ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Rationalizing War

Updated on July 18, 2018
Faceless39 profile image

I'm a dental hygienist, pyrography artist, avid gardener, writer, vegetarian, world traveler, and many other things!


Publicly justifying war goes back to at least 100 BC, and it continues to be a hot topic in military theory, philosophy, theology, ethics, politics, and related fields. Basically the belief is that in order to go to war, certain criteria must first be met, else the war may be considered an act of terrorism.

In Just War theory, or Bellum iustum, the principle of discrimination states acts of war should be targeted not at civilians, but rather at those who actually inflict damage or who pose an imminent threat.

For example, bombing civilian areas of a city in response to an act of war would not be considered an ethical act of defense.

However, as with anything ethical, things can get tricky and definitions can become fuzzy.

What if bombing civilians is the only available avenue to conquering a greater evil? Is it then acceptable to let the principle of discrimination get a little fuzzy at the edges?

This is what James Sterba tries to address in his essay "Terrorism and International Justice," and what Shannon French argues in her essay "Murderers, Not Warriors."

Just War Theory criteria:

  • Establishing jus ad bellum, the right to go to war
  • Establishing jus in bello, right conduct within war

Murderers, Not Warriors

Shannon French's angle on the principle of discrimination is focused on asymmetrical conflict. She poses the question whether, in an unfair battle, the underdog may not be justified in its use of nondiscriminatory acts as a last resort to survival, thus combating the superior power's unfair advantage. This could be termed "leveling the playing field." However, if one side plays unfairly, the other side is not expected to play fairly in response.

If Just War's principle of discrimination is thus broken, any captured combatants automatically forfeit the usual rights reserved for "just" combatants. For example, Al Qaeda prisoners being held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay forfeit their rights when they attacked U.S. non-combatants, thus breaking one of the principles of just warfare.

Ideally, minimizing civilian casualties should be a major concern for both sides of an asymmetrical battle. French concludes by saying that, no matter what the angle, the distinctions we draw between warriors and murderers must be drawn consistently, even if that means that we ourselves become terrorists by definition.

Jus ad bellum

  • Just cause
  • Comparative justice
  • Competent authority
  • Right intention
  • Probability of success
  • Last resort
  • Proportionality

Jus in bello

  • Distinction
  • Proportionality
  • Military necessity
  • Fair treatment of prisoners
  • No malum in se (rape, murder)

Terrorism And International Justice

James Sterba's angle on the principle of discrimination is focused more on certain historical examples, such as the British bombing of Dresden during World War II.

The bombing of Dresden was seen by the English as the only means available to avert a Nazi victory, therefore making it a necessary act. However, once the Russians began turning the tides by inflicting enormous casualties on the Germans, the British bombings ceased to be ethical or just, though they continued throughout the war. Sterba then uses this reasoning to cross over to the more recent attacks made by the Palestinians against Israel.

Israel has been illegally occupying Palestine for forty-odd years, and controls all of the resources necessary to Palestinian life. Sterba says the Palestinian argument is a just one. America supports Israel's military with $4 billion annually in foreign aid. This suggests an unfair advantage, and much like Shannon French's stance on asymmetrical warfare, James Sterba suggests that Palestine's use of suicide bombers as an act of last resort constitutes just cause.

He goes on to say that if the United States wishes not to be a target of terrorist attacks, it should not support acts of Israeli terrorism against Palestine. This support forces Palestine to react to the resultant disadvantage by whatever means it can.

What Do You Think?

It appears that the Just War theory and its underlying principles are a basis by which to gauge just cause and just war. However, these principles may at times be adjusted to satisfy the conundrum of asymmetrical advantages and disadvantages in warfare.

An unfair fight may force one side to play dirty. This may be considered ethical if the cause is one of survival, and all other options have failed.

What do you think? Is there such a thing as a "just" war? Can ethics really be applied to war and killing, or do these acts negate any justifications given to them?


About the Authors

Shannon E. French is the Inamori Professor of Ethics, Director of the Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence, and a tenured member of the Philosophy Department at Case Western Reserve University. Prior to starting at CWRU in July 2008, she taught for eleven years as an Associate Professor of Philosophy with tenure in the Ethics Section of the Department of Leadership, Ethics, and Law at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. She also served as Associate Chair of that department. Dr. French received her B.A. (Philosophy, Classical Studies, and History) from Trinity University (San Antonio, Texas) in 1990 and her Ph.D. in Philosophy from Brown University (Providence, Rhode Island) in 1997. Dr. French’s main area of research is military ethics. Her first book, The Code of the Warrior: Exploring Warrior Values, Past and Present, features a foreword by Senator John McCain.

James P. Sterba is currently Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. He has published 24 books, and over 150 articles. He is past president of the American Philosophical Association, Central Division, the North American Society for Social Philosophy, past president of Concerned Philosophers for Peace, and past president of the International Association for Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy, American Section. He has been visiting professor of philosophy at the University of Rochester and at the University of Lativa in the then Soviet Union on a Fulbright Award. He has also been visiting distinguished professor of philosophy at the University of San Francisco, the University of California at Irvine, and Santa Clara University.

© 2011 Kate P


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image


      5 years ago

      It does not take much to start war. We have Ukraine starting a second cold war and the Chinese are building a dock they will never be able to defend. In reality its all about money and an internet that can not protect all that fake money.

    • Faceless39 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kate P 

      9 years ago from The North Woods, USA

      Thanks for the comments and insights. As for the Al Queda detainees, it doesn't matter that they were civilians, as attacking the US is the crucial matter there.

      Thank you. :)

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      9 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Very interesting Hub. I appreciate the information you provided about the two authors.

    • Larry Fields profile image

      Larry Fields 

      9 years ago from Northern California

      Great hub! Voted up and more.

    • maxoxam41 profile image


      9 years ago from USA

      A "just" cause or war appears to me to be more the resultant of an action. In that logic, it is a defensive move to an imposed action. It responds to the natural survival instinct. On the shoulder of the attacker reposes the responsibility of the aggression, of the crime.

      As for the "Al Qaeda" detainees, they were civilians not warriors or soldiers if you will.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)