What Is a Just War?

Nguyễn Thanh Phương (viết năm 17 tuổi, năm thứ nhất Đại học)


Đôi lời về tác giả: Tác giả được sinh ra tại Tây Đức. H́nh của tác giả lúc 17 tuổi (năm 2005), trưởng phái đoàn gồm 8 sinh viên Đại học tại Mỹ, đang trước microphone của bục thuyết tŕnh, tŕnh bày về đề tài nghiên cứu của ḿnh trong Đại Hội National Model United Nations (http://www.nmun.org) tại New York ngày 22 tháng 3 năm 2005. Đề tài do Liên Hiệp Quốc đưa ra đại cương “LHQ nên giúp đ quốc gia Madagascar, Nam Phi như thế nào để quốc gia đó có thể phát triển?”. Đề tài nầy có khoảng 650 sinh viên và giáo sư tham dự với sự tán thưởng của tham dự viên dành cho thuyết tŕnh viên.

Năm 20 tuổi tốt nghiệp ưu hạng (cum laude) tại New York University.


Xin mời xem một bài viết trong Đại Học của Nguyễn Thanh Phương năm 17 tuổi:

What Is a Just War?

For many years, people have been trying to define a justified war. War opponents argue that war has to be the last choice. However, sometimes a nation cannot wait to use war as the last choice but has to act before it is too late. A last choice can never be certain, and, therefore, can never decide when the last is. Where would be the last point on a vicious cycle?  If a nation can not decide when the last step has come and keeps pushing the conflict away, is the nation going to be responsible for the consequences? For example, the US declared neutrality at the beginning of World War I. The US negotiated with Germany in the hope to avoid war, a delay that increased the severity of the war. However, the US had to declare war on the Triple Alliance when Germany was violating all treaties. World War I was one of the most devastating wars with twenty million casualties. One might ask if this number could have been significantly reduced if the US had entered the war earlier. Instead, the US had waited until the threat was in front of the door. Galston, a professor of the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at the University of Maryland, states the four criteria to go to war, “These criteria are: (1) The severity of the threat; (2) the degree of probability of the threat; (3) the imminence of the threat; and (4) the cost of delay” (Galston, 683). All these criteria are concerned with the defense of the country. I believe that war is justified as long as the objection is to defend a nation. It is a worthy effort to examine the reasons why a nation goes to war.

Again, in World War II the US showed the same policy of non-involvement until the threat was on its own doorsteps. This time it was Pearl Harbor that suffered a surprise attack by Japan on December 7, 1941. Yet, this war was not unjustified. What would have happened when Japan took over Pearl Harbor to build their military base and attack the main land of the US from there, killing millions of civilians? In an effort to save lives of American soldiers, who were prepared for a bloody invasion of Japan, the US chose to drop atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing 200,000 to 300,000 people. One might argue that this violated all humanitarian rights because of the civilians’ death rate. These brought Japan to surrender and ended war in the Pacific. Opposers argue that a war should never involve civilians. Then, how would they respond to the fact when Japan took rice plants from the Vietnamese people to have fuel for their railroads and thus, let thousands of Vietnamese people starve? Japan was not even in war with the Vietnamese people, yet, they were the victims. In addition, the long time effects of the attack on Hiroshima were significant. Japan, Italy and Germany were in an alliance, the so called Triple and wouldn’t the US have stopped Japan, Japan and its alliances would have become enormously powerful and emerged to a threat to not only the US but also the rest of the world.

One might question the involvement of the US in the Vietnam War as well. Was this a justified war for the Americans? It was justified because it was not only a military war but also an economic war. According to Galston’s severity of the threat there was a clash of capitalism versus communism. One might ask if an economic war is a threat to a country.  Surely, it would not involve casualties dying on the combat field but if the country cannot feed its people because of the economic isolation then it would be the same outcome as in a military war: Deaths, not because of weapons but because of starvation. North Vietnam was communistic and wanted to conquer South Vietnam. The US stepped in, in order to stop the spread of communism, a movement that threatened to take away the democracy in the South. The support for North Vietnam probably came from China and Russia, the leading communistic forces. It was also a war for humanitarian and freedom purposes for nations which were suppressed. There was the possibility that the communists conquered South Vietnam, then the Philippines, and maybe Australia would follow, a so-called domino effect. This would have been a long time effect with major consequences for the capitalistic and democratic world. At that point the communists might have just blocked and controlled all trades between other countries and some nations would starve. The main ideal of communism is to conquer the whole world. Even though that the US did not win this war, they weakened the North Vietnamese military base and probably defended itself and many other nations in the end. The reason why the domino effect did not occur is because the communists had internal conflicts in their communistic beliefs and goals and, therefore, did not pursue their imperialism. The majority of South Vietnamese people welcomed Americans during the war. They believed that they had the right to independence, and even today, Vietnamese refugees all over the world show their greatest appreciation for the sacrifices the US and their alliance made for South Vietnam. Vietnamese refugees are still protesting against the communistic regime in Vietnam from outside of their home country. My father, a former South Vietnamese naval officer, is proud to assert: “I will be always thankful for the support of the Americans in the fight for the right of Vietnamese people to live in freedom.”

There is a difference between starting a war for the reason of imperialism, which is the imposition of control over other people through annexation, military conquest or economic denomination, and starting one because of the desire to change the unjust government and the support to help to rebuild a nation after war (Divine, 520). The history of the US should observe that the US had played a major role in rebuilding the countries with which they fought. Japan, South Korea and Germany are examples of defeated nations became very powerful economically and politically.

A recent topic would be the war in Iraq. One might say that the war with Iraq provoked disagreement between allies such as Germany and France against the US. However, the disagreement ignores the danger which the country is placed. Whom did terrorists attack on 9/11? European countries were not attacked, and, therefore, barely had any need to defend themselves. Should the US wait until the terrorists are on its door steps before it would defend itself? The US had to consider the imminence and probability of the threat as mentioned in Galston’s criteria. If the US saw Iraq as the base of terrorism, where military weapons and funding for terrorism came from, whose government aided Al Qaeda and trained terrorists, then the war is justified because it is for the nation’s own defense. Galston states: “The risks of inaction are far greater than the risks of action” (Galston, 679).

For example, the US did not open fire on Cuba because it saw no threat in Cuba. People often argue that a country should negotiate as much as it can but people often forget that negotiations are only possible with two equal partners involved. This means that the other person needs to have the same norms and morals. What sense would it make to negotiate with a party that believes that a man’s life is worth no more then a dime?

Again, taking into consideration all these aspects of a just war the US has been pursuing a just course when the war is to defend the nation. There have to be sacrifices no matter what. No one likes to go to war and have sons, fathers and brothers die on the field. Sadly, this is often the only way to have peace. Ironically, Woodrow Wilson once described World War I as “war to end all wars” (Divine, 650). History has proven him wrong. War appears to be part of the human condition and a country has to be vigilant to defend itself if it is to continue to exist.
Nguyễn Thanh Phương


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