The Morality of Total War

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
23,558
SoCal
War has rules for reasons. Oppoents rarely disagreed entirely about how tings hsuld function andthere is often agreement about wider power staructures and society even if there is disagreememnt about who hold what posts or posistiuons. War becames for expensive if the losing side keeps mobilizing resources and must be utterly defeated. Almost all wars end in political settlement. If the enemy will not be taken prisoner and they and victories became much more expensive. people will be reluctant to support a regime that makes all of them expendable. Once civislians are legimate targets why should the enemy play by the rules,. How do find who9 is actually the enemy, if just keep killing mostly civilians , your regime will make more enimies.
You are absolutely correct that once one side chooses to ignore the rules of war, the other side could become more likely to likewise ignore the rules of war. This is sort of similar to international law, where if one party chooses to ignore or disregard it, well, other parties might also become more tempted to disregard it if they will feel that they will have a sufficiently good reason to do so.

BTW, would you classify World War II as the exception to the rule in regards to wars ending in a negotiated peace?
 

pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
9,974
You are absolutely correct that once one side chooses to ignore the rules of war, the other side could become more likely to likewise ignore the rules of war. This is sort of similar to international law, where if one party chooses to ignore or disregard it, well, other parties might also become more tempted to disregard it if they will feel that they will have a sufficiently good reason to do so.

BTW, would you classify World War II as the exception to the rule in regards to wars ending in a negotiated peace?
At the End of the WW2 there was a formal surrender. The loses accepted that they had been defeated. There was agreement that conflict would move to a political settlement. The Germans and the Japans accepted an occupation, rather than having one imposed.

There was some agreement that ended the German and Japanese wars, There could have been refusal to accpet that and a move to gurilla warfare and the breakdown of society, but both regimes chose to accpet defeat and occupation.
 
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sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
5,648
Sydney
Both Germany and Japan surrendered unconditionally ,
they were under foreign occupation , being clearly understood that their fate was in the hands of the victors
 
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Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
6,097
Whether total war can be morally justified would be tied to the concept of just wars. And mostly wars of defense tend to be justified by common agreement.

A lot of modern total war issues could be generated by situations where weaker actors clearly identify that in order to deter stronger rivals/enemies etc. they can/need to tailor their military preparedness in such a way as to make it a society encompassing effort. Ability to do that is a feature of the sheer control over people, means and territory modern societies can achieve in ways that was previously not possible.

So then it would boil down to why the war started? Is the defending side the victim of an unjustified aggression, for whatever reason, but has put its entire society on a war footing to hopefully deter, but if that fails confront, a stronger adversary? Or is there more afoot behind why the conflict started?
 
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Tercios Espanoles

Ad Honorem
Mar 2014
6,706
Beneath a cold sun, a grey sun, a Heretic sun...
"War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it; the crueler it is, the sooner it will be over." - WT Sherman
"War. The only thing that matters is you win. You bloody well *win*! And then to hell with it." - Sir A. Harris

And my personal favourite, from the movie "Bomber Harris":

"So therefore, it is not a question of ethics at all. War is NOT the opposite of peace, nor is it a corollary of it. War is a complete breakdown in civilization, so it shouldn't have "ethics" thrust upon it. Because that way lies danger; that way, war becomes acceptable! The means of death and destruction are immaterial, war was always war, the only difference today is the scale of it! So, when this war is finally over, the world should accept that there is no limit; there are no "Hague Rules of Combat" anymore! The worse war is, the more savage it becomes! When people understand this, and stop trying to limit it, then perhaps, we shall achieve lasting peace!" - Wing Commander Harry Weldon
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
6,097
"There are always those who want to make war more terrible than it necessarily has to be" – French WWII ace Pierre Clostermann
 
Nov 2016
1,592
Germany
"War is a complete breakdown in civilization, so it shouldn't have "ethics" thrust upon it. Because that way lies danger; that way, war becomes acceptable! The means of death and destruction are immaterial, war was always war, the only difference today is the scale of it! So, when this war is finally over, the world should accept that there is no limit; there are no "Hague Rules of Combat" anymore! The worse war is, the more savage it becomes! When people understand this, and stop trying to limit it, then perhaps, we shall achieve lasting peace!" - Wing Commander Harry Weldon
Unfortunately this is a wrong logic. To allow wars to get completely out of hand, in the hope that this will lead to an omnipresent insight into the senselessness of war, is, frankly, naive, and moreover, very negligent, not to say involuntarily cynical. For in this way, the fanatics of violence, whom one would actually like to fight, are finally given free play, according to the motto: "Do what you like, and do it as thoroughly as possible!" Absurd...

Would Weldon have taken responsibility for the victims that would be caused by the abolition of war regulation if his plan were followed? I don't think so.

War cannot be abolished by maximizing it. The only remedy would be to eliminate the causes of war - and that seems to be impossible. The situation in the Middle East is one of many proofs of this.

Another factor that promotes war is the arms exports of (mostly) democratic countries by companies that have a strong lobby with the governments. The USA is the leader, supplying arms to 98 countries, half of them to the Middle East. The next countries in the top 5 are Russia (not democratic), Germany (e.g. to Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Egypt, India, Kuwait, Qatar), France and China (not democratic). All 5 countries together account for 3/4 of the international arms trade.

 
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Tercios Espanoles

Ad Honorem
Mar 2014
6,706
Beneath a cold sun, a grey sun, a Heretic sun...
War cannot be abolished by maximizing it...
Nor can it be won if your enemy doesn't happen to abide by your arbitrary self-imposed "rules".

More on point: Civilians make the weapons. Civilians are the pool from which soldiers come. Civilians pay the taxes which support the state, which controls the military. Civilians are legitimate targets.
 

caldrail

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
5,357
Is war immoral? Only if you consider it so.

Is war subject to rules? Only if they are agreed upon.

Is total war justifiable? Only to the victors.

Warfare is our human extension of primeval aggressive behaviours and social instincts. it's part of us. However much we pity the fallen, the wounded, the innocent, or revile those who choose to wage war, we cannot avoid it because our tribalism demands confrontation for gain or survival. personally I think war is a terrible thing. yet I spend a great deal of time reading about it, learning about the warriors, the weapons, and the wars they took part in. I feel no qualms about that. I own replica weaponry. Some of my colleagues have berated me for that alone, considering them a sort of manhood iconography, but really I'm just interested in the mechanisms of warfare, not the embodiment of it.