jagiellonian University.

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