Can modern war ever be moral?

Tarek Hassan
Political and Social

Another pertinent question left over from the sixties and from the Nuremberg trials :

Can modern war ever be moral ? Can it be legitimate ?

Unrelsoved issues ?


Is it time yet to equate civilisation with non-violence and with the abrogation of arms as instruments of conflict resolution or of policy? Is the cummulative vision of our race ready for this natural definition of civilisation ?


One of the most serious challenges in to the avowed conceptual behavioural frame of many of the human  purportedly civilised social, political philosophical and religious institutions and value systems,  is the continuation in human history of war as an instrument of policy, a decider of right and wrong in conflict and as a keeper of "peace".


This decision-by-war pattern continued even after the industrial revolution gave birth to mechanised machinery and instruments for systematic impersonal killing and then instruments and mechanisms for systematised impersonal, mass killing and destruction.


Mass impersonal killing is an issue that needed to be addressed at Nuremberg after the second world war. All civilised peoples needed, according to their avowed value systems to address seriously the challenge posed by the capability of mass impersonal killing of soldiers and civilians in War. There were -and still there are- many pertinent unanswered questions.


Indeed it is an issue that needed to be seriously addressed and resolved since the first mechanised progressively impersonal wars after the industrial revolution. 


A mystery that never ceases to shock, challenge and amaze!


It is an interesting mystery how this moment of self searching was delayed. The issues relating to systematised and mechanised -and later computerised and automated- mass impersonal killing needed to be reconciled with the purported value systems and with the major religions.


The West brandishes with great pride that it helped give birth to the individual and individuality .


Together with the parallel difficult issues emanating from the question of individual responsibility to ones' own conscious and perception in relation to orders from above, these issues were brought up at Nuremberg and they were also periodically brought up in relation to the Berlin Wall. More recently orders from above contrary to the individual’s conscience were for the first time questioned and the right to refrain from executing orders was legalized. The orders from superior officers to shoot escapees across the Berlin wall, and the mere execution of these orders by conscripts who received them were not deemed acceptable defense to excuse the conscript soldiers who simply obeyed the orders of their superiors. The soldiers were convicted the soldiers obeying orders were convicted!  I find it is an historic moment in human social evolution.  Amazingly this historic moment is underplayed by the media and by governments and armies.


Civilisation is a quality that is entirely incompatible with impersonal killing, it is incompatible with mass impersonal killing. We can not escape this irksome fact! We should rather strive to make it a reality without undermining peace or security. In other words new means for peace and security have to be discovered practiced and put into operation. This is what we should apply our creative civilised ingenuity and invention towards. It is naive to equate nonviolence with submission to the violent and aggressive.  None violence carries with it the absolute conviction and the absolute condemnation of violence from within or from without that is to say from others. None violence is active, affirmative, pre-emptive and preventive it is not submission but it is affirmation of civilisation and of humanity. 


These are some of the major issues that should have been tackled and resolved after the tragedies of the first and second world wars.  Progress has been made but much more progress is needed. They should and could have prevented us sliding into a 21st century of wars without limits and without strategies for resolution.


In general after the advent of post-industrial modern warfare. The issue of the unacceptability of war as instrument of conflict resolution after the advent of instruments of impersonal killing, is one of the issues that needed resolution at the Nuremberg trials and were not. The issue of personal and group responsibility towards life and earth and in relation to the unacceptability of impersonal killing is still largely avoided, but it is creeping progressively into human social awareness. The absolute in morality of impersonal killing and mass impersonal killing is a reality avoided by all the religious leaders of the world.  If they touched upon it at all and they touched shyly and hesitantly and make no stance that can be described as effective.  Perhaps there is the justification that unilateral declarations or conditions are too threatening.  This calls for intensive inter-religious negotiation between all the leaders of the major religions of the world today.  A unified synchronous stance is necessary to help politicians, decision makers and weapons makers and war mongers wake up!


Is man/woman the individual responsible or is he/she not?  What are the determinants and the limits of that responsibility? 


It is not surprising that these fundamental issues have never been seriously addressed let alone transcended by mechanisms for acceptable alternatives, thus leaving this inexplicable contradiction in the quasi-civilised status of modern man.   The peak century of human civilisation, the twentieth, is at the same time quantitatively the bloodiest and most violent century in human history in ter