As a difficult sociocultural phenomenon, war implicates many interpretative aspects that allow one to understand it in different manners. The philosophy of war proposes certain approaches and classifications that help organize all separate details. However, the problem is that each war includes different participants, and each of them may evaluate the same war in a specific way because of various factors such as a lack of information about a counterpart, the ideological aspect of each position, etc. The reason why there is no way to get fair information about the recent events is that their participants are still alive and they still share their points of view. Besides, such a situation does not involve most past events that became history that has no direct connection to modern life. That is why it is impossible to research the past events, such as the wars of the previous centuries, and evaluate them through the philosophical prism. The problem here lies with the adequate classification and evaluation of wars, because each participant may have a different position concerning that. The interpretation of every particular war’s status depends on the results of this war. The victorious states create history and construct the prism through which their contributions look like ethical and honorable deeds.
There are many theories concerning the classification of wars. According to one of them, there are three forms of war realization: wars of aggression, wars of refusal, and wars of retribution. Before an in-depth explanation of each type of war, it is important to show the specifics of the point of view that proposes these three forms. It is clear that each war includes two or more participants – states that take an active (invader) or a passive (defender) part in this process. In fact, the status of invader and defender is disputable and depends on the war’s results as well as on the general evaluation of it. As Michael W. Doyle showed in his Ways of War and Peace: Realism, Liberalism, and Socialism, the invention and elaboration of a just war theory became the reason why each state started to seek for a reputation of those who defend justice and fairness (25). For example, it is clear that Locke’s justification of the wars the American colonists held against the Native-Americans is Locke’s attempt to show the situation through the prism of his native state’s profits and needs (Doyle 220). Besides, through the prism of the Native-Americans who defended their lands from white invaders, there is also no doubt concerning their own right for that defendant war.
Doyle also mentions Thucydides’ “The Melian Dialogue” as a good example of different possibilities of the same war evaluation (49-93). The debate tells about the case during the war between Sparta and Athens when the Athenian generals proposed the city of Melos to become their ally instead of being ruined. When the Melians refused the proposition of the Athenians, the city was destroyed after a short war (The Athenian Union was a powerful state, while Melos was a small city that wanted to stay independent). Besides, both Athens and Melos did the right things in this case, because the Melians protected their native city from the invader, and the Athenians, at the same time, conquered all cities allied with Sparta in order to protect their own lands from the threat of the increasing Spartan influence. Both Melians and Athenians protected themselves, but in different ways.
Thus, there is no reason to seek for an ethical interpretation of war. Instead of that, it is reasonable to understand each war through the prism of relationships between its participants. Such a point of view includes the three mentioned types of wars. For example, the war between the European Colonists and the Native-Americans represents a war of aggression, because the goal of that war was to get some resources and lands the invader never possessed. There was no alternative way for the defenders but to struggle. On the other hand, the war between Athens and Melos was a war of refusal, because the invader made a proposition to make an alliance, and the Melians had a certain choice, but they chose to fight and die instead of becoming a part of the Athenian Union. If they had not refused the Athenian generals’ offer, there would have been no war.
As for the Peloponnesian war (the war between Athens and Sparta, described by Thucydides), it was the war of retribution. Each of the states considered that another one violated their rights, and they took part in the war in order to protect those rights. Both Sparta and Athens interpreted the war as the only way to resist the increasing power of its counterpart, and both had their own vision of justice. Thus, this model also depends on the interpretations of the war’s participants, but not to such a high degree as the average ethical models do.
In such a way, the main difference between wars of aggression, wars of refusal, and wars of retribution is in the ability the defendant has to deny the war. Besides, this model has interesting dialectical implementations. For example, in a case of a war of aggression, everything is reasonably clear, because a defendant there has no choice except facing the battle or becoming enslaved. This detail makes wars of aggression inevitable, especially because in most cases an aggressor has advantages over a defendant. Thus, wars of aggression have mostly easily predicted consequences – the victory of the aggressor who started the war with the full understanding of his advantage over the enemy who possesses the resources needed for the future development of a more powerful state.
Wars of refusal presuppose two possible consequences: the defendant may refuse the war or refuse the terms of the aggressor. In fact, it means that there is only one choice: to face the struggle or to give up. Besides, the difference between wars of refusal and wars of aggression lies in the fact that a refusal, in this case, allows to save some vision of equality between the rivals. Wars of aggression make the defendant a victim of someone’s aggression; wars of refusal, on the other hand, make the defendant a victim of his improper choice made while there was an opportunity to accept another variant. “The Melian Dialogue” shows the results of a choice, and an alternative ending would demonstrate how diplomacy may have prevented the war and the city’s ruination. Certainly, most of the reasons for wars of refusal include the need of some non-radical changes. Thucydides’ example is brilliant in this specific context.
