What are the opinions of a secular person/atheist on war—is it ALWAYS wrong?

Posted: September 5th 2011

Reed Braden www

I think it’s a fallacy to claim that war is obviously wrong, because, well, it’s not that obvious to me. Do I think the largest army in the world occupying and decimating a third world nation for its natural resources is an ethical situation? Of course not. Do I think it might be ethical to wage war in Europe against a dictator who is slaughtering millions of innocent civilians and toppling lesser nations? If all other options have been exhausted, yes.

Ethics do not conform to dogmatic principles such as, “Murder is always wrong,” or, “War is always wrong.” There will always be power-mad rulers who start wars, and when a war is being fought against you, it’s downright unethical to passively sit back as your people are murdered and your property confiscated. A general rule of thumb for me is if you are the aggressor, you are acting unethically but if you are defending yourself, you are not being unethical (barring, of course, any unethical or unnecessary actions taken during the course of war).

No one maxim can proscribe an ethical diagnosis of all possible examples. All ethical problems should be analyzed on a case-by-case basis and not pigeonholed into a set list of rules.

Posted: September 22nd 2011

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bitbutter www

If war means large-scale military operations that can be expected to kill civilians (all major wars that I can think of in recent history have this character) then yes of course, war is obviously and always wrong.

Here’s Murray Rothbard, who’s views on war closely match my own:

Suppose that Jones, in the course of his “just war” against the ravages of Smith, should kill a few innocent people, and suppose that he should declaim, in defense of this murder, that he was simply acting on the slogan, “Give me liberty or give me death.” The absurdity of this “defense” should be evident at once, for the issue is not whether Jones was willing to risk death personally in his defensive struggle against Smith; the issue is whether he was willing to kill other people in pursuit of his legitimate end. For Jones was in truth acting on the completely indefensible slogan: “Give me liberty or give them death” — surely a far less noble battle cry.[3]

The libertarian’s basic attitude toward war must then be: It is legitimate to use violence against criminals in defense of one’s rights of person and property; it is completely impermissible to violate the rights of other innocent people. War, then, is only proper when the exercise of violence is rigorously limited to the individual criminals. We may judge for ourselves how many wars or conflicts in history have met this criterion.

Posted: September 6th 2011

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George Locke

We all fight to further our interests. When people stand in our way, we take action against them. The severity of that action depends on what we have to gain or lose and what it will cost to achieve our goals; we should also have empathy for those who oppose us. The humanitarian and economic costs of war are staggering, but there are cases when the stakes are high and other options are not viable.

Objections to war typically include assertions about the costs outweighing the benefits and the dehumanizing effects of war on participants and bystanders. However, it’s easy to imagine cases where not fighting would cause greater devastation and dehumanization. Nazi invasion comes to mind. Even if you think that World War II was not justified, you can always just imagine the Nazis being even worse. Nonviolence would be ridiculous if some group had the means and will to create unimaginable horror on a global scale. Categorical opposition to war appears unjustifiable.

On the other hand, it’s arguable that every war ever fought was wrong, that the conditions that justify war are so unlikely that war, while not wrong in principle, is wrong in fact. A pacifist may argue that hypothetical Uber-Nazis are poor evidence that actual standing armies, inevitably driven to justify their existence by creating and escalating armed conflicts, make us any safer.

I’m sympathetic toward this view, but I do think that genocide and mass-rape, for example, demand swift military intervention. I’m sick of the militarism that my home country, the US, shoves down my throat, but I don’t think the solution is to dissolve the Department of Defense.

Posted: September 6th 2011

See all questions answered by George Locke


There is no lone atheist position on whether war is right/wrong, just like there is no one theist position.

If you are looking for my opinion, here it is:

War is permissable in two cases:

The first is a direct threat to a country’s existence. If you are being invaded by the armed forces of another country, then it’s perfectly reasonable for you to resist forcefully. If you are being attacked in other ways, then it’s a judgement call. If another country is bombing you, then you have a right to do what you can to keep that from happening, but that may (or may not) include bombing the other country; it depends on the situation. For example, in WWII it was reasonable for the allies to bomb German military targets, but it’s a judgement call whether it was acceptable for them to firebomb Dresden.

The second case is when there is a United Nations resolution to intervene in a specific situation.

Posted: September 6th 2011

See all questions answered by Eric_PK


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