Essay on Principles of Just War Theory. When Are Wars Morally Justified, and How Should They Be Fought?

Published: 2021/11/18
Number of words: 614

The just war theory refers to moral and legal reasons that are used by countries to justify going into war. However, not all countries subscribe to the Just War Theory; for instance, Nazi Germany. The USA is one of the countries that subscribe to the Just War Theory; all of USA war actions have been based on this theory. According to the Just War Theory, when states go into war, this should be because of a just cause, just intention, just authority, and last resort (May 227). Further, the right conduct of war entails discrimination, proportionality, and responsibility. In the Fog of War documentary, Robert McNamara discusses 11 lessons he learned as a soldier, which are all linked to Just War Theory’s principles.

Need an essay assistance?
Our professional writers are here to help you.
Place an order

Arguably, one of the main principles of Just War Theory is that proportionality should underpin wars. This means that when are nations are going into war, they should not employ force or cause harm and damages that surpasses ethical and strategic benefits. Principally, this means that states should use the minimum amount of force required to achieve legitimate objectives and aims (May 228). In the Fog of War, McNamara utilizes the principle of proportionality when evaluating USA’s decision to drop two atomic bombs on Japan. According to McNamara, by the time the USA dropped the atomic bombs, most Japanese cities had been significantly destroyed; for instance, 51% of Tokyo had already been destroyed. However, McNamara further points out that if the USA had lost the war, they would have been convicted as war criminals. In this regard, the decision to drop the two atomic bombs was necessary to achieve the USA’s strategic aims and objectives.

Moreover, according to the principle of just war theory, war should be the last resort. Essentially, this means nations should only go into war only after they have exhausted all non-violent measures (May 230). Undoubtedly, this can be linked to McNamara’s first lesson of war, empathize with your enemy. In the Cuban Missile crisis, the USA almost came close to a nuclear war. In particular, the USSR had sent the USA two messages. Firstly, the USSR promised to remove Cuban missiles if the USA did not invade Cuba. Secondly, the USA stated that it would retaliate with massive force if the USA invaded Cuba. Reluctantly, the USA promised not to invade Cuba, and the USSR removed the missiles. Herein, the USA tried other methods before resorting to war.

Worry about your grades?
See how we can help you with our essay writing service.

Lastly, nations should go into war only when they seek to redress a wrong/injury they have suffered. Nations are justified to go into war when they are under a threat of attack from other countries (McMahan 94). In the Fog of War, this is one of the critical lessons that McNamara shares. In particular, McNamara posits that, in some cases, individuals have to engage in evil to achieve good results. In the case of states, the citizens may not fully understand. Partly, this explains why when McNamara was the secretary of defense, he sympathized with anti-war protesters severally.

In summary, it has got observed that in curating the eleven lessons of war, McNamara was heavily influenced by the Principles of Just War Theory. Conceivably, this is expected as he was the secretary of defense for the USA, a nation that subscribes to the Just War Theory.


May, Larry. War crimes and just war. Cambridge University Press, 2007.

McMahan, Jeff. “The sources and status of just war principles.” Journal of Military Ethics 6.2 (2007): 91-106.

Morris, Errol, director. The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara. 2003

Cite this page

Choose cite format:
Online Chat Messenger Email
+44 800 520 0055