9. War

1. Killing other human beings

children running from soldiers

As we have noted on several occasions in previous discussions, killing another human being would in general seem to be seriously prima facie morally wrong. One explanation of this fact is that human beings (that is, persons − see Section 2 of our discussion of abortion) would in general seem to have a serious right to life. (I say “in general,” since, as we will see, there might be reason to think that a person might forfeit his or her right to life under certain circumstances, in which case killing that person might not be so seriously prima facie morally wrong.)

(Side-note: In a side-note in Section 2 of our discussion of the question whether ethics is objective or subjective, I said the following.

Some philosophers would say [that when] declaring acting in some way to be merely prima facie morally wrong…you should make sure that you specify the circumstances in question, since an act − killing another human being, for example − may be prima facie morally wrong under some circumstances but not under others. This is a tricky matter, about which we need not concern ourselves. For simplicity, I will assume that, if acting in some way is ever prima facie morally wrong, then it will always be prima facie morally wrong. For example, if, as is surely true, there is ever some moral reason not to kill another human being, then there will always be some reason not to do so. Thus I will be assuming − controversially, I admit − that there is always some moral reason not to execute anyone, even someone who is a mass murderer. Notice how modest this simplifying assumption is, since it leaves entirely open whether there is stronger, countervailing moral reason to execute someone who is a mass murderer − an issue that we will discuss at some length later in the course.

Now, it might seem that what I have just said about the possibility of forfeiting a right to life contradicts this passage, since it might seem that it opens up the possibility that under some circumstances killing another human being might not be prima facie morally wrong at all. That is not what I intend. What my remark about forfeiture does open up is the possibility that, under some circumstances, killing another human being is not as seriously prima facie morally wrong as it usually is, that is, that the strength of the reason we normally have not to kill another person has, because of forfeiture, been weakened. I will continue to assume − controversially, I again admit − that there will always be some moral reason not to kill another person, even if that person has forfeited his or her right to life.)

In this part of the course, one question that we will spend a lot of time on is the question whether, under some circumstances, killing another human being can be overall morally justifiable despite the fact that doing so would in general seem to be seriously prima facie morally wrong. First, we will turn our attention to killing in time of war.

2. The distinction between combatants and noncombatants

It is often said that the distinction between combatants and noncombatants has great significance when it comes to justifying wartime killing. Noncombatants, it is claimed, lie beyond the pale. Why? Because they are simply innocent civilians who are not involved in the enemy’s warlike activities. Combatants, on the other hand, are fair game. It is they who are the real enemy.

This line of thinking has strong appeal. Consider the repugnance we typically feel for the kind of killing carried out by terrorists − for example, the killings committed by the terrorists on 9/11. Why do we find it so repugnant? Because the targets of the killing were innocent civilians. Such wanton, indiscriminate destruction of human life strikes us as beneath contempt.

Taken at face value, these remarks suggest the following two arguments:

Arg. 1: (1) Killing a human being who is not innocent is not seriously prima facie morally wrong.
(2) An enemy combatant is a human being who is not innocent.
(3) Killing an enemy combatant is not seriously prima facie morally wrong.


Arg. 2: (1) Killing a human being who is innocent is seriously prima facie morally wrong.
(2) An enemy noncombatant is an innocent human being.
(3) Killing an enemy noncombatant is seriously prima facie morally wrong.

Though valid, these arguments are deeply problematic.

Consider the first premise of Arg. 1. This is surely far too sweeping! Who among us is wholly innocent? Well, small children, perhaps, but beyond that… Of course, the question what precisely it is to be innocent or guilty of something is not at all straightforward, but one thing that is clear is that someone can be innocent in one respect while being guilty in another. You might never have committed assault and battery, for example, and so be innocent in that respect, yet you might well be guilty of having told a lie. But is being guilty of having told a lie sufficient reason to say that killing you would not be seriously prima facie morally wrong? Surely not. If being guilty of doing something renders killing you not seriously prima facie morally wrong (in virtue, perhaps, of your having forfeited your right to life because you did it), surely the something in question must be very serious − rape, perhaps, or murder. (This is an issue to which we’ll return when we discuss capital punishment.) For premise (1) to have any hope of plausibility, it will have to be qualified in some such way.

