In this paper, I will attempt to argue Michael Walzer’s reasoning that war is not inevitable, and show that freedom of choice does not exists for the parties involved. I will present an argument for the inevitability of war after outlining Walzer’s objections to the realist’s point of view on the morality of war. In Just and Unjust Wars, Walzer argues against the realist’s view on the morality of war; namely, that war is inevitable therefore eliminating freedom of choice.
Before delving into the argument, it is important that we understand a realist’s belief; Realism, as presented to us in the book, holds that states are motivated by concerns for national security and self-interest. Realism then concludes that due to the anarchical state of the world, wars will happen inevitably. One of Walzer’s objections to realism is that war will not happen inevitably. Walzer takes the stance that there is freedom of choice for states to engage in war, rather than war being an inevitable occurrence.
In his argument, Walzer gives the account of the Peloponnesian War according to the writings of Thucydides, a realist. In this re-telling, there are two Athenian generals that determine it is “necessary” that Athens establishes rule in Melos (a Spartan state), in order to preserve order and avoid put an end to the rebellion there. They rationalize that a show of force is the only option to ensure these objectives are met.
The Melians are faced with a situation in which their safety is threatened and the Athenian Generals, believe that war is inevitable, because the Melians “value freedom above safety” (Walzer 5) and will have no other option but to engage them in war. It is the claims of inevitability and necessity that Walzer objects to. His argument is based on questioning the “necessity” of war, a word whose meaning doubles as “indispensable” and “inevitable” (8). Walzer paints a picture of an assembly in Athens, where policy is deliberated and decided, as the starting point from where the Generals gain their ideals.
Walzer claims that it is in this assembly that the decisions are made and the policy first established to engage in war. Walzer focus’ his argument around this assembly because, he believes, there is a choice to be made in the policies that would then affect the need to attack Melos. If there is a choice established, than war can no longer be inevitable, because the assembly could choose for or against the policy. On a moral level, Walzer questions whether the preservation of the Athenian empire was itself ndispensable (necessary) and also claims that that there is no certainty that Athens would have fallen, had Melos not been destroyed, this is only assumed by the assembly and later the Generals. He argues then that the generals’ claims to the inevitability of war were based on the choice to establish a certain policy because such a claim “can only be made afterwards, for inevitability here is mediated by a process of political deliberation” (Walzer 8). We have addressed the reasons for stating that freedom of choice does exist, through the argument presented to us by Walzer.
Nevertheless we can also find reason in the writings of Thucydides to argue that freedom of choice does not exist, and that war and conflict are in fact inevitable. Using the example of the Peloponnesian war and go back to the original assembly in Athens, where Walzer takes us to formulate his argument against inevitability for the attack on Melos, we could find a gathering of Athenian decision makers. A gathering that’s sole interest is the preservation of their state.
Walzer questions whether or not the preservation of the Athenian empire was necessary on the basis of morality, however this is subjective to whose morals are being used. Using the Athenian assembly’s, there is no choice but to believe what they are doing is correct and the attack on Melos will preserve their empire, through a show of force. However, if the morals of the people of Melos, and Spartans as a whole are used, the Athenian empire is not only “not neccassary” but needs to be brought down to establish their own rule.
It is in these conflicting convictions we find the greatest support for the inevitability of war. Since no diplomatic compromise can be made, the only option is a battle of force. Thucydides argument is only strengthened by the end result of the Peloponnesian War, and the collapse of the Athenian rule by the “rebellious” Spartans who could not be controlled. Both sides valued their state independence above surrender, showing that ultimately a state will always result to what is in their best self-interest, even if that means war.
War is never without at least two sides. The Athenians believed that war was inevitable and necessary based on established policy to preserve their state, Melos believed the opposite. However, both sides did have a choice to surrender or engage in war. Walzer could present a more resilient argument by focusing on the choice that Melos had when it came to war, rather than only focusing on what course of actions the Athenians took. By oing this, not only would Walzer have shown that the Athenians had a choice in the type of Policy that was established, but also that the Melians also had the choice to not engage in war, and thus surrender. This choice could have resulted in a more advantageous outcome compared to the result of not surrendering (complete destruction). However, it could also be argued that it’s better to die for what you believe than to live and be subject to what you believe is wrong.