100 years after the ‘war to end all wars’
One hundred years ago, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, The Great War came to an end. The war killed tens of millions of people. Some thought this would be the war to end war. They were wrong.
A League of Nations was formed. The Kellogg-Briand pact renounced war as an instrument of national policy. But by the 1930s, the world went back to war. With each passing decade, the machinery of death has become more efficient. The war dead of the 20th century are counted in the hundreds of millions.
And still the scourge of war afflicts us. This year 100,000 human beings have been killed in wars in Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. It might seem like good news to learn that the
body count is lower today. But even one death from senseless violence represents a moral failure.
Over the past millennia, scholars have clarified a moral theory known as the “just war theory.” War can be justified when it is fought for a just cause and as a last resort. War should be proportional. Civilians should be spared from harm. Prisoners should be respected. And so on.
This theory reflects a common-sense view that requires violence to be limited and justified. Its principles are reflected in international law and in various treaties and conventions. But the reality of war defies such abstract moralizing. Ethical judgment is overwhelmed by war fever. Politicians seek advantage. Nations vie for supremacy. Fear, hatred and propaganda overrule reason. And moral scruples are set aside.
The Ossuary of Douaumont, near Verdun, northeastern France, is pictured during ceremonies marking the centenary of the end of World War I .