Now consider the second premise of Arg. 1. This, too, is surely far too sweeping. Even if we restrict our attention to cases in which our side is the “Good Side” and the enemy’s side is the “Bad Side” (an important issue to which we will return shortly), we cannot be confident that all enemy combatants are guilty in virtue of fighting for the Bad Side, for they may have an excuse for doing so. Think of 12-year-olds who have been forcibly conscripted into fighting for the enemy. Think of 20-year-olds with an IQ of 70.

dead soldiers
crying child

Consider next the first premise of Arg. 2. This may well seem reasonable, especially in light of the problems that we saw Thomson had when she tried to argue for a liberal view on abortion even while granting that the fetus is a person from conception on. But premise (2) is another matter. Certainly, many noncombatants may be innocent of any (relevant) wrongdoing, which, as just noted, is one reason why we regard terrorism with such repugnance. But this need not be true of all noncombatants. Some civilians may be ardent supporters and “enablers” of the enemy’s war effort without being actively engaged in it in military terms. For example, a banker may play a critical role in funding that effort.

Still, I do want to issue a cautionary note here. Even though it is possible for an enemy noncombatant to be guilty of playing some crucial role for the “Bad Side,” we should be very careful about claiming that this is so in any particular case. It is often very tempting to paint everyone on the enemy’s side with the same brush (think of our general attitude towards the Japanese during World War II), and this can lead to results that, from a moral point of view, are highly problematic (think of Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

***Here is a good place to stop and consider Question 1 on the Practice Questions for Module 5.***

3. Fullinwider on wartime killing

The common view that the distinction between combatants and noncombatants has great significance when it comes to justifying wartime killing is therefore not so easily defended. Nonetheless, Fullinwider does seek to defend it, not by appealing (as in Arg. 1 and Arg. 2) to the distinction between guilt and innocence, but on the basis of considerations having to do with the morality of self-defense. He does so by means of an analogy (see p. 31, right column – p. 32, left column). He asks us to consider a situation in which Smith shoots at Jones, who can save himself from death or serious injury only by shooting back and killing Smith. He claims that “the Principle of Self-Defense” justifies Jones’s killing Smith, regardless of whether Smith is innocent or guilty in respect of his attempt to kill Jones.

How could Smith be innocent in this matter? Fullinwider considers a number of possible ways of filling in the scenario. One way, on which I will comment below, is this. Some mobsters have kidnapped Smith’s children and have threatened to kill them unless Smith kills Jones. You might reasonably wonder whether this threat suffices to render Smith wholly innocent, but Fullinwider believes this to be an irrelevant consideration. He does so because, he claims, while the Principle of Self-Defense justifies Jones’s killing Smith, it does not justify his then turning his gun on the mobsters (if, say, they are parked across the street, unarmed, observing Smith’s attack on Jones) and killing them. Despite the fact that the mobsters bear far more guilt than Smith with respect to Smith’s attack on Jones, they would not be legitimate targets of retaliation. Thus, (relative) guilt and innocence are irrelevant when it comes to determining whom Jones may and whom he may not kill. The only relevant consideration is who poses the immediate threat. (See p. 32, both columns.)

The analogy should be clear. In time of war, it is enemy combatants who pose the immediate threat. Thus it is they who may be killed, regardless of whether they are guilty or innocent regarding the threat they pose. Enemy noncombatants may not be killed, again regardless of whether they bear any guilt for the threat posed by the combatants. (I should add here that Fullinwider is not opposed in principle to taking guilt and innocence into account when trying to figure out who may and who may not be killed. His opposition is based on the fact that there is no way in practice to ensure that only the guilty are killed. As he says on p. 34, the techniques of warfare are “too indiscriminate in their destruction” to ensure that only the guilty are killed. His article was written before the advent of “smart bombs,” but even so he is surely right ─ at least for the foreseeable future. No current weapon is so “smart” that it can be guaranteed to kill only its intended target and spare everyone else.)

***Here is a good place to stop and consider Questions 2 and 3 on the Practice Questions for Module 5.***

Fullinwider can thus be understood as making two arguments of Type I (arguments from analogy), as follows:

Arg. 3: (1) Under the circumstances depicted in the street scenario, Jones’s killing Smith is overall morally right.
(2) Jones’s killing Smith under the circumstances depicted in the street scenario is morally just like one’s killing an enemy combatant under typical wartime circumstances.
(3) Under typical wartime circumstances, one’s killing an enemy combatant is overall morally right.


