The Ethics of War and Intervention

Socrates strikes again.

The topic was the ethics of war, and of course if you ask a bunch of college students who think they know everything what war is, they can be sure to come up with a definition that starts off with “Two sides fighting each other” then ends up as “any kind of conflict between any number of people for any reason at any time anywhere.” But that didn’t stop us from staying surprisingly on track.

We talked about a variety of scenarios and whether attacking or engaging in a “preemptive strike” would be justified. One professor made the claim that during his lifetime (i.e. after the second world war) the US had not had just cause for any of its wars. I tried to come up with something and failed.

Another question was: when and why have different sides in wars fought according to mutually understood rules, such as not fighting on Christmas in the first World War, or refraining from harming the women and children of the enemy. I offered that nihilism had seeped into our consciousnesses and contributed to a decrease in the kind of honor men felt in fighting according to certain principles, but most seemed to agree that the types of weaponry used in wars became more advanced and therefore less likely to avoid harming innocent people (i.e. bombs and drones).

A major question was what to do about the impulse we (or I guess pretty much just men) have to engage in violence; the Dionysian impulse to competition that ends up in chaos when unrestrained. This was harder to come to a conclusion on, especially since a lot probably has to do with testosterone, and that I think I was alone in equating violent impulses with sexual drive.

At some point in the middle of it all, a friend of mine (who sometimes participates in these discussions but had decided not to come) showed up and dropped off snacks. I ate probably 7 cookies and then scored some pretzels.

4 thoughts on “The Ethics of War and Intervention

  1. …..which is why balancing males and females in positions of power might bring order to the universe…….. 🙂

  2. That might be true, but I think that in general females who hold positions of significant power tend not to be too different from males with respect to the military. And I think in a lot of cases lobbies, banks, and the military-industrial complex exercise their will regardless of who is in power.

    Also I don’t know how balancing male/female political power in the West is possible without either a massive re-education of children about the importance of choosing women instead of men when they vote, or artificially implementing a quota like Germany is considering.

    Lastly, I think there’s something to be said for violence, both as an expression of power, and for political/religious change (Nelson Mandela and his wife being examples of the latter).

  3. Excellent subject matter! I would enjoy a discussion of the ethics of war over a Nantucket Nectars when you are in town. I’ll buy.

    I wholeheartedly agree that a better male-female balance would be very beneficial for the world. Unfortunately, that’s been anathema for about 1750 years in the Catholic Church, and as a result you’re left to begin the discussion with “a massive re-education….” That simply does not happen–fundamental re-education is generally accomplished over time, and I’m not talking about a decade or two.

    I just deleted a bunch of philosophical blather in favor of this: cookies and pretzels are universal good things. Unless your universe is gluten- or casein-free, I guess. (Blather is apparently unavoidable.). Anyway, glad you’re getting your fill.

  4. Ha, good old Nantucket Nectars. I actually drink black coffee pretty regularly now.

    Some of my own unavoidable blather real quick:

    I think the Catholic Church (and other versions of Christianity) are as much a cause as an effect of our ideas. If the Church has a particular view on sex roles, then it must have originiated from something innate in us. Examining pre-Christian European traditions might be good indicators. My suspicion is that the evolution of Christianity slowly paved the way for humanism to supersede religiosity, so that it acts as the link between identity/tradition/hierarchy and pluralism/multiculturalism/democracy. I don’t think that most practicing Christians necessarily think this way, but without Christian influence I doubt modern equalism would have the priority in the Western mind that it now has.

    About re-education, we can see mass media influencing people’s ideas every day. I don’t know whether that satisfies what you mean by “over time.” TV, movies, music, etc. influence children and adults, and these ideas are re-encountered in schools and universities so that families cannot pass their views onto their offspring unadulterated anymore. Commercials, entertainment, and news media invade our subconscious minds into our dreams. The mood-altering chemicals released by the brain when hearing music can make bizarre or dangerous concepts seem desirable and comforting.

    Basically I think that any explanation for why cultures are organized a particular way (especially when we’re critical of it) needs to explain the earliest causes for them as possible, rather than start searching somewhere in the middle. This is where sociology runs into a huge problem: if things like race, religion, class, and gender are social constructs, then what invented the perception of them in the first place? Once you identify a first cause (such as concrete biological differences), then taking that cause to its logical conclusion means that it affects everything all the way down the line.

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