Michael WhiteWorld War One Was UnjustIt is difficult to call an entire war just or unjust, according to the specific criteria of just wartheory. The first World War was a complicated series of events involving many countries, each of whichhad its own motives and acted to preserve its perceived best interests. As a whole, the intentions andactions of the countries involved were mostly unjust, especially those of the Central Powers (Austria-Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire). Even the Allies' (Britain, France, Russia andlater Italy and the United States, among others) motives and conduct were sometimes questionable,though they have historically been regarded as having had the moral high ground. As people's historianHoward Zinn wrote, “no one since that day has been able to show that the war brought any gain forhumanity that would be worth one human life,”
much less the 15 million soldier and civilian deathsthat occurred.
The war was not a just war because it does not meet all the criteria of just war theory forthe justice of the start of the war, the conduct of the war, and the end of the war. Even though the Allies'actions were considerably more just, possibly even wholly just, when one examines the war as a whole,it does not meet every principle of just war theory, so it is not a just war.
Jus ad bellum
, literally “the justice of war,” deals with the morality of the start of the war, andWorld War One fails its criteria. The most important part of
jus ad bellum
is just cause. The aggressorswho started the war, mainly Austria-Hungary and Germany, did so for unjust causes. When Austria-
1 Zinn, Howard.
A People's History of the United States
. New York: HarperCollins, 2005. 359.2 White, Matthew. “Source List and Detailed Death Tolls for the Twentieth Century Hemoclysm.”<http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/warstat1.htm>