War: What is it good for?

If you love the song “War” like I do, you’d immediately answer “Absolutely Nothing”, but unfortunately, the question of war is not so clean-cut. Certainly, I’d love to see a day when there are no more wars, but unfortunately, that probably won’t happen anytime soon. Humanity loves conflict, and although conflict is generally not conducive to reaching eventual peace for obvious reasons, war can actually work to further the cause of human rights in some cases.

Of course, the majority of warfare in history has been (obviously) quite destructive, as most wars are generally waged in the material interests of a nation or its leader(s), which tends to result in a menagerie of murder, stealing, and various other crimes. The War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, and the Spanish-American War, for example, were 3 wars waged in America’s history explicitly for the purpose (or result) of adding land to the USA. And while these wars may have not been very deadly as far as wars go, they were waged in cold blood. At the very least, the US entered WWI and WWII to defend our soil and our allies, but other wars, those not waged for the preservation of human life and human rights do little else but sacrifice the lives and livelihoods of some in order to destroy the lives and livelihoods of others.

There are situations in which it is justified to use military force, however. Self-defense is an obvious one, and in many cases, so is intervention to end the reign of tyrants like Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddhafi. In fact, the situation in Libya, at least until Gaddhafi was killed, was intervention done right. In principle, there was nothing wrong with removing a dictator who carpet-bombed peaceful protesters by the thousands, and the execution of the mission did not, fortunately, follow the same path as the Iraq War. In theory, I think that any situation in which some sort of dictator or general is intentionally killing thousands of civilians  justifies the involvement of troops by any nation that can help, so long as:

a) Removing the illegitimate leader from power and promoting the establishment of peaceful democratic institutions is the sole objective of the intervention

b) Strict measures are taken to reduce the likelihood of civilian casualties

Of course, these are only a few theoretical parameters for a situation that would justify military involvement; the reality is that some civilian casualties will likely occur, and a theoretically justified intervention situation may escalate into a deadly, Iraq-like conflict. Those potential costs of action need to be weighed into any sort of democracy-spreading military involvement; execution may not always work as well as planned.

Take Vietnam for example: Starting the war was not entirely unjustified (though I’d still disagree with it) given the potential human cost that would likely occur in a communist Vietnam, but as the civilian body count sprung up, the costs of war became clear. The Tet Offensive of 1968 was a surefire sign that the US was not on top of the situation, and in the aftermath of that, it would have been better to attempt to negotiate a peace treaty rather than escalate the number of troops in Vietnam and bomb neutral Cambodia.

Involvement in most wars, however, seems like a less moral operation when viewed with the gift of hindsight. The Vietnam and Korean Wars were both started for the cause of keeping communism from expanding, and the spread of protests against Vietnam rather than Korea were nonetheless due to the high death toll caused by the war. As death toll clearly makes a difference, any nation must take potential death tolls into account when considering any military involvement. Because of the obviously deadly nature of war, I would prefer to refrain from war in most cases, but if the situation requires decisive action in order to prevent mass murder and other human rights violations, then all nations willing and capable of acting to prevent a large loss of human life ought to do so.

Peace to you, and hope for the day when all war can finally be abolished.

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