Arg. 4: (1) Under the circumstances depicted in the street scenario, Jones’s killing the mobsters is overall morally wrong.
(2) Jones’s killing the mobsters under the circumstances depicted in the street scenario is morally just like one’s killing an enemy noncombatant under typical wartime circumstances.
(3) Under typical wartime circumstances, one’s killing an enemy noncombatant is overall morally wrong.

4. Critical evaluation of Fullinwider’s article

I will begin with a presentation of Alexander’s critique of Fullinwider’s article and then move on to my own critique of both.

Alexander’s critique:

In his commentary on Fullinwider’s article, Alexander does not take issue with Fullinwider’s appeal to the Principle of Self-Defense as a justification for killing in time of war, but he does criticize Fullinwider’s understanding of and application of this principle. It is notable that, although he invokes what he calls the Principle of Self-Defense, nowhere in his article does Fullinwider attempt to state explicitly just what he takes that principle to be. Alexander seeks to remedy this deficiency. His interpretation of this principle may be put as follows (see p. 36, both columns − clause (c) below combines Alexander’s third and fourth clauses):

Alexander’s version​ of the Principle of Self-Defense:
One person, Y, has a strong prima facie moral justification for killing another person, X, if Y perceives that
(a) Y’s well-being is at serious risk;
(b) Y’s killing X will reduce this risk; and
(c) Y cannot reduce (or eliminate) the risk by some other more desirable means.

This should have a familiar ring to it. What Alexander is trying to capture is the common idea that it is justifiable to kill someone in self-defense as long as doing so is a “last resort” and is “proportionate” to the threat that one faces. Clause (c) reflects the condition concerning a last resort, and all three clauses reflect the condition of proportionality.

What is noteworthy here is this. Once the principle has been explicitly laid out in this way, it is clear, Alexander believes, that in the street scenario it would be justifiable for Jones (= Y) to kill the mobsters (= X), given that the mobsters are causally implicated in the threat to Jones’s life and that this threat could be just as “desirably” eliminated in this way as by killing Smith. Here, “desirably eliminated” presumably covers both the fact that killing the mobsters would be as effective in eliminating the threat to Jones’s life as killing Smith would be − which, we may assume, is the case, since Smith is attacking Jones only because the mobsters are holding his children − and the fact that the mobsters bear at least as much guilt as Smith does for the threat on Jones’s life. In fact, if we assume that the mobsters bear more guilt than Smith for this threat and that killing them would be more effective in eliminating this threat than would killing Smith, then Alexander’s version of the Principle of Self-Defense justifies only Jones’s killing the mobsters; it does not also justify Jones’s killing Smith.

There are two significant implications of Alexander’s critique of Fullinwider’s position regarding wartime killing. Contrary to what Fullinwider claims, even if we confine our attention to the sort of killing that can be justified by appealing to the Principle of Self-Defense: first, we cannot ignore the distinction between guilt and innocence (since this can play a role in how desirable a certain means of reducing a risk may be); and secondly, and more importantly, we cannot draw the line between who may and who may not be killed simply in accordance with the line between combatants and noncombatants (since killing a noncombatant may on occasion be a more desirable means of reducing a risk than killing a combatant).

Just War Theory:

Alexander’s criticisms have some merit, but I find both his and Fullinwider’s treatments of killing in time of war unsatisfactory, in part because their focus on the Principle of Self-Defense is unduly restrictive. To see why, consider a philosophical tradition regarding the morality of wartime killing that has a long and rich history. It has come to be called “Just War Theory,” and it has roots both in ancient Greece and Rome and in early Christianity. I can only provide a very brief summary of its main features here, but that should be sufficient to reveal certain inadequacies in Fullinwider’s and Alexander’s discussions.

Regarding what is morally acceptable behavior related to war, Just War Theory distinguishes between three phases of war. First, there is jus ad bellum (Latin for “justice [with respect to going] to war”). Then there is jus in bello (Latin for “justice in [or during] war”). Finally, there is jus post bellum (Latin for “justice after war”). Regarding each phase, there are six conditions that must be satisfied in order for justice to be done. They may be summarized as follows:

