Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument With Historical Illustrations” as Want to Read:
Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument With Historical Illustrations
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument With Historical Illustrations

3.73  ·  Rating Details ·  1,713 Ratings  ·  76 Reviews
From the Athenian attack on Melos to the My Lai Massacre, from the wars in the Balkans through the first war in Iraq, Michael Walzer examines the moral issues surrounding military theory, war crimes, and the spoils of war. He studies a variety of conflicts over the course of history, as well as the testimony of those who have been most directly involved--participants, deci ...more
Paperback, 400 pages
Published July 26th 2006 by Basic Books (first published 1976)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Just and Unjust Wars, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Just and Unjust Wars

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Jul 26, 2011 Hadrian rated it really liked it
An interesting and only too pertinent analysis of the morality of wars. Views on states, the individual soldier, etc. Initially written as a response to Vietnam, but some can very easily compare it to Libya or Afghanistan. Good use of historical examples.
Aaron Crofut
This book, considered a must read in the field of just war theory, left me unimpressed. Everything is based on a system of morality that is never really explained save for an unexplained theory of rights that people supposedly have under various circumstances. Where do these rights come from?

The short of it is, I'm never going to buy the argument that people attacked have to put their own in harm's way for the sake of the attackers. The agent problem is worth deep consideration (can we hold a p
May 05, 2014 Relstuart rated it it was ok
I thought the initial portion of the book asks some good questions and contains some thought provoking analysis.

However, towards the latter part of the book I found myself disagreeing with the author about the WWII strategic bombing campaign and the use of nuclear devices in Japan. Two general things I did not feel he took into account are the differences in total war vs limited engagement (World war with entire nations using all elements of society to support the war effort vs a fraction of so
Chris Marsh
Mar 13, 2013 Chris Marsh rated it did not like it
I read this as required reading during my second year of studies at West Point. We read this along with Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War.

Although it's subtitle is "A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations" it does not present a coherent argument. The logic is circular and the argument falls in on itself.

In the end, perhaps Thucydides was right: "The strong do as they can, while the weak do as they must"
Sarah Gutierrez
Jan 28, 2016 Sarah Gutierrez rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy, politics
Discussions of the justice of war generally make a distinction between jus ad bellum (just war) and jus in bello (justice in the war). In this book, Michael Walzer does not make any great attempt to deal with jus ad bellum; he takes the principle that resistance to aggression is the basis for a just war as his starting point, and the majority of the book is devoted to the rules of war, that is, how to fight justly in war. If you, like me, have doubts about the justice of war, period, or were loo ...more
Mar 18, 2010 FiveBooks rated it it was amazing
Professor Mary Kaldor of LSE has chosen to discuss Michael Walzer’s Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument With Historical Illustrations , on FiveBooks as one of the top five on her subject - War , saying that:

“… This is another classic. He is a philosopher and he wrote it after the Vietnam war asking the question – is war ever just?... The just cause nowadays, according to Walzer, is self-defence against aggression…. There is the distinction between the non-combatant and the combatant. Non-com
Nov 12, 2016 Ahmed rated it did not like it
More journalism than philosophy, alternating between mushy and dangerous. Rather than a curb on the conduct of war, it provides rhetorical cover for empire and an extremely useful apology for power. [Notice for instance, G.W. Bush's justification for the invasion of Iraq, drawing on language from Walzer.] It makes no contribution to an understanding of the ethics of war, because it only rehashes the current regime of international law of war. An example of its flimsiness, note how W's reference ...more
Walzer examines the ethics of fighting war for countries and for individuals. First published in 1977 he was far kinder to drafted soldiers than their political leaders. With specific historical examples, Walzer leads the reader thru the moral questions of starting, fighting and finishing a war.

Why I started this book: I'm tackling my pile of professional reading and this one was in audio!

Why I finished it: I haven't read many philosophy books and so it took me a while to get use to the languag
Jul 21, 2009 Kathryn rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2009
I began reading this book on July 21, 2009, having borrowed it from my son’s girlfriend; now, on October 14, 2009, I have completed my reading of this book. It was not that I didn’t like the book that took me so long to read it; my problem was that it was a good book that also took concentrated effort to read, and concentrated effort to read was something that was in rather short supply for the past few months. But, I have completed my reading of the book; and, since I got a brand-new copy to re ...more
Nov 18, 2011 Jim rated it it was amazing
If you read only one book on the morality of war, this should be the one. Walzer is the preeminent modern Just War Theorist, and this is still the definitive text on the subject - even if you don't agree with its entirety. I certainly don't.

