Should these limitations be applied to modern warfare?


Only winnable wars should be fought because it is worthless for a state to put her people’s lives at risk with hopeless action and in futility that nothing is being changed. It is necessary to wage war as the last and the least preferred course before all sensible alternatives have been exhausted (Elshtain 1992: 29). Hence, irrational resort to force can be prevented. As mentioned above, it is lawful to kill aggressor. The limitation is that warriors are restricted to the conduct in war.

The conduct in war includes the use of proportionate means (Elshtain 1992: 101).

Proportionate means referred to the use of appropriate and moderate force needed to win the war. The violence used should be in proportion to the offence but no more. The idea of proportionate mean is derived from Aquinas. He stated that it is unethical to kill surrendered soldiers of the enemy (St. Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologiae Extracts II-II).

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The use of proportionate mean balances the benefits and the costs as the double effects of wars (Ramsey 2002: 149).

Thus, human sufferings will not more than the war caused. To achieve this, responses to aggression must be discriminated.

The legitimate targets of attack are only combatants but not noncombatants such as children and the old (Elshtain 1992: 29). In fact, warriors should respect for the noncombatants. Killing civilians violate the human rights and is unethical. Aquinas told that the life of righteous men preserves the common good, so it is unlawful to kill innocent (St. Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologiae Extracts II-II). Also, since it is improper for churchmen to fight as fighting involves the shedding of blood. It is undoubtedly sinful to shed the blood of innocent.

The limitations discussed above are based on Christian philosophy in the 13th century. It has bought to concern if these limitations should be applied to modern warfare. Aquinas’s interpretations are inspired by his own with reference to the New Testament. His interpretations are not incredible as they are not come directly from God. One word or text from the bible can have several meanings (Tooke 1965: 31). Moreover, God refers to the sublime of Christianity. Scriptures are only effectual in the life of the church but not other religion and so to the limitations that Aquinas suggested (Tooke 1965: 27).

Besides, war is a reciprocal action and there is no limit when resort to force (Walzer 1977: 23). War can bring particular war to an end but cannot end all war (Walzer 1977: 111). War is never just even if the limitations have been carried out. Nevertheless, the limitations of the just war theory provide a guide to the states to act in conflict situations in a less evil way anyway. Social and historical conditions such as norms, customs and beliefs shape our judgments. Accordingly, there are no strict rules of judging on the military conduct (Walzer 1977: 44).

Under different circumstances, the determination of just cause is dissimilar. The just and unjust conduct of war was undefined, powerful nations make use of the distinction for their national interest (Ramsey 2002: 149). Limitations are incompatible to apply in modern warfare. Soldiers battle by their loyalty and obedience, yet orders from authority can be given to spare or to destroy (Elshtain 1992: 33). In Iraq war, a soviet soldier described that his unit was being taught to humiliate the Afghans in Afghanistan (Glover 2001: 49). In this case, it reveals that intention of authority is not always good.

Moreover, individuals are sometimes more efficient to carry out warfare than government as no conventions or voting involved (Tooke 1965: 173). Also, tyranny can be fought by any individuals because it governs in self interests rather than the commonwealth (Finnis 1998: 288). One have right to defend for oneself (Tooke 1965: 173). Authority is not necessary in modern warfare. High-technology weapons are introduced into modern wars and increasing totality. In World War II, atomic bombs were used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to destroy the economy industry, however, civilians were killed (Glover 2001: 64).

It was recognized that bombing was hit inaccurately to the military target and civilians often lived or worked near the military installations (Glover 2001: 70). In advance, the use of atomic bomb cause prolonged radiation sickness such as cancer and abnormal fetus. It seems that the limitations of the use proportionate means and respect for noncombatants should be applied. On the contrary, combatants sometimes dressed without military uniform, it is difficult to distinguish between combatants and noncombatants (Ramsey 2002: 159). Also, army seeks civilians as shelters and fight within these shelters (Walzer 1977: 127).

It is inevitable to sacrifice the life of civilians as well as the military embedded journalists to repel evils. Warfare is an intentional activity and is hard to achieve justice (Tooke 1965: 173). Obviously, soldiers accuse someone for their sufferings because of the enduring warfare. ‘False consciousness’ describe the phenomenon that the soldiers do not blame their authority but condemn on their enemy (Walzer 1977: 36). Hatred of enemy, impatience with restraints and zeal for victory mask the morality of warriors. Warriors distress their enemy by every possible means to give vent and are unmoved by the death of enemy (Walzer 1977: 35).

In the case of ‘My Lai’ in Vietnam War, Vietnamese civilians were massacred by American soldiers (Elshtain 1992: 24). The cause of the massacre was the absence of military discipline. Military discipline is the conduct in war which functions as the moral references (Glover 2001: 59). Aquinas’s limitations on conduct in war are the military discipline and so they should be adopted in modern warfare. Aquinas’s limitations on war describe the just conditions to go to war. It includes waging war for a just cause by legal authority with good intentions.

It is just to initiate war unless it is the last resort and it will win for sure. Aquinas’s limitations also depict the conduct in war. These manners are the use of proportionate means and respect for the noncombatants. Limitations such as a just cause and good intentions are needed in modern warfare to minimize the evil of war. But in reality, the applications of these limitations are unfit as the improvement of weapon technology and with the concern on national interest by each state. The just war theory is theoretically obligatory to apply in modern warfare, but it is practically difficult to fulfill.

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Should these limitations be applied to modern warfare?. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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