(I) Jus ad ​bellum:
A state must ensure that it goes to war only
(1) for a just cause (that is, in defense of either itself or others from aggression);
(2) with a right intention;
(3) with the proper authority and by way of a public declaration;
(4) as a last resort;
(5) with a reasonable probability of success;
(6) if the benefits of doing so are proportional to the costs.
(II) Jus in​ bello:
A state must ensure that it
(1) obeys international law regarding the prohibition of certain weapons;
(2) does not target noncombatants;
(3) uses only force that is proportional to its goals;
(4) provides benevolent quarantine for prisoners of war;
(5) uses no weapons or methods that are mala in se (Latin for “evil in themselves”);
(6) makes no reprisals for violations of jus in bello.
(III) Jus post bellum:
A state must ensure that
(1) any peace settlement is reasonable for all parties and is publicly proclaimed;
(2) the rights of those for whom the war was fought are vindicated;
(3) proper discrimination is drawn between leaders, soldiers, and civilians with respect to punishment;
(4) due punishment of leaders and soldiers is carried out;
(5) due compensation is made to those who have been victimized by war;
(6) proper (re)construction of social institutions is carried out.

This is all pretty complicated. I will leave much of it aside. I want to make only a few points about only a few of the conditions just cited.

As indicated by clause (1) of (I), Just War Theory claims that only defensive wars are just (that is, that wars of aggression are unjust). This obviously provides some support for Fullinwider’s and Alexander’s focus on self-defense, and, in particular, clauses (4)-(6) of (I) find an echo in Alexander’s version of the Principle of Self-Defense. Nonetheless, I find their discussion of the morality of wartime killing inadequate for two reasons.

First, Fullinwider and Alexander overlook the issue of fighting in defense of some third party. Many wars have been (allegedly) fought for such a cause, and it is important not to ignore this fact.

Secondly, and more importantly, Fullinwider and Alexander entirely overlook the distinction between phase (I) and phase (II). Notice that there is no condition in phase (II) that requires killing only in self-defense, and for very good reason. Imagine that the enemy is transporting arms from one point to another in the dead of night. You and your comrades-in-arms come across the convoy. Before you fire on the enemy, must you make your presence known to them and wait until they fire upon you, so that then you will be acting in self-defense? That would be absurd − both dangerous and counterproductive. It seems clear that, even in what is properly construed as a defensive war, acts of aggression are sometimes justified. This is something that Fullinwider and Alexander wholly ignore.

Let me turn now to clause (2) of (II). Here we find mention of noncombatants, but notice that what is said is that there should be no targeting of such people. It doesn’t flat-out say that there should be no killing of such people. The difference is tricky but may be important. It has to do with the distinction between intending and foreseeing the consequences of one’s actions, a distinction which many people claim to have great moral significance. It is a distinction that underlies the common claim that “the end does not necessarily justify the means.” One way (but not the only way) to capture this idea is contained in what is known as the Principle of Double Effect, which can be formulated as follows:

The Principle of Double Effect:
An act that has a bad effect (or consequence) is overall morally justifiable only if it also has a good effect such that
(a) the good effect is intended,
(b) the bad effect is not intended as a means to the good effect, and
(c) the goodness of the good effect is not outweighed by the badness of the bad effect.

In the abstract, this principle may be hard to digest, so let me ask you to consider the following pair of cases, cases that provide an example of the principle in operation.

Case 1: The war has been going on for some time now, but you have finally found a way to bring it to an end. You have developed a powerful bomb which, if dropped on one of the enemy’s major cities, will kill 50,000 residents of that city and thereby demoralize the enemy to such an extent that they will immediately surrender.

Case 2: The war has been going on for some time now, but you have finally found a way to bring it to an end. You have developed a powerful bomb which, if dropped on one of the enemy’s major munitions factories, will destroy that factory and thereby render the enemy incapable of engaging in further warfare. The factory is located next to a city. If the bomb is dropped, 50,000 residents of that city will be killed.


Let us suppose that bringing the war to an end would in each case count as a “good effect” of dropping the bomb, while the deaths of 50,000 non-combatants would count as a “bad effect.” Would it be overall morally justifiable to drop the bomb? According to the Principle of Double Effect, that depends on which case we’re dealing with.

The principle gives an unequivocal answer in Case 1: No. The reason for this is that even though clause (a) and perhaps also clause (c) of the principle are satisfied, clause (b) is violated. No matter how good the “end” of the end of war may be, the 50,000 deaths would be intended as a means to that end.

The answer in Case 2, however, is: Maybe. In this case, both clause (a) and clause (b) are satisfied, and so whether dropping the bomb would be justified depends in part on whether clause (c) is satisfied. I won’t venture an opinion on this matter, for “weighing” the end of the war against the deaths of 50,000 noncombatants is surely a very tricky business.

