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It is difficult to call an entire war just or unjust, according to the specific criteria of just war theory. The first World War was a complicated series of events involving many countries, each of which had its own motives and acted to preserve its perceived best interests. As a whole, the intentions and actions 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 and later 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 historian Howard Zinn wrote, “no one since that day has been able to show that the war brought any gain for humanity that would be worth one human life,”1 much less the 15 million soldier and civilian deaths that occurred.2 The war was not a just war because it does not meet all the criteria of just war theory for the 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, and World War One fails its criteria. The most important part of jus ad bellum is just cause. The aggressors who started the war, mainly AustriaHungary 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>
Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28, 1914, its main reason was to punish Serbia for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria by Serbian nationalists. While an assassination of an heir to the throne could possibly be considered a just cause because it is a wrong received, it was not a just cause in this case because the assassination was carried out by the ultranationalist group the Black Hand, not the Serbian government or people. Though there was speculation about the Serbian government's role in the plot, there was never enough evidence to implicate the government, and certainly not enough to be a just cause for war. Also, AustriaHungary responded too quickly to be just; the government did not have sufficient evidence that Serbia was actually involved in the assassination before declaring war. By the time the Black Hand, a radical Serbian nationalist group, had been identified as the culprit in the assassination weeks later,3 war had already been declared, with the blame unjustly placed on Serbia in general. Even when AustriaHungary, in the July Ultimatum, made demands of Serbia that were extreme and unfulfillable, and Serbia unexpectedly agreed to all but one, AustriaHungary rejected anything but an unconditional acceptance of the ultimatum and attacked Serbia anyway. The ultimatum was merely an excuse to go to war. Regardless of whether the assassination might have been a just cause had the Serbian government been involved, AustriaHungary violated the jus ad bellum criteria of right intention: a state must fight a war only for a just cause, not for ulterior motives, even if the declared cause is just, which in the case of AustriaHungary it was not. AustriaHungary took advantage of the impossibility of the July Ultimatum and the general sympathy in their favor after the assassination to start an unjust war. AustriaHungary wanted both to punish Serbia and to stave off the threat to the AustroHungarian
3 Shackelford, Micheal. “The Black Hand.” <http://www.lib.byu.edu/~rdh/wwi/comment/blkhand.html>
empire from the panSlavist separatist movement that aimed to united ethnic Serbs and other Slavic peoples in Balkan states that were part of its empire. The increasing size and power of Serbia after the Balkan Wars threatened AustriaHungary.4 AustriaHungary began with an air bombardment of Belgrade, the Serbian capital, and Austria Hungary mobilized its troops for a ground attack, as did Russia, an ally of Serbia. Germany, having pledged beforehand to militarily support AustriaHungary's actions, responded by issuing an ultimatum to Russia that they stop mobilizing troops, which they did not do, so Germany declared war on Russia. So, within a matter of days, all the European powers except Italy had entered the conflict because of a complex network of alliances. At the same time, Germany was beginning to implement its Schlieffen Plan for rapid victory on the Western Front in France. Germany hoped to quickly defeat France so they could concentrate all their resources on Russia and avoid a difficult twofront war.5 The plan involved passing through neutral Belgium on the way to Paris. This caused Britain to enter the war because they were obligated to defend a neutral and independent Belgium under the 1839 Treaty of London.6 Britain also entered the war to aid its Triple Entente allies Russia and France, and because Britain and Germany had been in a naval arms race and Britain feared the affect of the German navy on its ports. To enter a war because of alliances and treaties is of questionable justification. It is not a just cause to attack a country from whom no wrong has been received. However, it is more justifiable to defend a country that has been attacked, as Russia and Britain did, than it is to help a country that is
4 “The Balkan Crises, 19031914.” <http://cnparm.home.texas.net/Wars/BalkanCrises/BalkanCrises00.htm> 5 “Schlieffen Plan.” <http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/FWWschlieffenP.htm> 6 “Primary Documents: Treaty of London, 1839.” <http://www.firstworldwar.com/source/london1839.htm>
attacking another, as Germany did with AustriaHungary. Also, Germany had no just reason to invade France; simply to knock France out of the war so Germany's resources could be concentrated on the Eastern Front is not a just cause. Another important component of jus ad bellum is proper authority and public declaration. Obviously, all the countries involved were sovereign states with the right to declare war. The reasons for going to war were made known to the public in all countries, but, the use of propaganda by all the states involved is troubling, and undermines the fact that the declarations of war were public. Though they knew otherwise, the leaders and military commanders promoted the belief that the war would be “over by Christmas” in order to make the war seem less serious and increase the number of enlistments. Also, there was a general lack of good reporting on the true nature of the war by the media, who were all too happy to selfcensor themselves.7 While these facts do not technically violate the proper authority and declaration criterion of jus ad bellum, they are troubling and worth noting. When the two remaining Allied powers entered the war, the belief in a quick and decisive war was gone; the German and French armies were already locked in a stalemate along the Western Front when Italy entered the war in 1915. Its main motive was to gain land from Austria on its northern border, certainly not a just cause. In the case of the United States, there has been much dispute. Some claim that the primary reason the U.S. went to war was to benefit its economy. On the other hand, the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic, as well as the Zimmermann telegram, in which the German chancellor entreated Mexico to attack the U.S., were enough just cause to enter the war. The seriousness of the threat is indicated by the fact that troops had previously been mobilized to
7 “Propaganda and World War One.” <http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/propaganda_and_world_war_one.htm>
the Mexican border in 1911 in case of an attack.8 Also, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson's long insistence on official American neutrality in the European conflict shows that declaring war was indeed a last resort, as it was not for any of the European powers. The Allied powers may have been mostly just in entering the war, but the aggressors, the Central Powers, were not, and therefore the war in general was not begun justly. Since a just war is an allor nothing affair, the failure of the war to meet the criteria of jus ad bellum alone makes it an unjust war. However, there were also many violations of jus in bello (justice in war) and jus post bellum (justice after war) that make World War One even more unjust. The first World War was the first total war, involving all aspects of every participant's national ability to wage war. Civilians made more sacrifices and felt the effect of the war more than ever before. It was also different than any previous war because of its use of chemical weapons such as nerve gas, on both sides. When it was effective, the poison gas, used in the trenches on the front lines, caused horrendous casualties, and was especially a psychological weapon. The use of chemical weapons is one important reason why the conduct of the war was unjust. Just war theory says that all international weapons treaties must be obeyed, and the use of chemical weapons had been outlawed by the Hague Convention of 1899,9 so their use in the war was unjust. Chemical weapons, however, caused a relatively small portion of the total casualties, and were not effectively used by either side. The most important reason that World War One does not meet the jus in bello criteria of a just war is the number of civilian casualties it resulted in on both sides.
