Thursday, January 17, 2008

Just wars

A question you hear every now and then is whether there can ever be a just war. Now I've struggled with the question, not because I'm some sort of tofu munching pacifist but because most wars involve more than one side and often result in some kind of political or social change, the question seems far too complex to boil down to 'just' or 'unjust'.

Was the Second World War just? Well, obviously it was unjust that millions of people's lives were cut short as they were caught up in events that were largely not of their making. However, it's also the case that the war as a whole could not be just unless we think that it was right to fight no matter which army you supported.

I can find little in favour of serving in the Waffen SS or the Afrika Corps even though I'm sure that both bodies contained people who were good to their pets, kind to children and had pleasant table manners. We can make the case for saying it was understandable to serve, but I think not that it was *right*.

Whether there can ever be a just war is only answerable in context - by concretising the question with whos and whens. Both my Grandfathers fought in the WWII, one in the Desert Rats, the other in the Royal Air Force as a mechanic. Both distinguished themselves and paid the price for their military service, although in different ways. I'm willing to stick my neck out and say they were both doing the right thing, despite the fact that one of them loaded bombers that set ablaze to the cities of Europe.

How would I feel, however, if they had served not in the European theatre of war but in Asia (1, 2) fighting to keep European imperial possessions out of the hands of the 'Japs'? I can't say I'd find that an easy answer despite the fact that these theatres are seen as of a piece in the same war. It seems to me that something quite different was taking place in separate parts of the conflict that, in fact, there were different processes taking place some of which were supportable, others less so.

Likewise in the American portion of the Vietnam War I certainly don't support the US military machine, but I do support those who resisted it - whether they be the VietCong, the Western peace movement or US soldiers who bravely turned their defiance into actions against their own government. These people did righteous things, as well as terrible things - all in the time and space of a war that should never have happened.

So whilst I can say with certainty that the revolutionaries who fought in Spain were right to bear arms in the cause of the socialist / anarchist revolution the war itself was not just - only the part that some people played in that war. All wars are unjust in this sense but within them there are tales of heroism, justice and love that we can all celebrate.

1 comment:

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