What can be good and persuasive points in both the affirmation and opposition on the following: "War can only be ended with war."

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One particular point that would support the idea of war ending with war is rooted in morality.  It is akin to the "just war" theory that is advocated in the works of St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. This theory suggests that in the face of grave evil, one must take a stand.  The need to end the wars that savage and brutal tyrants have caused is to take the battlefield in the cause of war.  In this instance, war can only be ended with war.  St. Augustine argues that taking the battlefield in war against a force of evil that negates the will of the divine might be the only option to pursue:  

They who have waged war in obedience to the divine command, or in conformity with His laws, have represented in their persons the public justice or the wisdom of government, and in this capacity have put to death wicked men; such persons have by no means violated the commandment, 'Thou shalt not kill."

The idea of needing to wage war to fully kill off evil is something that calls out to a moral justification of war. In Hinduism, a central tenet of the religion's teachings is seen in Lord Krishna's advocacy to Arjuna in The Bhagavad- Gita. Lord Krishna pleads with his student to recognize his duty and fight in a war against cruelty, degradation, and injustice.  Both the Hindu example in Lord Krishna and the Christian teachings of "just war" speak to the idea that there are situations when war can only be ended through war.  

Historically, this situation can be applied to the response to Hitler in World War II.  Hitler had waged his war against specific individuals and nations.  There was little chance Hitler would have stopped through words and through spiritual preaching. The only way in which Hitler's terror was going to stop was with the Allied Forces attacking him.  War was the only way to end war.

I think that an argument against the idea of war ending war could rest in both political and ethical arguments.  On one hand, if one legitimizes war to end war, one sanctions the political option of war with ease.  For example, when a leader is able to invoke "just war" in different settings, the result is the use of war as an option with political ease.  President Abraham Lincoln spoke to this condition:

Allow the president to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such a purpose—and you allow him to make war at pleasure.

As with so much in Lincoln, his greatness lies in his insight.  Lincoln understood that political leaders can easily invoke "just war" whenever it suits their interest.  They will invoke such an idea, even though the particular situation might not fit the standards laid out by thinkers such as St. Augustine or Lord Krishna.

Lincoln understood that war consolidates the power of the executive or the leader of a nation.  Due to this, it is something easily conceived and can be invoked as such.  "Just war" becomes replaced with "war at pleasure."  In this, war is not ended. Hostilities and aggression has not been transformed. It is merely transferred from one perspective to another.   Through this, one sees that from a spiritual point of view, war has not ended.