8 Guichet, Joseph P. “An Analysis of the Zimmermann Telegram.” <http://www.loyno.edu/history/journal/1990 1/guichet.htm> 9 “Declaration on the Use of Projectiles the Object of Which is the Diffusion of Asphyxiating or Deleterious Gases; July 29, 1899.” Yale Law School. <http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/lawofwar/dec9902.htm>
Germany's UBoats killed many civilian merchants during the intermittent phases of unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic, and, especially at the end of the war, the Allied naval blockade of Germany resulted in unnecessary civilian deaths, even after the war had ended. Germany's use of unrestricted submarine warfare was an important reason for the United States' entry into the war, because it was overwhelmingly perceived as unjust by the public. A significant cause of civilian deaths was the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in 1915 by a German torpedo, killing 128 Americans and 1,198 total. There was massive outrage in America and Britain, but Wilson still kept the U.S. out of the war, and Germany agreed to stop unrestricted submarine warfare. However, when the Kaiser declared a resumption of the submarine blockade in 1917, it contributed to the decision to go to war. It can be argued that Germany was morally justified in sinking merchant ships and thereby killing civilians because the U.S., though officially neutral, was effectively acting as an ally of Great Britain by aiding her with supplies. It is true that the U.S. merchant ships aided Britain before entering the war, and in some cases even carried contraband, so the sinking of civilian ships may have been strategically or even morally correct. However, just war theory does not permit any direct targeting of civilians, so those actions were unjust according to just war theory. The Allies also killed civilians during the war. (In fact, there wouldn't have been any real difference between the justness of the conduct of the two sides were it not for the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Armenians by Turkey between 1914 and 1918 and the massacre of over a thousand Belgian civilians by the German army in August 1914.) Britain used her larger naval fleet to maintain a blockade of Germany for most of the war, cutting off food and resources with the aim of forcing Germany to surrender. While this strategy might have made good sense, it was not just because
it resulted in an estimated 763,000 deaths from starvation in Germany.10 What made the blockade particularly unjust is that it continued for months after the end of the war while the Treaty of Versailles was being negotiated, resulting in the unnecessary deaths of many more civilians. This is an example of the Allies' general failure to meet jus post bellum criteria after the war had ended. There was not enough discrimination between the leaders of Germany who started the war and the civilian population who bore the brunt of its terrible effects, and yet were punished even more by the Treaty of Versailles. First, the War Guilt Clause unfairly blamed only Germany and its allies. Germany and Austria Hungary may have been the major aggressors, but Serbia, Russia, and France all bore some responsibility for the war as well. Second, the Treaty of Versailles reflected the vengeful aims of the French more than the idealistic hopes of Wilson's Fourteen Points, or the more moderate British stance. The treaty did not help rebuild Germany, and in addition required that she pay $32 billion, which crippled its economy and led to the conditions that allowed a nationalist like Adolf Hitler to come to power. The treaty clearly violates the jus post bellum criteria of proportionality, by acting as an instrument of revenge; discrimination, by exacting that revenge on civilians; and compensation and rehabilitation, by requiring Germany to pay an enormous amount of restitution and doing nothing to help its economy. The Treaty of Versailles was the Allies' most unjust action of the war. Can any war be a just war according to just war theory? It is exceedingly difficult for any war to meet all the criteria of jus ad bellum, jus in bello, and jus post bellum, especially because there is rarely
10 White, Matthew. “Source List and Detailed Death Tolls for the Twentieth Century Hemoclysm.” <http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/warstat1.htm>
any war in which both sides have just cause to enter the war. Still, even only the Allies' conduct would not be considered just under a less strict interpretation of just war theory applied to only one side of the conflict because, while they may have been mostly just in their entrance and conduct of the war, they were mostly unjust in their postwar actions. Overall, World War One was unjust, and served no good purpose to the world.