If you are an "absolute pacifist," you have to answer why it would be morally justifiable to stand and watch the unmitigated horrors of genocide that have gone on throughout history without end other than force of war, and Walzer gives many examples here. Wal
A hardcore philosophy text lightened up with a generous helping of historical examples. The book apparently grew out of the author's experience in the anti-Vietnam War movement, and chapter by chapter, he explores the different aspects of what might make a war just or unjust. Not surprisingly there are a lot of different angles to the problem, from the justice of the conflict itself, to justice in the way it is fought.

Perhaps the deepest section is the first, where he takes seriously our collect
Jan 11, 2012 Andrewh rated it really liked it
This has long been the uber-text of Just War theory, despite being written in 1977, long before the end of the bipolar Cold War and the 21st-century complications of international terrorism and the 'responsibility to protect'. As such, it does read very much like a book form a past era for much of the time, and the publishers have not made a huge effort to update the 4th edition - it has a (short) new preface in which Walzer comes out against regime change of the Iraq sort. The book is superbly ...more
Mike Gaeta
Jun 07, 2013 Mike Gaeta rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
This author pulls from an eclectic group of historical variety regarding what constitutes a just war, and firstly, whether there is such a thing as a just war. From aquinas to JS Mill, it puts into perspective the reasons behind each philosophy in doing so. It's not so much a survey but more so an amalgamation of different views which constitute his own.
Arvin Pamplona
May 28, 2017 Arvin Pamplona rated it really liked it
Good read if you have a general knowledge of Aquinas and just war theory.
Sep 22, 2012 Nils rated it it was amazing
Great book that contains nuanced discussions of the morality of various kinds of wars and related forms of mass violence, with wonderfully rich historical examples. My notes:

Generals use post-facto discussions of strategy as "a language of justification" (13).
"The moral reality of war is not fixed by the actual activities of soldiers but by the opinions of mankind." (15)
"Many officeholders experience pain because they expected to. If they don't, they lie about it. The clearest evidence for the s
Apr 27, 2013 TwinFitzgeraldKirkland rated it really liked it
Michael Walzer, come da titolo, affronta il tema delle guerre giuste e ingiuste (che non passa mai di moda, specie con dei vicini d'oltreoceano così premurosi di scatenare continuamente nuovi conflitti) dal punto di vista etico e morale, contrapponendosi nello specifico ad una filosofia di stampo Realista.

Per chi non ne avesse idea (io per prima) i Realisti, o fautori del Silens leges (l'assenza di leggi in periodo di guerra al grido di "tutto è lecito"), si appellano alla bestialità primigenia
Daniel Cunningham
This book probably deserves 4 stars. So why only 3? Because I'm not a moral philosopher, lawyer, military historian, etc. and this was a very long read for me. That said, I did 'like' it and, moreover, it was worth slogging through.

Pros: Good questions (What *are* the morals of war? What is just war? What is justice *in* war?), and clear explanation of the viewpoint of the author.

Cons: There is a recurring "rights vs. utilitarianism" argument/tension throughout the book with the greater weight g
Feb 21, 2016 Sleepless rated it really liked it
Read for the international philosophy Olympiad

Admittedly, I didn't read the entire book. Still, I read until page 250-ish and a few other chapters. I'm not going to continue more because I'm done with philosophy. I am kind of the 39th best high school philosopher in the world so I think I've done enough.

This book is so very interesting. Do I agree? That's a different and longer story. I still think this book is essential to understand war. I feel that this book manages to take a controversial s
Oct 24, 2016 Evan rated it liked it
Walzer explores the meaning of a "just" war (jus ad bellum) and the limits of just conduct in war (jus in bello). He argues that these conceptualizations are rooted in our collective morality. He examines a number of historical events in the history of war and diplomacy to support his theories of just war and just conduct by soldiers at war. A few examples:

- In Walzer's view, Israel's preemptive military action in the 6 Day War is considered just because it was preceded by an Egyptian military b
Mark Uberuaga
Jul 12, 2014 Mark Uberuaga rated it really liked it
Michael Walzer’s Just and Unjust Wars was written in the wake of Vietnam evaluating the morality of war and calling the use of armed intervention into question. Walzer describes two distinct arenas for contemplation, the justification for war and the conduct when fighting war. He believes war is hell but that states have the right to fight to protect their soverienty and their territory. He argues that all people carry some notion of what is right and wrong and what constitutes crossing the line ...more
Where does the realist argument of war fall apart? Why is it not true -- all is not fair in love and war, and the key phrase to draw out of the argument is the Latin "Inter arma silent leges." In time of war, the law is silent.

