It is sometimes right to fight in an unjust war
Tadros (Victor)
Source: Aeon, 28 April, 2017
Paper - Abstract

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  1. What should soldiers do in a war that ought not to be fought? Should they take part? If it’s wrong for one country to declare war on another, isn’t it also wrong for members of the armed forces to fight in that war? This is often true – but, surprisingly, it isn’t always true.
  2. … it is quite common for people who oppose a war to support the troops that fight in them. This was often the attitude of those opposed to British involvement in the 2003 war in Iraq, for example. While many thought it wrong for the country to go to war, they didn’t condemn the professional soldiers who fought in that war.
  3. One explanation for this attitude is that it can seem unreasonable to expect soldiers to evaluate whether the war they are involved in is unjust.
  4. Here’s another explanation. When people join the military, they commit themselves to follow their government’s decisions to go to war, irrespective of their own judgment about whether that war is unjust. And they get paid on that basis.
  5. But now consider an individual combatant. Whether she participates or not, the war will go ahead. The central questions for her are about the difference that her acts will make to the lives of others, not about the difference that all the war’s acts will make.
  6. For example, an individual soldier who participated in the Iraq war might have decreased the war’s destruction. By making the invasion of Iraq more effective, she might have shortened the war, and her presence at its end might have helped to rebuild society from the chaos that inevitably results from war. If she did have these effects, her individual acts would not have been wrong, whatever the injustice of the war as a whole. Overall, she might have had good grounds for believing that her contributions would be positive.
  7. If it is wrong for a government to go to war, it is often wrong to fight in it. But sometimes, just sometimes, it can be right to fight in an unjust war to avoid a worse outcome.


For the full text, see Aeon: Tadros - It is sometimes right to fight in an unjust war.

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  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
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