Is war for humanitarian reasons just? I say, yes.

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    Let’s say an individual is walking along and witnesses a man beating a child to death just because he can. I believe it is the individual’s ethical duty to defend any way necessary (including violence and even death) the life of that child. Would a libertarian, or an anarcho-capitalist disagree?

    Now let us consider the same situation only now we are witnessing a state oppressing (murdering) its own people (or even the people of a neighboring country unable to defend itself) and the U.S., which is clearly able to put a stop to this unethical behavior chooses to ignore it. Wouldn’t that be wrong? From what I understand libertarians would not go to war to defend people in another country. Why or how could defending the defenseless be an unjust reason for war? Or am I wrong about this aspect of libertarianism?


    If you see someone beating a child, then as a libertarian, I don’t see an issue with interfering, as this would not be the initiation of force against a peaceful person.

    However, you only have the right to use violence to stop the attack. You don’t have the right to inflict harm on innocent passersby in order to stop the attack. You would also not have the right to use force to make anyone else help you against their will. You certainly wouldn’t have the right to carpet bomb the whole neighborhood.

    This is where the trouble with having the United States go to war to stop the oppression of a horrible regime. The brunt of the attack will not be borne by the regime, but by the civilian population of the country at question. If you’re trying to help people, bombing them is not the best way to go.

    Then you have the issue of what will happen in the attacked country, which will tend to rally around its own flag against the invading US army.

    This is to say nothing of the massive theft in either taxation or inflation that will take place to pay for the war.

    Then there is the very real possibility that the US government might not be the most humanitarian organization in practice. It was exactly humanitarian purposes that the US claimed in the Spanish-American War. When the Spanish were driven out of the Philippines, the following US occupation was just as bad as the Spanish one was. 200,000+ innocent Filipinos were killed.

    So government war would be out on libertarian grounds, unless it was funded entirely through donations. Even then it’s shaky.

    Probably the best option would be something along the lines of letters of marque and reprisal. Privately-funded troops going in just after the leaders of the offending government.

    I think your question relies on war being extremely neat and precise. It is not.


    Thanks for your response.

    I would agree that a state does not have the authority to force people to personally fight in a war, but our military is voluntary so no problem there. However, your point that people are forced to pay for it is well taken, but Constitutionally the federal gov’t does have the authority to use tax dollars for war whether everyone likes it or not.

    No preemptive attacks? Even if you know the person/country is in the act of striking? If someone were about to hit me, i don’t think it would be unethical for me to attack first; especially if I think there was no way I would be able to defend myself without preemptively striking.

    War is messy, but I don’t think it’s that simple. In our hypothetical situation people are oppressed and killed if we do nothing and, if we do intervene, it is likely that some civilians will be accidentally killed. So isn’t the question which scenario has the least bad outcome? How to decide if intervening will be more just than not is another matter, but just the same, sometimes not doing anything would be worse.

    Your points about taxation and inflation to pay for the war are also well taken.

    So, what would be a just war fought by a state’s army and funded via taxation? Based on your previous response, i would guess none. But what if the U.S. was invaded?


    It’s very unlikely you could get a declaration of war to defend another country. Unless you did, it wouldn’t be constitutional.


    hello sheyboer,

    When you say ” beating a child to death just because he can” you have concocted a scenario in which the passerby has perfect information, right down to the motive. It would seem clear in such a case that ignoring this situation would be morally reprehensible. Ethical duty, lets change the scenario. You are walking by when you see not one but three men beating a child(outcome unclear), you are not sure of the motive, they are heavily armed, they are police. What does sheyboer do, no, really what do you do? Do you have an ethical duty to make a widow of your wife and deprive your children of a father? You can’t be sure of how this situation unfolds, maybe you become labeled a cop killer, maybe a martyr. Maybe as a martyr you encourage other people to stand up to corrupt cops, maybe this turns into a war between police and civilians.

    Governments use people to murder and oppress other people. Take two groups of people, oppressor and oppressed, put the oppressed in power, the outcome is not harmony. Whatever the truth behind a war they are all couched in terms of humanitarian. There is no such thing as a humanitarian war. You are talking about a large group of people who are lied to by a small group of people, convinced they are duty bound or otherwise fighting some perceived injustice, being murdered by another large group of people who have been lied to. As far as I know Hitler never gave a speech to his masses where he stated “my fellow Germans we are a bunch of sick effers, are you with me!”.

    What is a preemptive attack? Striking a flotilla amassing at your border is a defensive act. Bombing a country for making threats of war is preemptive. Killing foreign civilians is not humanitarian. If the US put an end to Israeli oppression of Palastinians , how do you think the remaining Jews fare in the aftermath?

    Oddly enough, I think I could concoct a scenario for a just war but it would not be humanitarian. Thanks for the post, interesting topic to think about.

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