The Second of a Two Part Series
Before presenting a critique of traditional just war theory (which I call the “Theory,” for short) I should make two points of clarification. Although the Theory is largely congruent with the international law of war, the subject of just war theory is not law but morality. If the inconsistencies and absurdities I will describe were confined to the law, they would be less troubling. Because the law is an artifact and does not purport to state truths about a reality that is independent of human invention, it can tolerate considerable disunity. But just war theory is usually understood as a set of principles that have been discovered rather than designed, and that provide an objective account of the morality of war. If just war theory is more than just a set of conventions, and if the objections I will advance here are correct, the traditional version of just war theory must be rejected.
Second, the term “war” is ambiguous. There is one sense in which a war is composed of all the acts of war by all the parties to a conflict. World War II was a war in this sense. But “war” can also refer to the belligerent action of only one side —— for example, the war that Britain fought against Germany, which was a part of World War II. My remarks will generally be concerned with wars in the second sense, for only such wars can be just or unjust. Thus, while Britain’s war against Germany was just, World War II was neither just nor unjust.
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