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Is war ethical?
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War is unethical because it is psychologically damaging for all parties

There is evidence that war is psychologically damaging and harms not only the combatants, but also their families and innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. While some believe that we have made progress in preventing damage, others believe that war sets us up for a continuous cycle of violence.
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The Argument

First of all, according to Robert Higgs for The Independent Review, wartime has its foundation in antiquated views of true “manhood” and “patriotic emotion” which are already presumptuous and dangerous concepts. He notes that a common argument in favor of war, is that it prevents what “could have happened.” However, this is a hypothetical ‘what-if.’ Higgs firmly believes that if war is so bad, as most agree it is, then we should do everything in our power to find another way to resolve conflict. War also not only psychologically traumatizes soldiers and civilians alike, but it also sets a precedent. It effectively allows whatever violence the war procures to exist without question and then inherently calls for a reaction either the next day or years down the line when the opponent is ready to retaliate. The damaging after-effects of war reverberate for centuries and through entire family lineages.[1] Wartime’s psychological destruction on the human mind is unparalleled. The Vietnam War was a turning point for anti-war efforts, as it became clear that soldiers returning from war were not the same. 18.7% suffered with post-traumatic stress disorder for the rest of their lives. They and many others also found themselves at “increased risk for depression, personality disorders, suicide, and alcohol abuse.” This kind of damage affects families and communities, as they are forced to watch a loved one suffer and often become victims of abuse themselves.[2] According to Cynthia Haven of the Stanford Report, civilians are often under direct attack as a punishment to the nation they represent; or, they become casualties of war, a byproduct of conflict. Haven says that women and children who are often not directly involved with the war are the most at risk, the most disposable. The ratio goes: for every combatant that dies, nine civilians can be expected to perish. One can imagine that even after a war has ended, nations are not only missing those who left for war but those who were caught in the crossfire.[3] When considering wartime psychological damage, it is easy to understand how the horrors of an experience based in violence can affect someone’s brain. However, physical injuries that might seem invisible like blast exposure (contact with a major explosion) can pave the way for severe psychological impairment as well. Those repeatedly exposed to explosions experienced tangible “change [to their] brain’s structural organization,” according to Alaa Kamnaksh, a researcher at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. This puts them at a high risk for post-traumatic stress disorder and memory loss.[3] No matter the reason for war, we can always expect not only a significant loss of lives, but psychological damage that will significantly change both combatants’ and civilians’ lives. A population post-war is diminished and damaged.

Counter arguments

Professor of Classics at Stanford University Ian Morris does not deny the perils of wartime. He does, however, also acknowledge that according to the Stone Age, humans have used punishment or violence to “settle an argument” for a long time and there is no evidence that this was considered criminal. Morris notes that “10 to 20 percent of all Stone Age humans died at the hands of other people.”[4] He goes on to explain that he sees a significant change. While humans have endured extreme violence since 1914, we are about 10 times less likely to settle our disputes, no matter the size, with aggression.[4] In Robert D. Kaplan’s Forbes review of Morris’ book on the evolution of wartime, he notes that even throughout 20th century violence, a person would have “only” a 1 to 2 percent chance of perishing by a violent hand. So, according to them, our wartime has gotten better because it is essentially less common and considered a dire circumstance.[5] Morris and Kaplan seem to believe that war is detrimental, but necessary to our society. Kaplan hypothesizes that science has overtaken our affinity for war, that we have found intellectual problem-solving to be the answer. Yet, Morris feels this is not the case at all, and that science is just another answer to add to the many tools we have built to grow, but which we fail to choose. According to Morris, war is the only way to assert power when we are threatened. It is also the most effective scare tactic; ‘if you do not back down, we will wage war.’ This is not always used for ‘good;’ imperialism wiped out entire cultures.[5] So, Morris and Kaplan do not deny that wartime is psychologically damaging. However, they believe we consistently look to it when we want to, ironically, both psychologically and physically protect our people, and when we want stability. Holding force over another nation’s head is a favored way of, somehow, keeping in the peace.



Rejecting the premises


This page was last edited on Tuesday, 8 Sep 2020 at 17:37 UTC

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