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.

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