Do leaders use psychology when justifying military action to their electorate?
A leading authority on deciding whether a war can be ‘just’ explains whether the Western fight against Islamic State, is indeed a ‘Just War’ and to what extent psychology is involved in how we get involved in ‘just wars.’
Is this battle being sold by politicians to the public as ‘just’ or ‘moral’, exploiting the understandably strong emotions in the wake of the Paris atrocities, when, in fact, a more dispassionate analysis might suggest it’s still possible such a conflict could escalate into an unjust war?
Do we need to understand the psychology of anger and rage about the terrible and murderous attacks in Paris in order to see through the propaganda from both sides, and come to a clear conclusion?
Does an attempt at a more reasoned analysis about a war against Islamic State seem provocative and unfeeling, when our emotions are understandably heightened following the sorrow and grief of the Paris victims?
Does the natural need for retaliation and revenge involve a psychological reaction to feeling vulnerable?
Do we seek military solutions to re-establish a sense of power and control? But might the craving for a temporary ‘psychological fix’ end up causing more problems, and yet even more innocent victims, on both sides, in the longer term?
Who Decides a War is Just?
Nicholas Fotion, professor of philosophy at Emory University in Atlanta has published a book entitled, “War and Ethics – a New Just War Theory,” published by Bloomsbury Atlantic and a chapter entitled ‘Just War Theory’ in the ‘Encyclopaedia of Applied Ethics.’
Professor Fotion points out arguments over whether a war is just seem to have existed perhaps as long as wars have endured.
In a sense, both sides always believe their fight is ‘moral’ or just, but who, in fact, is right when it comes to deciding that a war is ‘just’, and how can we work this out definitively for ourselves?
Professor Fotion argues that attempts to define a ‘just war’ date back to Confucius (552–479 BC). In a surprisingly prophetic analysis, which appears to have anticipated current parts of the Middle East conflict, when asked what to do if a rebellion break outs in a province of a country, Confucius declared that an emperor should dispatch virtue rather than soldiers.
The ancient Chinese philosopher was arguing that a ‘just’ response to a conflict requires a coherent analysis as to causes.
Confucius was contending that as rebellion most likely was triggered by exploitation and brutality from local leaders, the remedy then was not to inflict even more harm by crushing the rebellion, but rather, to replace bad rulers with virtuous ones.
Deciding whether Western military intervention in the Middle East is just, partly hinges on your view of whether the West installs one bad leader after another, with little concern on the impact on local populations. Or whether in the long run, corrupt governance is replaced with better.
This outcome of such warfare crucially determines whether battles like this are ‘just.’