Walzer takes issue with that, as many people should, and aims in this book to combat the extreme moral nihilism inherent in such a system. The threat he perceives is not so much an active one as a potential one -- a chained beast that may break loose if we don't watch care
Aug 16, 2012 James rated it it was amazing
This isn’t an easy book to read, although it isn’t quite as dry as the title suggests. I imagine (I hope?) that it is taught in military academies and other places where the morality of war is seriously debated. For me, it helped address a frustration I’ve had for years during debates–often online, sometimes in person–about the morality of going to war or of a particular conduct within a war. Walzer shows that rational discussion of war can happen, that can be worthwhile to do so, and gives temp ...more
Jul 30, 2015 Leonardo marked it as to-read
¿Sería correcto decir, entonces, que estos dos desarrollos diferentes de la noción del derecho que persistieron juntos durante los siglos de la modernidad tienden hoy a estar unidos y presentados como una categoría única? Sospechamos que éste es el caso, y que en la posmodernidad la noción de derecho debe ser entendida nuevamente en los términos del concepto de Imperio. Pero, aunque gran parte de nuestra investigación circulará alrededor de esta cuestión, no nos parece una buena idea saltar tan ...more
Hunter Rule
Apr 27, 2015 Hunter Rule rated it really liked it
The non fiction novel, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument written by Michael Walzer is a four hundred page book highlighting the arguments of wars. The author discusses the moral arguments of certain aspects of wars. Walzer uses real examples of wars from all different decades. For example, the author discuses what is necessary in war, using Melos as an example. The author also discusses other parts that come along with wars. An example of this would be the spoils that come along with war as ...more
Stephen Hughes
Jan 26, 2015 Stephen Hughes rated it really liked it
This is an interesting but flawed book.
The author skillfully uses historical illustrations to bring the moral challenges of war into focus and these provide great insight. For the most part the arguments made are logical and detailed. However the underlying moral philosophy the author brings to his debate is never questioned or explicitly discussed. I would describe his philosophy as that of a liberal democrat and it is from this perspective that each issue is examined. This makes for a curious
Ike Sharpless
This book needs to be understood as what it is, and not warped into something it isn't. (What it is, however, is an oddly secular stepchild of thoroughly Christian tradition.) Walzer's proclamantions about what 'counts' in just war - whether ad bellum, in bello, or post bellum - are just that: his own calculations about the relative costs and merits of noncombatant immunity, to take one example, as weighed against other relevant factors. To merely claim that Walzer 'doesn't understand the realit ...more
Sep 20, 2016 Duncan rated it really liked it
Thoughtful argument about the morality of going to war and about the morality of particular methods of war--a book that, I now realize, I should have read when I wrote a thesis about just war theory many years ago. Particularly good on the relationship between jus ad bellum and jus in bello, i.e., the justification for the war in the first place affecting the justness of how the war is fought, and the author shares my skepticism about the usefulness of traditional just war theory. Another persua ...more
Nov 09, 2008 Liz rated it really liked it
The most excellent quote from this book: "Collective responsibility is a hard notion, though it is worth mentioning at once that we have fewer problems with collective punishment." p. 296

This is an excellent argument about what is morally permissible and allowable during warfare, as well as what constitutes fair retaliation for acts of war from aggressors. It is an intellectually reasonable moral guideline for how states should individually and collectively deal with the complex relationship bet
Dec 07, 2009 Jono rated it liked it
My low review is not because the book is poorly written or poorly organized. It is also not because it lacks importance; at least at the point I read it the book was required reading for all students at West Point. Waltzer's examples are also pertinent and forceful, I agree that in these cases presented that the soldier in question presents a case for him not to deserve dying. I strongly question the conclusions of the argument, however. I don't understand how the soldiers can be said to have gi ...more
Nate Huston
Jul 26, 2012 Nate Huston rated it liked it
Good to get the juices flowing on morality and warfare, an indescribably in depth topic. Except Walzer describes it. In excruciating detail sometimes. To the detriment of the forcefulness of his argument, sometimes.

Most definitely an anti-war slant from the outset - the book was a promise he made to himself during protests of the Vietnam war. This is not a bad thing, though - who is pro-war? And who do you want talking about morality in warfare?

That said, it is hard to argue against the possibi
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: A Debate Renewed
  • Social Theory of International Politics
  • Arms and Influence
  • After Hegemony: Cooperation and Discord in the World Political Economy
  • Theory of International Politics
  • The Transformation Of War
  • Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice
  • War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History: 1500 to Today
  • The Twenty Years' Crisis, 1919-1939
  • Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age
  • Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis
  • Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War
  • Politics Among Nations
  • Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry
  • Military Innovation in the Interwar Period
  • War in European History
  • The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One
  • Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-First Century
Michael Walzer is a Jewish American political philosopher and public intellectual. A professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, he is editor of the political-intellectual quarterly Dissent. He has written books and essays on a wide range of topics, including just and unjust wars, nationalism, ethnicity, economic justice, social criticism, radicalism, tolerance ...more
More about Michael Walzer...

Share This Book

“Bfore Venus, censorious; before Mars, timid.” 0 likes
“Before Venus, censorious; before Mars, timid.” 0 likes
More quotes…