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Just And Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument With Historical Illustrations Paperback – Jul 26 2006

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Just And Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument With Historical Illustrations + The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War
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"A magnificent book, an honor to its writer... a book that makes for a return of civilised discussion of the question of the morality of war." New York Review of Books "A passionate defense of the old principle of non-combatant immunity... (He) is both thorough and persuasive in his exploration of a very intricate subject." Washington Post"

About the Author

Michael Walzer is Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey, and the author of many widely heralded books, including 'Spheres of Justice, Exodus and Revolution', and 'The Company of Critics', all available from Basic Books. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 16 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Very good. It defines some concepts which are absolutely essential in wartime and even before someone decides to go to war June 27 2007
By Dimitrios - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book is one of the most significant modern restatements of just war thinking and also a passionate defense of the old principle of noncombatant immunity. The author is both thorough and persuasive in his exploration of a very intricate subject, although some times he loses his objectivity, especially when he's treating the Israeli military responses to various challenges from state and non-state actors. Some other times he takes some sharp legalist turns whish are really difficult to follow. Of course there are many points which really impressed me with their clarity, fine logic and moral soundness: "The state that goes to war is, like our own, an enormous state, governed at a great distance from its ordinary citizens by powerful and often arrogant officials. These officials, or at least the leading among them, are chosen through democratic elections, but at the time of the choice very little is known about their programs and commitments. Political participation is occasional, intermittent, limited in its effects, and is mediated by a system for the distribution of news which is partially controlled by those distant officials and which in any case allows for considerable distortion". "Soldiers, it might be said, stand to civilians like a crew of a liner to its passengers". " I have argued that soldiers in combatcannot plead self-preservation when they violate the rules of war. For the dangers of enemy fire are simply the risks of the activity in which they are engaged, and the have no right to reduce those risks at the expense of other people who are not engaged".

In his afterword, Mr Walzer gives a chilling idea of how a population (even an unarmed one) can tear down and defeat an occupying force. "Nonviolence has been practiced (in the face of an invasion) only after violence, or the threat of violence has failed. Then its protagonists aim to deny the victorious army the fruits of its victory through a systematic policy of civilian resistance and noncooperation: they call upon the conquered people to make themselves ungovernable... They treat the aggressor in effect as a domestic tyrant or usurper, and they turn his soldiers into policemen". If you add to this recipe some dozens of IEDs daily, you have the nightmare of Iraq!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
De Morabilus Bellum - Regarding the Morality of War June 4 2012
By L. King - Published on
Format: Paperback
Erudite, scholarly, thoughtful and definitively relevant examination of codes of conduct wrt to going to war - jus ad bellum, and conduct in a war - jus in bello. Walzer's personal journey emerged first from his opposition to US actions in Vietnam but led to an examination of the pursuit of war from Thucydides to modernity.

War invites barbarism, breaking both law and permissibility. Against this Walzer notes that circumstances do allow for rules of engagement, for example chivalry, , respect for civilians, captured and injured opponents, appeals to necessity, treatment of hostages, relationship towards neutral parties. Action does not occur in a vacuum and context can make a difference. Walzer draws on emblematic historic examples such as the dilemmas embedded conflict, avoidance of total war, treatment of captives and civilian populations, who is or is not immune from attack (yes to weapons manufacturers, no to those packaging rations; surprising no to sentries who should be captured or driven in) and under what circumstances, and signalling that there are consequences of breaching the limits of moral behaviour. Walzer broaches the concept of pursuing the lesser evil with trepidation, confronting acts such as the creation of fire storms in German cities by Britain's Bomber Command as reprisals for German bombing of British cities, Hiroshima and the shooting of hostages as a signal to the enemy to stop a similar practice Particularly intriguing from a moral stance were the questions of strategy, for example the use of siege which seeks to break the will of opponent forces by burdening them with suffering of the resident population - does one funnel refugees to the besieged city, does one blockade food; do you respect neutrality (ie: the Scandinavian countries in WW II) when doing so favours one's opponent (the Germans sourced much of their ore from Norway.), and given that your opponent did not do the same when it was to their advantage? (Hitler's advance through Belgium.)

