I am writing to you today because I want to express to you my ideas on morality and war. Morality is an ideal that can be defined as doing what is right, from a philosophical perspective, regardless of the potential consequences of taking action. Although morality is simple to define, what is moral to one person may be immoral to another, making morality entirely subjective when it comes to real problems. Political, societal, and religious influences are just a few inputs that can affect whether a person sees a particular situation as either moral or immoral. Morality is entirely relative, and can change based on the situation.
One of the most controversial issues, as morality is concerned, is that of war. While war is a necessary evil, political influences and the need for power make war a potential immoral action when it is not done for the betterment of a nation or society. The motives of a nation that goes to war are one of the most controversial when it comes to the issues of morality. A nation can become involved in a violent interaction for many reasons, and the morality of the war can be based on these reasons.
Some wars are fueled by power hungry politicians, while others are waged on religious or societal beliefs and impressions. The issue of morality and war is covered in Jimmy Carter’s, “Just War – or a Just War?” and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, “Letter from Birmingham Jail”.
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First, I believe that in order for a war to be a moral war, all non-violent options must be exercised. In Jimmy Carter’s op-ed piece, entitled “Just War – or a Just War?”, Mr. Carter makes the observation that “… war can be waged only as a last resort” (Carter 260). Before a war is waged, a nation’s leaders should exhaust any diplomatic means of resolving the differences they have with their foes. In some governments, hunger for power, rather than acting on a threat, causes war to be waged at the drop of a hat. In the current war in Iraq, there is much controversy over whether the United States declared war on Iraq because it was a last resort, or because the U.S. was hungry for power, and wanted to exert its influence over the Iraqi people.
This element of war is further corroborated in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s , “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. At the height of racial tension in the South, King writes, “… the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative” (King, Jr. 164). This reflects that not only can war be waged between nations, it can also be waged in a different sense, among a nation.
Mr. King also outlines four steps in resolving conflicts in a non-violent manner, “… collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action” (King, Jr. 164). It is important to note that the final step in this outline is direct action. In the same way that problems between nations must be resolved, tensions among a nation must also be resolved, and these attempts at a resolution must be made in a diplomatic way if possible before war is waged.
Secondly, I believe that a moral war must consist of actions that are equivalent to those actions taken against the nation. Although the consequences of war, such as death and destruction, are inevitable, Carter also notes that, “Its violence must be proportional to the injury we have suffered” (Carter 260). To lash out at a weaker nation simply because of differing ideals is not an acceptable cause for war. However, to react to a threat or aggressive acts, is an acceptable cause to wage a war.
Many times, governments are hungry for power and will go to war for any reason, simply to exert their power and influence over other countries, thus extending their influence across the nations. For example, the war that the United States has waged against Iraq is a questionable one when it comes to this element. Carter notes that the “… efforts to tie Iraq to the 9/11 terrorist attacks have been unconvincing” (Carter 260).
Although Saddam Hussein’s rule over his people may have been cruel and murderous, the United States did not have the evidence they should have had linking Iraq to the Twin Towers incident in order to justify declaring war. In this sense, the current war may not be moral, as the United States acted out of proportion to any actions Iraq took against us.
The idea of any retaliation against or among a nation being based only on injuries suffered, is furthered in Mr. King’s observations. In Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, he notes that “we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure” (King, Jr. 166). Because the injuries suffered by the African American public in the South were not of a physical nature, but rather a political nature, Mr. King reiterates that with consistent pressure from the African American community in a non-violent manner, they have been able to make progress in obtaining civil rights.
It is important to note Mr. King’s emphasis on the necessity of determination in bringing about any amount of change to the African American community. To resolve the conflict in the South between races, it took many years of protesting and non-violent measures, and if the African American population had not been determined to bringing about a non-violent end to their struggle, the changes that took place may have never occurred.
Finally, I believe that a war can only be considered to be moral if the outcome of the war is a significant improvement over the nation that existed prior to the conflict. Carter notes that in order for a war to be just, “The peace it establishes must be a clear improvement over what exists” (Carter 260). In essence, the aftermath of the war must create a sense of peace that is much improved over what had previously existed within the nation – if it does not, the war was ultimately in vain.
These elements are apparent in the current war that the United States is waging in Iraq. The United States has gone to war with Iraq, perhaps with the best of intentions for the Iraqi people, but only chaos and destruction have ensued. The peace of the nation of Iraq has not been much improved over what was previously in place. Martin Luther King, Jr. touches on the idea of acceptable moral reasons for demanding changes, as well.
Mr. King writes, “Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong” (King, Jr. 168). In both Carter and King’s writing, it is well noted that peace is the ultimate goal of any conflict, whether it be between nations or among one nation.
In conclusion, morality is a subjective ideal that is a contributor to conflicts both between nations and among one nation. War is necessary, but can be based on political, religious, or societal pressures of a nation. War can be perpetuated by political greed, or religious and societal reasons. It is important for a nation to make a valiant attempt to diplomatically resolve their conflicts with other nations or among their own nation before waging war. The morality of waging war is one of the most controversial issues nations face, whether it be with other nations or in dealing with conflicts among their own nation.
Carter, Jimmy. “Just War – or a Just War?” The Presence of Others: voices and images
that call for response. Andrea Lunsford and John Ruszkiewicz. Boston: Bedford,
King, Jr., Martin L. “Letter From Birmingham Jail”. The Presence of Others: voices and images that call for response. Andrea Lunsford and John Ruszkiewicz. Boston: Bedford,
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