Tricky or not, though, it’s a business that is in keeping with Just War Theory and also one that nations, including the United States, routinely engage in. As to Just War Theory: notice that in Case 1 the noncombatants are targeted, in contravention of clause (2) of (II). However, this is not true in Case 2; on the contrary, in that case the deaths of the noncombatants are merely “collateral damage” (what an awful phrase!) − foreseen, certainly, but not intended. As to the activities of nations like the United States: consider the recent use of drones in remote areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan to drop bombs on suspected terrorist hideouts. No matter how “smart” these weapons may be, it is almost always the case − and expected to be the case − that noncombatants, as well as combatants, will be among their victims.

Should we accept the Principle of Double Effect? More generally, should we hold that the distinction between what is intended and what is merely foreseen has, or can have, such great moral significance? Well, I’ll leave that to you to ponder. On the one hand, all noncombatants who have been killed are equally dead, whether their deaths were intended or “merely” foreseen, and, as we have noted, killing innocent civilians seems to be a terrible thing. On the other hand, if we refrained from all such killing, any warlike activity on our part would in almost all cases quickly grind to a halt. For there would seem to be few cases in which we could engage in such activity and yet be sure of not killing any innocent people.

You might wonder what the problem is supposed to be. Wouldn’t it be great if all war came to a halt? No doubt peace on earth would be highly desirable, but that’s not the point. If we refrain from engaging in warlike activity but our enemies do not, we’ll be in big trouble.

Let’s turn now from the killing of noncombatants to the killing of combatants. It’s noteworthy that neither Fullinwider nor Alexander pays any attention to the question of whose side is the “Good Side” and whose side is the “Bad Side.” It is of course common for each side to think that it is in the right, fighting for a just cause, but it is hard to see how that could ever, let alone always, really be the case. (According to clause (1) of (I), only a defensive war can serve a just cause. A defensive war is one that is waged in response to aggression. A war of aggression is not a defensive war. If that is right, at most one side can be in the right. However, there may be cases in which this simple view is too simple. There can be more than two sides in a war, and sometimes it is hard to know whether to characterize one side’s engagement in war as defensive or aggressive.) It would seem important, when trying to determine whether it would be justifiable to kill an enemy combatant, to take into account whether that person is fighting for a just cause. Could it really be the case that a soldier who is fighting on the Bad Side, i.e., not for a just cause, is nonetheless morally justified in killing an enemy combatant, someone who is fighting on the Good Side, i.e., for a just cause? (Note: my question concerns what such a soldier should do, not what he would do.)

To see the problem, consider again the street scenario in which Smith shoots at Jones and Jones shoots back. Fullinwider says that the justifiability of Jones’s shooting back doesn’t depend on whether Smith is guilty with respect to attacking Jones. But is that really the case? Suppose we extend the case as follows: in attempting to corner Jones, Smith has foolishly managed to get himself cornered, too, so that now the only way in which he can save himself from being killed by Jones is to fire back in turn. The situation looks like this:

Smith 1→ Jones

This figure is supposed to represent Smith’s shooting at Jones “in the first instance,” Jones’s shooting back “in the second instance,” and then Smith’s shooting back “in the third instance.” Let us suppose that Smith was not justified in shooting at Jones in the first instance. It then seems very plausible to say that Jones was justified in shooting at Smith in the second instance. But now what should we say about Smith’s shooting back at Jones in the third instance? Was that justified? There would seem to be good reason to say that it was not justified, precisely because his shooting in the first instance was not justified. Yet Fullinwider gives the impression that he would say that Smith’s shooting in the third instance was justified (I say this because he disavows any interest in the question of who is innocent or guilty in the matter and focuses only on whether shooting is necessary to keep oneself alive), and Alexander’s version of the Principle of Self-Defense would certainly seem to imply that Smith was justified in the third instance in shooting at Jones. (Why? Because (a) Smith’s well-being was at serious risk, (b) his killing Jones would reduce this risk, and, having boxed himself into a corner, (c) he could not reduce this risk by any other means, let alone any more desirable means.) This seems highly problematic. It seems more plausible (though admittedly it is controversial) to think that, in unjustifiably attacking Jones in the first instance, Smith forfeited his right to life; this forfeiture is what accounts for the justifiability of Jones’s shooting back at Smith. But, precisely because he was justified in shooting back, Jones did not forfeit his right to life; and, because of this non-forfeiture, Smith was not justified even in the third instance in shooting at Jones.

