Discussing War: A Key Distinction

Pragmatic vs. Principled Opposition To War

There is every difference in the world between opposing a war because it may be too costly or catastrophic for one's own side and opposing it on moral grounds. The pragmatic opponent might be heard uttering any of the following statements:

1. "The war is not in our best interests." (Who, by the way, is "our" in this sentence?)

2. "I don't want our men to come back in body bags." (What about the innocents killed on the other side? Isn't their life of commensurate value?)

3. "The war will cost way too much." (If it were cheap, would that then justify the loss of life?)

4. "By going to war, we'll only make more enemies and further jeopardize our own security." (If warring against another nation were widely lauded, would that then make the act morally justifiable?)

5. "___ is a brutal tyrant who poses a grave threat to the entire world." (The statement may be true or false, depending on the evidence, but even if true, several more links are needed in the reasoning chain to make a sound moral case for war. For instance, is killing tens of thousands of people morally acceptable just to rid one nation -- and indeed the world -- of a single despot? Can a given people "be liberated" if so many of their fellow citizens die? What is the nature of such "liberation," and by what criteria can one say that such "liberation" is "worth" the loss of so many lives? And what if the number of dead was closer to a few hundred instead of tens of thousands? Would the war effort then be more palatable?)


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