Is War Ever Just?

By Vivian Nguyen ’21

A patter of rain dampens the bloodied backs of five siblings, who wait to apply for asylum outside a registration center. Under any other name or skin color, they would be seen simply as children. Because of the violently pervasive Saudi-Iran cold war, they are first known as Syrian refugees.

In a world where shades of ethical gray complicate the debate between the black-and-white question concerning “right versus wrong,” it is necessary to remember the universally-shared core of human compassion. In war, where the pursuit of power  –  often masked by the pursuit of intangible ideals  – delegitimizes the worth of human dignity, the conceptions of justice are forgotten. As a result, wars are often egregiously unjust.

When Saudi-backed Sunni militants battled against Iranian-backed Shia militants, following commands of two omnipresent yet distant regional powers, did they reflect upon the dignity of each body they took down? Upon how their actions endangered millions of innocent civilians who were caught in the middle?

Even interventionist wars intended towards just ends, like that of “spreading democracy” and “ending authoritarianism,” successful as they may be, violate the inherent dignity of a human life. The Spanish-American War, for example, robbed 17,000+ soldiers of their lives. The Vietnam War cost as many as two million civilians their lives. Likewise, the virtuousness of wars initiated for “security” and “safety” by the United States have historically been tainted by collusion; Halliburton’s government contracts during the Iraq war effort earned Dick Cheney thousands while thousands died abroad. More often than not, supposedly “good” wars are not just, but justified.

Ideally, justice should allow no exceptions. War, where sensationalism makes it easy to footnote reflections of justice, permits these exceptions. Maybe the economic and political payback of war will be worth billions, but the value of a more moral human society will be forever priceless.


Editor’s Note: Read more about Syrian refugees and the reference to Yaser’s five children at:


Photo from: Save the Children

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