Can War Ever be Justified?

by 1530484 on April 26, 2017 - 5:39pm

The world is becoming an increasingly uncertain place. Children are being slaughtered, elderly people are being butchered, women are being enslaved and men are being killed. For many people around the globe, the guarantee of safety and life for the coming seconds of their lives is uncertain. The middle east is in chaos and the West is dealing with an existential crisis: The choice between nationalism and multiculturalism. Although the cause for the increasing global instability is complex and cannot be blamed on only one event, military intervention in the middle east plays a very significant role in the increase of insecurity in the world. This raises an important question: Can war ever be justified? More specifically, do news media outlets have moral responsibilities when covering stories on a war? Although military interventionism can make sense in certain extreme cases such as a genocide, war is immoral and therefore, news media outlets have a responsibility to objectively portray the terrible consequences that a war has on society, both for the attacker and the attacked. This essay will start off by discussing the ethics of war and the various moral dilemmas that spring forth during times of war, a case study on the Iraq war and how many journalists erred in their coverage of it, and finally, the lack of news outlet coverage on devastating aftereffects of war on both the attacker and the attacked.

            The justification and ethics of war have been debated and questioned since ancient times. One’s opinion on war depends largely on the ethical framework one uses. In general, scholars of ethics argue that war is morally neutral if it is inevitable. However war is almost always evitable and therefore, includes moral dilemmas (Holmes 3). Pacifism regards war as immoral and therefore, never justified while those that promote Just War Theory (JWT) argue that some wars, due to certain circumstances, are justified while others are not (Holmes 4). Many ethical rationalists, belonging to a deontological school of thought that judge morality based on the action, and not the outcome, would argue that war is immoral because it automatically implies bloodshed, which fails the categorical imperative. Based on Kantian philosophy, the categorical imperative is the evaluation of an action based on its capacity of becoming a universal law or trend. Of course, if bloodshed and killing were to become international laws or trends, the world would not be able to function properly. War therefore fails the categorical imperative and is therefore immoral according to many ethical rationalists. Teleological ethical frameworks such as Utilitarianism, judge morality based on the outcome of an action and not the action itself. Utilitarians for example, would argue that if a war creates the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people, commonly known as the Summum Bonum, then it is moral. However, it can also be considered as immoral if it fails to meet the Summum Bonum. Although war can possibly have positive effects, it often has a much more negative impact on society. Due to human lives being in jeopardy and the devastating aftereffects of war, the Teleological framework of Utilitarianism is the most appropriate framework when evaluating a war, which evaluates it as immoral due to the imminent loss of lives caused by it.

            The Iraq war which ravaged through Iraq from 2003 and 2011 was arguably one of the most destructive wars on the global scale since World War 2. Through a military coalition spearheaded by the United States of America, Saddam Hussein and his government was ousted. The fierce war resulted in the deaths of at least 100 000 innocent civilians. The war created a power vacuum in the region which allowed groups, many of which were extremist, to take control of many regions. One of the most powerful and influential groups that gained power was Al Qaeda in Iraq, which eventually changed to become DAESH or ISIS, which continues to be a threat to world peace. The justification for the military intervention was largely based on a report that the Iraqi Government had weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Judith Miller, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who was working for the New York Times at the time, published an article that claimed, through anonymous sources, that the Iraqi Government had been harboring WMDs (Miller). Furthermore, the media constantly portrayed veterans as heroes, while ignoring the horrors they may have committed and by ignoring the psychological effects of warfare (Kleykamp and Hipes 348). This led to vast public support for a military intervention, which the US Government capitalized on. After the war, it became evident that Miller’s report was indeed fabricated and lacked key information. This incident led to many discussions on the ethics of journalism and the responsibilities of journalists. Journalists have a right to keep the anonymity of their sources if they choose to do so. However, by Miller maintaining the anonymity of the government officials involved in leaking the false reports, which resulted in a devastating war that continues to harm people today, serious questions about whether a journalist should be allowed to publish certain articles, should be asked. In her case, Miller’s article was used as a justification for war (Greenwald). Although she was not directly involved, her work resulted in the loss of many innocent lives. From a Utilitarian perspective, journalists have a duty to verify their sources thoroughly to make sure that whatever they publish is authentic and beneficial, lest certain people or governments use their work to cause more harm to humanity than good.

            The effects of war are almost always destructive to the attacker and the attacked. One should never add fuel to fire to reduce its intensity. The launching of a missile or a bomb often causes loss of lives. Those that lose their family or loved ones automatically feel animosity to the perpetrators. Indeed, a secret FBI study found that most cases of “homegrown” terrorism in the US were perpetrated by people that cited US foreign intervention as a motivation (Hussain and Currier). Since the West’s intervention in the Middle East, the number of extremists and their threat have increased dramatically. Other negative effects of war on the attacking country includes a huge debt accumulation. Some estimates put the cost of the War in Iraq to be greater than 1 trillion dollars. Not surprisingly, war also destroys the country being attacked. It causes death, which results in extremism and instability. In Iraq, the war led to increased sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shiites. Perhaps the most visible form of damage caused by the war in Iraq is the inception of ISIS. Due to the negative effects on both the attacker and the attacked, war is considered immoral from a Utilitarian perspective.

            Although justified in very rare and specific cases, war causes and incredible amount of physical and psychological damage to society. Being at the very least a questionable action, journalists have a duty to portray war objectively and with the goal of creating the greatest good for the greatest number of people and limiting damage such as death and instability. Wars of the past should be a lesson for future generations and should be a justification for more diplomacy and less division. Peace and unity should always be the end goal.   






Works Cited

Greenwald, Glenn. “The Spirit of Judy Miller Is Allive and Well at the NYT, and It Does Great Damage” The intercept, 2015.


 Holmes, Robert L. “The Metaethics of Pacifism and Just War Theory.” Philosophical Forum, 2015.

Hussain, Murtaza and Currier, Cora. “U.S Millitary operations are Biggest Motivation for Homegrown Terrorists, FBI Study Finds” The Intercept, 2016.


Kleykamp, Meredith and Hipes, Crosby. “Coverage of Veterans of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the U.S. Media.” Sociological Forum, 2015.

Miller, Judith. “The Story: A Reporter’s Journey” The New York Times, 2015