Debate: Is War Ever Justified?

In this debate, Jan Ting, professor of law at Temple University, and Bryan Caplan, professor of economics at George Mason University, discuss whether war is ever justified. Prof. Ting argues that while war should be a last resort, there are occasions where the consequences of not going to war outweigh the costs of war. He uses World War II as an example in which war prevented great evil. Prof. Caplan argues for strict pacifism, saying it is highly unlikely that any benefits of war would outweigh the horrific costs.

They address a number of topics related to war. Prof. Caplan points out that experts’ recommendations about war perform barely better than chance, indicating that the issues involved are too complicated to know for sure. The short-run costs of war are grisly and involve losses of innocent lives. Because of this, Prof. Caplan argues, war should be justified only when the long-run benefits will certainly outweigh these short-run costs. As it is almost impossible to predict the long-run benefits or short-run costs with any certainty, he suggests war should not be a viable option in most cases. He even suggests that it may be wise to eliminate the U.S. military altogether.

Prof. Ting argues that war should not be a first, second, or even third choice, but that it may be necessary, especially in cases where we are up against ideology or religious perspectives that deny reasoning. He uses Nazism and Japanese imperialism in World War II as examples highlighting the need for military intervention. While he does not advocate a hawkish policy, he suggests that we need to be ready and willing to intervene if circumstances require it. Watch the debate and let us know what you think.

10 Comments

  1. lantzh

    IMO, Professor Caplan needs to stick to economics and stay out of foreign policy, because his pacifist ideology will get you even more enslaved than you already are.

    .  I have one question for him. Can he name one time in all of mans history where Freedom was NOT won with the edge of a sword or at the barrel of a gun?

  2. Anonymous

    Gandhi. The Civil Rights movement in the United States. Those are just a couple off the top of my head. While I don’t agree with Professor Caplan, he’s in a tough spot defending an absolutist position. 

  3. Tyler Heald

    Guessing when innocent lives are on the line is simply unacceptable. Excellent closing line. We can and must do better. I am fairly moderate on having a strong military, but this was an excellent point for me.

  4. andrei.roibu

    There is no way to stop war, until you solve the problem of people going to war for absurd reasons. However, there are situations in which you are forced to intervene for preventing loses at home, like the loss of principles, creeds, money or anything like that. We cannot know what the outcome of a war will be, but if we are in a situation where diplomacy fails, were there is no way to avoid war, you have to start fighting, and fight for victory, not anything else.  

  5. andrei.roibu

    Even though I didn’t agree with Jan Ting in the immigration debate, I agree with him here. Sorry Bryan Caplan. 

  6. Grady Flanagan

    As some one else said, hard to answer this question as an absolutist. Is war good? No. Is it bad? Maybe. Like many things, it depends on the reasons. Should the US be charging off to free an oppressed people from the powerful fists of a tyrannical dictator? yes. Does it matter that the dictator sits atop reserves of oil? absolutely. What was the motive for Vietnam? Stop Communism? Maybe. What about Iraq? Why are we not in Russia yet? Is there not an oppressed people there?

  7. Matt Wavle

    Is war ever justified?  How about a “definite maybe”.  lol

    Really, doesn’t it depend on which of the two options creates the lesser harm?
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