How far is killing in warfare more justifiable than other kinds of killing?
Whether killing is more justifiable in some circumstances than other depends on which stance one takes as regards to violence in general, violence as the means of conflict solving and whether killing in warfare is actually different to other kinds of killing. Pacifists believe that violence is always wrong and cannot be used to achieve any aim, even peace and justice. The just war theory believes that although undesirable, violence is sometimes justified and killing is inevitable. There are other circumstances in which it is legally permitted to kill; this includes cases of self defense, abortion and euthanasia. The supporters of animal rights would consider violent any sort of industry that kills animals for production; one has to consider whether war is any different.
Pacifism clearly states that killing is wrong. No cause or consequence can justify killing, and no provocation can ever be considered sufficient to retaliate with methods that may and do kill. Obviously, in this case killing in war is no different, except possibly even more atrocious merely due to the much higher death toll. There are different kinds of pacifists. Christian absolutists believe that violence can be overcome by suffering. Like Jesus, such pacifists reason that turning the other cheek can be more powerful and meaningful than any violence.
Political pacifists, such as Martin Luther King, have been notably successful in the past through non violent protest. For instance, the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott had hundreds of blacks avoid public transport in order to change the current segregation laws. Many were attacked; some had their houses bombed yet none retaliated violently, and eventually the segregation laws were suspended, and the movement gained massive publicity (largely due to the humanist method of protesting).
However, not all pacifists are Christians. In certain cases Utilitarians can adopt the pacifist position – if the outcome will result in the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people. However, if for instance the head of a certain state decides that depositing a tyrannical dictator will result in fewer people will experience suffering, then warfare is chosen. Such negative Utilitarians would argue that killing is justifiable in warfare only, because it is directed at less people feeling pain, and long term peace. However, other Utilitarians may argue that if we refuse to fight than we would set a better example, thus leading to non violent methods such as diplomacy becoming the norm, and more happiness for more people consequentially.
The followers of the Just War Theory would argue that killing can be justified if a violent and harmful state needs to be resisted. If it is legally tolerable to kill out of self defense then surely killing in warfare is perfectly justifiable. It too can be regarded as self defense, because the antagonist state is acting like a dangerous and unstable individual that must be liquidated to ensure the safety of others. Furthermore, not all Christians are pacifists. There are those who believe they must fight for their state because thus is God’s will and killing in warfare would be merely exercising God’s plan that punishes the wicked and granting those who do good forgiveness. Much of the Old Testament refers to warfare in positive terms, justifying killing in the name of higher purposes – ‘declare a Holy war, call the troops to arms’ (Joel 3:9)
But Jesus’ behavior and teaching in the New Testament it seems to suggest that killing is not the form of settling justice that God the loving Father originally intended. Rather, Jesus demonstrates that one should bear all the tests, however violent and cruel, because in the end God will restore justice, and those who suffered yet knew the truth would be rewarded in the afterlife.
‘Blessed are the peace-makers’ (Matthew 5:9) says Jesus, urging his followers to act out of self-sacrificial love. Groups such as the Quakers follow these teaching because they believe that violence generates nothing but further violence. Thus killing in warfare cannot be justified, since it eventually creates more evil. Christian pacifists promote the sacred value of human life. They would also be opposed to abortions and euthanasia for the same reason.
Yet, as Elizabeth Anscombe points out, we do not live in a non-violent world and pacifism is wrong because it denies one the right to protect themselves. Some Christians try to justify killing in terms of self defence. Walzer thinks that responding aggressively to an attack is the same as killing in self-defense, and thus is justifiable. Each state has the duty to protect its citizens and thus must have the right to militarily defend itself, but only if attacked. Killing is not wrong in the absolute sense, but is only allowed in particular circumstances. Thus, killing in warfare (presuming the war has a just cause) is more acceptable than other kinds of killing. This approach is called Christian Realism – recognizing the inevitability of warfare the followers if this approach argue that such killing is the lesser of two evils.
To conclude it can be said that killing in warfare can be justified above other forms of killing because it is aimed to prevent evil from dominating. However, the clear cut Pacifist position opposes all kinds of killing equally because it only leads to more harm caused. Alternatively, there are contingent positions – people who are against warfare in principle yet state that as the lesser of two evils, killing in violence can be justified.