If this is an accurate diagnosis of such a case, the moral should be clear: a combatant fighting for a just cause may be justified in killing an enemy combatant in the name of self-defense, but, because that combatant would be fighting for an unjust cause, he would not be justified in shooting back.

If what I have said is correct, or even just close to being correct, we can see how complicated the morality of wartime killing really is. We cannot simply declare combatants “fair game” and noncombatants “off limits.” Nor can we, as both Fullinwider and Alexander appear to hope, simply ignore the question of whose side is in the right, fighting for a just cause.

In closing, let me note two further implications of Alexander’s version of the Principle of Self-Defense.

First, it seems that we can, and should, distinguish between self-defense and what we may call self-preservation. Suppose that you and Joe have been in a shipwreck and are now stranded on a desert island. You’re both close to starving. You have a pair of binoculars and can see that a ship is en route to rescuing you, but that it will take another 24 hours to reach you. You will both be dead by then, unless you can find something to eat. Joe goes out looking for food. You stay put, watching him through your binoculars. You see that, after having gone about 400 yards, Joe has found one last remaining coconut and is about to split it open and eat it. If he eats it, you’ll die − that’s the last coconut on the island, and you need the entire coconut to survive until rescue arrives. But you don’t have time to run over and try to stop Joe. As luck would have it, however, you have a rifle and you’re a crack shot. So, to stop Joe from eating the coconut, you take aim, shoot, and kill him. You then walk over and eat the coconut yourself.

Were you justified in killing Joe? Intuitions vary, but I think most people would say that you were not. True, his death was necessary for your self-preservation, but it would seem a stretch to say that you killed him (let alone that you were justified in killing him) in self-defense. Whatever terminology we use, however, it seems clear that Alexander’s version of the Principle of Self-“Defense” implies that you were justified in killing Joe. (Just try applying each of its clauses to this case, where Y is you and X is Joe. Again, we may assume that clause (c) is satisfied because you could not reduce the risk by any other means than by killing Joe.)

The second implication of Alexander’s version of the Principle of Self-Defense that I want to bring to your attention is this. It would seem to justify certain cases of what may be called “pre-emptive” or “first-strike” self-defense (as opposed to self-defense that is merely “retaliatory” or “second-strike,” as in Jones’s response to Smith). Suppose that Jane has bound you hand and foot and, in James-Bond-villain-like fashion, is slowly explaining what she’s going to do to you to make your life miserable. “See this gun here?” she says. “I’m loading the chamber now, bullet by bullet. Once I’ve done that, I’m going to shoot you in the kneecap. Once I’ve done that, I’m going to shoot you in the other kneecap. Then…” Jane doesn’t know that you are very flexible and have managed to get hold of a gun. You have no way to slip free from your bonds, but you can just manage to take a shot at her. Jane has just finished loading her gun and is slowly turning it towards your first kneecap, but you shoot and kill her first. Were you justified in doing so?

Presumably, the answer is Yes, even though your shooting her occurred before her aggression (other than her binding you hand and foot) had even begun. Alexander’s version of the Principle of Self-Defense would seem to be satisfied here, and it, too, would seem to imply that you would be justified in killing Jane. So, although I have criticized this version for a number of reasons, I’m not offering yet another objection here. I’m simply observing that it helps highlight what would seem to be an interesting fact, and that is that “defense” can sometimes occur prior to the aggression to which it is a (re)action and that such defense can apparently be justified under certain circumstances.

Having said that, I would warn against an over-reliance on this possibility. Although I think we should accept it as a real possibility, the fact is that it tends to blur the distinction between aggression and defense. Like all killing in self-defense, pre-emptive self-defense would have to count as a “last resort” to be justified, and the more time there is between pre-emptive defense and aggression, the less likely such defense will constitute a last resort; at some point, indeed, such pre-emptive action would seem to be more properly classified as aggressive rather than defensive.

line of tanks

For a case in point, consider the pretext for the United States’ going to war in Iraq. Even if the reports on Saddam’s program of weapons of mass destruction had been accurate, there was no indication that he would manage to get his hands on such weapons any time soon. There would seem to be little justification, then, in claiming the invasion of Iraq to have been a defensive action intended to pre-empt his use of such weapons, even though this claim has often been made.

***Here is a good place to stop and consider Questions 4, 5, 6, and 7 on the Practice Questions for Module 5.***

PHI 121