Essay: Pacifism and Just War

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Since time immemorial, nations, communities and religions have continually waged war against each other either by launching offensive strikes or retaliatory attacks. War has thus become a time honored political tradition, and perhaps the oldest since it stretches back to Biblical times. By definition, war denotes the state of extreme violence, economic destruction and social disruption (Cortright 124). Over the years, concerns have emerged regarding the adversities of war citing mass destruction of property, mass murders, forcible displacement of population, rape, persecution and other inhumane acts. In view of humanitarian and economic concerns, a section of scholars have openly opposed the course of war opting for tolerance in terms of diplomacy or detente. Opposing war began as a cause before gradually transforming into a philosophy identified as 'pacifism.' Emile Arnaud is the man credited for having coined the term 'pacifism' before peace activists adopted it during the tenth Universal Peace Congress held in Glasgow in 1901 (Cortright 137).

Pacifism as a cause is probably as old as war itself; scholars trace it to back to Biblical times. In his sermons, Jesus Christ, the Christian messiah, urged people to learn to love and tolerate each other. He even urged people not to seek revenge when offended or wronged by their neighbor. Similarly, Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddhist religious leader echoed similar sentiments about war. In modern history, Martin Luther King Jr., James Bevel, and James Lawson upheld pacifism during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s (Butler 721). Following the demise of World War 2 when the world was at the verge of nuclear war, the United Nations was formed in bid to avert further war. The next landscape of global conflict came in the form of ideological conflict historically identified as the Cold War. The United States and the United Soviet Socialist Republic, both of whom were world superpower nations, sought detente -- easing strained relations -- in 1971 not only in the spirit of pacifism but in bid to avoid mutually assured annihilation. Sources indicate that pacifism manifested itself towards the demise of the cold war following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The historic event that marked this manifestation was the Tiananmen Square Protest of 1989 when one of the protesters identified as the Tank Man stood to a column of tanks in a nonviolent opposition. This historic event triggered the fall of the Berlin Wall marking the fall of Communism and the dawn of a new world order (Butler 721).

As an ideal, pacifism encompasses a spectrum of views ranging from obliteration of force, abolition of military law enforcement, and opposition to violence as a means of realizing economic, social or political goals diplomacy to calls for peace and diplomacy. Pacifist scholars, Thomas Paul, Jenny Teichman and Peter Brock, believe that that pacifism stands for the unconditional denunciation of any form of warfare regardless of necessity. There is a broad spectrum of moral principles forming the rationale for pacifism. This is in line with the deontological ethics as espoused in Immanuel Kant's Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals (Butler 721). Kant's moral philosophy -- deontology -- underscores its very essence using the categorical imperative as the ethical yardstick. The first maxim of categorical imperative states that one ought to act in such a way that the basis for action should form the underlying principle behind a universal law. The other maxim underscores the importance of treating people as an end and not as a means to an end. In the deontological perspective, pacifism rejects the notion that the ends justify the means; the belief is that war is inhumane and humanity ought to shun it in its entirety. Even, as some believe, in face of extenuating circumstances such as the quest for peace and forestalling an enemy strike, the pacifist ideal requires a policy of nonviolence; diplomacy.

Information retrieved from numerous academic sources indicate that the ideal behind pacifism extends from religious faith and reasonable belief that war is ineffective as well as destructive to beliefs in the sanctity of life as embodied in the constitutional dispensation of the United States, for instance. A section of humanitarians now believes that spirit of pacifism transcends the requirement of nonviolence to include the quest for natural justice, human rights and peace.

Just War

As pacifists take a moral high ground on the issue of war, other people believe that while war is destructive and ineffective, there are extenuating circumstances during which one can justify it. Proponents of the Just War Theory believe that pacifism is utopian and unrealistic, in fact, as unrealistic as a fairy tale, according to Jean Bethke Elshtain. In bid to forestall an enemy attack, for instance, it is only realistic to use force to subdue the enemy combatant. Elshtain believes that in the pursuit of national security, the government owes citizens a duty to protect them from external aggression (Elshtain 76). However, the government must ensure that it uses only the minimum necessary force while observing humanitarian concerns otherwise it would defeat the entire purpose of the war. Historians trace the idea of just war from the historic Indian epic identified as Mahabharata where five ruling sibling engaged in a heated debate contesting whether the evils associated with war were justifiable. From their deliberations, historians extract the criterion that serves as the benchmark for the Just War Theory based on two principles: jus ad bellum and jus in bello (Evans 74).

The first principle, jus ad bellum denotes the right to wage war based on a number of considerations. To begin with, the rationale behind waging war must be just not merely to punish wrongdoers, revenge or recapture stolen wealth. There must be probable cause to believe that civilian life is under imminent threat; the bid to protect an imminent attack on innocent civilians is a just cause as stipulated in the U.S. Catholic Conference held in 1993 (Elshtain 86). The other consideration is the presence of a duly constituted competent authority to oversee such operations. Likewise, the probability of success has to be realistic in the estimation of a reasonable person otherwise it would qualify as a just war. Finally, a competent authority should wage war only as a measure of last resort; after diplomacy, sanctions and threats of war have failed.

While jus ad bellum denotes the right to wage war, jus in bello stipulates the manner in which combatants ought to carry themselves in the event of war. In the event of war, civilian life is usually at stake and with this consideration; soldiers ought to act with diligence. Jus in bello involves fair treatment prisoners of war and obliteration of all means malum in se, which means refraining from those tactics that cause gross violation of human rights causing crimes against humanity (Cortright 137).

Pacifism vs. Just War: Weighing the Options

The question as to whether war is justifiable remains one of the most contested issues in modern history as scholars engage in a series of heated debates. The philosophy of war has thus become a complex subject to which there is no right or wrong answer. The pacifist approach denounces the use of violent confrontation regardless of the circumstances at hand while the Just War approach recognizes that there are mitigating circumstances during which the use of force may be reasonable for the greater good. This debate amplifies the longstanding ethical dispute between Kant's deontology and Jeremy Bentham's utilitarianism on whether the ends justify the means. Do the ends justify the means? Some agree while others disagree.

The underlying principle behind pacifism is very noble; war is evil and as such, humanity ought to denounce it as a matter of principle. In the event of war, certain things are inevitable; loss of life, forcible displacement, mass rape, grave destruction of property and other inhumane acts are synonymous with war. In all fairness, as the idealists argue, any form of war is evil since the end result is crimes against humanity (O'Donovan 75). The notion that there are mitigating circumstances such as self-defense, protection of sovereignty and to forestall external aggression that sometimes rationalize the need to wage war, war beats the essence of peace; as U.S. President Barrack Obama said in his inaugural speech 'fighting for peace' is a statement that does not even make sense. Pacifism in a very noble cause, maybe even the noblest of all causes since it endorses a world where nobody takes up arms. It is definitely more preferable than Just War.

Is pacifism realistic though? In a world pervasively overwhelmed by interests, the spirit under which the pacifist cause is intended is simply unrealistic. Economic sabotage, social conflict, and political warfare traverse the global political economy turning ideals such as justice, peace or compassion into mere delusions of grandeur. Companies engage in corporate espionage in bid to sabotage their rivals. Vast multinationals infiltrate sovereign nations in pursuit of their interests. The chaos in the international scene undermines the quest for peace. As nations wage… [END OF PREVIEW]

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