The moral and legal exemptions of war make for heated debate, especially in the U.S., which without reservation has the strongest and most technologically advanced military in the world. It is also the most active. Its involvement across the world in conflict should cause every citizen to pause and think deeply about the morality and conditions of war. Not of this or that war, but of war as an institution.
Should all adults be required to serve in the military? What is a morally justifiable war? Do citizens have a moral duty to fight in a civil war? To what extent is a man required to kill on behalf of the state? To what extent should a military accept collateral damage, such as the bombing of schools and hospitals? What should count as a genuine conscientious objection? How does war inhibit the freedom of the citizens within each warring faction? These are not easy questions to discuss, and like most questions regarding morality, there are few clear cut answers. My primary goal in this post is to raise questions, not answers.
Defining War and Why it Waged
Moreover, at least one party is willing to spend resources it has already acquired in order to wage war. One important aspect of war is that the battling factions have to already have resources in order to wage war. Conflicts only become wars if both sides have some means of making war sufficient to detract from a direct takeover. If there is an enormous disparity in weaponry, army size, or simple military competence, the weaker side is simply claimed or destroyed. Without the supplies for an army, a nation is conquered instantaneously.
Not all wars can be so narrowly pigeonholed. There are other reasons for war which leave a less Marxist taste in one’s mouth. Some wars are fought for more vain reasons. If Homer’s Illiad is to be taken as an embellished account of a real war (historians argue both ways on this question), then war can also be fought over the beauty of a woman, like Helen of Troy. Some wars are fought over ideals. The Russian and Chinese Revolutions were fought over communism; the American Civil War had slavery as its focal point; holy wars propagate a very specific religious agenda.