Walzer's ideas are very much of our time, one also see changes since publication in the late 1970s, a slight parallax, which sets him off from the ideas of the past and from the evolving view of the present, ie: while one starts with consideration of intervention there are those who would make it a right (RPT), a position most nations have treated with caution. Walzer is neither the first nor the last word but he is thorough and his ideas present an excellent framework for an ethical exploration of the political and military decisions from a Western POV. And at the end that he considers pacifism and non-violence. Not all viewpoints are discussed, for example he does not discuss the Hindu precepts of ethical war (dharma-yudda) but neither are there explorations considering the warrior ethics of the Mongols or native Americans, nor medieval justifications for war in pursuit of tribute.

The sections are well organized and the language is clear and understandable, making this a modern classic that one can expect to return to on the issues of war. The only improvement would be an edition with commentary and responses by other authors; alternatively this is the sort of book that lends itself, in the right hands, to college and university courses Highly recommended!
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Excellent All Around Dec 21 2012
By Curtis - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book really opened my eyes to the just war tradition. As a Christian, I went into this book a pacifist. This book, combined with Reinhold Niebuhr's refusal of an unjust peace, converted me to the qualifiers laid out in this work.

Walzer has done an excellent job being thorough and easy to understand. This is definitely a must-have on the topic of state violence, pacifism, terrorism, etc.
5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
This book is ultimately not very instructive about just war - Fourth Edition: Terrible wine in a new bottle Sept. 7 2014
By travb - Published on
Format: Paperback
At a lecture at West Point United States Military Academy April 6, 2006, Naom Chomsky argued, "Just war theory" literature "deserves special attention but is ultimately not very instructive about just war". "Just war theory" is "declarations of personal preference", which "never tells you anything. It doesn't tell you when it is proper to intervene, what it tells you is 'I think it is proper to intervene'...there is a big gap between assertion and argument, between surmise and evidence." "We learn very little about just war from 'Just war theory'" what we do learn is "mostly about the prevailing moral and intellectual climate in which we live." Walzer's book relies crucially on such premises as "Seems to me entirely justified, or I believe, or no doubt." Chomsky then discusses scientific studies on human behavior which is noticeably absent from Walzer's book.

Walzer uses the term "I think" at least 52 times in the book. "I don't think" 7 times. "I believe" twice, "no doubt" at least 41 times, and "seems to me" 12 times (I write "at least" because the same phrase twice on one page would be counted once.)

Walzer's hypocricy

In a book which suffers from terribly bad organization, on page 62 Walzer finally systematically lays out his arguments, stating that "Once the agressor state has been militarily repulsed, it can also be punished."

On December 29, 2005, in an interview on NPR Morning Edition ('Just and Unjust Wars' Author Critical on Iraq.) Walzer stated that the Iraq war was not a just war:

"If you are going to use military force in someone else's county...There has to be a cause of some urgency, a massacre in progress. A massacre in memory is not a just cause."

Therefore, if you follow Walzer's assertions to its obvious conclusion, the Iraq war was not a just war and therefore "the agressor state", the US, should "be punished."

But Walzer signed and endorsed The Euston Manifesto, which states in part:

"We are also united in the view that, since the day on which this occurred, the proper concern of genuine liberals and members of the Left should have been the battle to put in place in Iraq a democratic political order and to rebuild the country's infrastructure...rather than picking through the rubble of the arguments over intervention."

Therefore in Just and unjust wars, Walzer argues that "agressor states" should be "punished" but yet Walzer signs a document which criticize those who "pick through the rubble of the arguments over intervention."

Although the Iraq War is not covered in this book, Walzer's inconsistent views on the Iraq war should give serious students of International affairs pause before subscribing to his arguments. It is one mans opinion, full of statments such as "Seems to me entirely justified" "I believe" or "no doubt."

Walzer's arguments are unscientific rablings of one intellectual which are "ultimately not very instructive about just war".
Clear and insightful companion for any ethics of war classes! July 18 2013
By StriveForExcellence - Published on
Format: Paperback
Michael Walzer's Just and Unjust Wars is a book that clarifies many tenets of just war theory, whilst also going into enough depth to provide more than just a superficial explanation of philosophical principles. It is a good accompaniment for an ethics of war or global conflict class; providing sound and logical arguments which can be easily understood and engaged with.