Non Aequitas in Bellum (No Justice in War)
Whether or not a war may be considered justified depends on three factors. The first is the reason for going to war, the second how the war is conducted and third how the aftermath is handled. Many people would say that only the first factor matters because all the rest is collateral damage or unavoidable consequence. There is no such thing as unavoidable consequence. There a few things that must be pointed out before this is commenced. Everything is relative. The conditions of war, the reasons, the rules, all are different from country to country and age to age. All that can be done is to attempt to explain the reasoning's behind the violence and death knowing that no matter what the purpose of a war or the justice of the cause or the nobility of the leaders, that war is filthy, bloody, and sick. It always brings out the worst in people and if you consider the holocaust or actions like that then you realize that people are capable of cruelty and evil on a level that most can not imagine.
Some say that the only justification for war is the reason you start it. Let us take two examples and examine that claim. In the 1800's the Plains Indians fought for their right to land and resources. They were being driven out of the country they had lived in for centuries before white men set foot on a land that did not belong to them and declared it theirs. In anger, after being cheated, lied to, and stolen from, they rose up and attempted to defeat the people responsible. Sound familiar? It should because those are much the same reason that started the American Revolution, their freedoms were being taken away by a people who had first been brothers and friends and they fought. Yet when the Federal government attempted to dictate to the Southern states what they could and could not do everyone seemed surprised when they fought for their right to make their own damn decisions starting the Civil War. There are however other types of war. Petty squabbles that cost hundreds of thousands, even millions, of lives like the Thirty Years War which was a family feud over who would inherit which countries. Or slightly more morally ambiguous ones like the Crusades. Which is it just to fight for? Freedom? Inheritance? Or religion? Which is it just to slaughter for?
The Second factor comes into play when a country is at war and has the opportunity to gain something from it that they were not after in the first place. Wealth, land, and weapons are all examples of this. Does the country choose to keep to their goals or not?
A War is just when it is started for the right reasons and the people who fight it are dedicated enough to their cause to only fight for that one reason, not for wealth, power, or prestige, but what is best for their country. Wait! You say. What about ones like the Civil War when both sides believed their cause was just and both kept to their goals? The answer is neither. The Union was fighting to free the slaves yes, but more than that they were fighting for power over the southern states, the only states that were not really under the influence of the federal government. The Confederacy was fighting for their state autonomy but also for their right to enslave others. Each had a just cause but chose not to follow it instead using it as a cover to quarrel over baser things. That is not to say that for some the war was not just, there were those who are paragons of goodness and nobility even today that fought for what they considered right on both sides like General Robert E. Lee or President Abraham Lincoln. These men wanted and tried to do the right thing in a time were there was no such thing as a clear course of action. That is why they are heroes.
Finally, there is the aftermath. This tends to be where the United States has trouble. When Robert E. Lee surrendered because his men were exhausted, starving, and outnumbered it was the noble and gracious thing to do. Because of that grace and nobility his men were standing outside yelling that they would fight for him that he didn't have to surrender for them. It was not right in the aftermath for confederate homes to be seized or soldiers disgraced. It was not right for Lincoln to be assassinated and if he had not been then he would never have allowed the confederate soldiers and states to be treated so. That was the confederacies mistake or at least the mistake of one man who did not realize the difference between a conqueror and a good man. Justice in war is in how it begins but the quality of the combatants is shown in the end. Especially that of the victor, when the Union won the Civil War and proceeded to humiliate and subjugate the confederates it proved that what they were really fighting for was the power, dominance if you will of the central government over the states, it was the modern version of the First Crusade when the Crusaders finally took the city they slaughtered the inhabitants men, women, and children. Something that Saladin who was arguably the greatest Sultan the East ever had pointedly refused to do when he took back the same city 200 years later.
Thus in the end what have we? That a war is a reflection of the qualities of those who fight it and it is never good or bad but always both, in the bloodiest most horrible wars there has always been acts of mercy and goodness. Its inherent justice is in why the war is fought but its outward justice is in how it is fought and the justice of the outcome in how both victor and loser accept the end. Something that many people do not understand about such things is that many times it is harder to be the victor than not because of the temptations of being in such a position of power over someone or something else. Instances of this go back to the beginnings of civilization when there were many common practices of subjugation for the losers ranging from slavery to rape or combinations thereof. This was especially true for the enemy generals and officers who were not killed outright. Those same practices are still in use although perhaps no longer sanctioned. Many are the wars that have been fought for power, for the feeling of pure dominance that comes with defeating a nation. In the words of Christopher Lynn Hedges a journalist and war correspondent, "The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug." And to that another should be added, "War. War never changes. Since the dawn of human kind, when our ancestors first discovered the killing power of rock and bone, blood has been spilled in the name of everything, from God to justice to simple, psychotic rage." In the end there is no justice only war stripped of the excuses, reasons, and words.
Bibliography: Christopher Lynn Hedges