As for wars of retribution, they have difficult and ambivalent specifics. On the one hand, the reason for them usually originated in the past, and the aggression is only the revenge for the previous aggression, and an attempt to get some of resources the aggressor had taken before. Thus, the reason for wars of retribution lies in the guilt of an actual defendant, while an actual aggressor just wants the realization of justice and fairness. That is why the reason for such wars are some previous wars, which had to be wars of aggression or wars of refusal in order to allow the realization of such a type of war.
On the other hand, this type of war proposes no choice to the defendant, as well as instigates a war of aggression, because the defendant cannot change the past. Thus, the only possible way to prevent the beginning of the war would be to return the captured resources to the actual aggressor. In this case, the war would be denied as it were a war of refusal. Therefore, the three types of war have many common points, and the main problem concerns the issues connected with their adequate differentiation.
The problem of the war types’ interrelation is one of the main reasons why the states’ diplomats try to replace one type of war by an image of the others. For such a purpose, in different times they used specific methods. One of the main methods is the social mythology and history construction. For example, in the case of the war between Prussia and France (1970-1971), each part considered that Alsace-Lorraine belonged to their territories according to historical justice. Thus, both parties would consider the war as that of retribution if they were the aggressors, and as that of aggression if they were the defendants. Such interpretative difficulty leads to some contradictory situations. The leaders of particular states may begin a war under the slogans about the protection of those states’ rights, when the actual reason for the war is the aggressive tendency to conquer the neighboring territories or resources while their neighbors are politically and militarily weak.
There are a few examples of a practice when an aggressor appeared as a victim of some previous violations. The most illustrious one is the case of Nazi Germany, which appeared as an instrument of Germans’ revenge for their defeat in World War I and the humiliating terms of the Paris Peace Treaties (1919) as the consequence of that defeat. The fact that Germany without any just reason began the World War I with its ally Austria-Hungary was not popular in Hitler’s state because such information could discredit the mission of World War II. Thus, most Germans considered World War II to be a war of retribution (the retribution for all rights Germany lost after World War I). At the same time, the states that opposed Nazi Germany considered that it was a war of aggression, which led to the series of crimes against humanity without any possibility of justification.
The same situation occurred during World War I. According to David Fromkin, Germany and Austria-Hungary used many ideological and diplomatic devices to represent the war as the necessity connected with the pacification of Eastern Europe, when, in fact, the whole war “was caused by the struggle for supremacy among the great European powers. Germany deliberately started a European war to keep from being overtaken by Russia” (273). In the beginning of the XX century, Germany was one of the most powerful states in Europe, and its increasing power forced France, England, and Russia to form an alliance against it. The main difficulty here lies in the multiple interpretations of the same historical events, since each participant explained it through their own ideological and historical prism. It is clear that both Germany with its allies and England, France, and Russia with their allies took part in that war because of mutual mistrust. Germany underestimated its power and its rulers considered that the only possible way to save the state from its rivals was to defeat them. As for Austria-Hungary, its reasons for war were connected with the empire’s degradation and deflation; they considered the war to be a device that would unify their people and increase the development of the state.
In such a way, Germany and Austria-Hungary started World War I using different methods to hide their aggression. Thus, the July Ultimatum of Austria-Hungary delivered to Serbia in 1914 helped to create an image of the war of refusal (because the occasion for the war was the refusal of the Serbian authorities to accept the terms of Austria-Hungary). As for Germany, it used the occasion created by its ally Austro-Hungary and declared war against Russia when the latter started the mobilization in order to help Serbia in its “war of refusal”. In some aspect, it is possible to interpret World War I as the war of retribution for all states-participants, because each considered the others a threat and took part in the war in order to protect its own rights in the face of danger. However, the Serbian incident shows that Austria-Hungary and Germany were aggressors rather than the fighters for justice and rights.
The research allows to conclude that the difference between wars of aggression, wars of refusal, and wars of retribution is clear in theory, but it is very difficult to interpret adequately each concrete situation, especially when the participants of a conflict partly deliberately create a positive image for their state in order to justify their participation in the war. The problem concerns the correct interpretation of the information concerning each state’s reason for struggling, and it is clear that the evaluation of each war depends on many contradictory factors that totally exclude any unambiguity. Besides, the model discussed has an advantage over others: it deals only with the relationships between the states instead of attempting to evaluate their deeds through the prism of an ethical system.