Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument With Historical Illustrations
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Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument With Historical Illustrations

3.84 of 5 stars 3.84  ·  rating details  ·  896 ratings  ·  51 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)
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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...more
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...more
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
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.
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...more
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.
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...more
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...more
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...more
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
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
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...more
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
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...more
Nate Huston
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...more
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
Jennifer Taw
This is a very thoughtful book about the ethics of war...having read it, I return again and again to ideas within it when I read about war in the news or in other books.
Claire Leavitt
This was on my PhD qualifying-exams list for IR, but it's one of the best books I've ever read regardless. Walzer's one of a kind.
Dave Peticolas
A well-written and well-reasoned analysis of justice in warfare and the justice of warfare.
Important arguments to understand and use in our discussions about war...but a bit of a doozy.
Kevin Quinley
I must shamefully admit defeat at the hands of Walzer's challenging but thoughtfully constructed critique of modern war. I thought I was committed enough to finish this book, carefully written in the style of most philosophy textbooks. As the book has lingered in my possession for two weeks and I'm not yet half through, I'm sad to say that I am justified in returning the book to the library despite hardly given it worthy consideration. A wise man once told me "Do not make perfect the enemy of th...more
I read this in a 'history of human rights' class. It's a bit dry, but it's a very well done argument about the various situations in which war is acceptable or not, as the title suggests. It's a classic in the field and thus worth reading.

Unfortunately, according to Chomsky in 'Rogue States,' Waltzer is no longer the stalwart defender of 'Just War Theory' he once was as his newer book 'Arguing About War' supposedly argues in favor of recent U.S. ventures in the Middle East.
Jean Kelly
A fasinating book that looks at the moral reality of war and uses historical data to define the moral argument, the theory of aggression, argument for appeasement, the war convention and much more.
I found I could only read in small sections because of the depth and scope of his discussions. His examples go back to the seige of Jerusalem 72 CE. Sections on less well known cases from the Nuremberg Trials were particularly moving.
Chris Marsh
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"
Fred R
I think he was wrong about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which do fall under the category of "extreme emergency," if we have to have such a question begging category which ultimately negates the whole purpose of the exercise by surrendering to utilitarian criteria.

This is probably the most schoolmarmish book on war ever written.
Ray Ciervo
Walzer is perhaps the best known writer on war. He is even handed and not angry like some pacifists come across. His work is well documented and has no special pleading. Enjoyed this very much.
This one covers the topic of how to have a "just" war, and follows the assumption that wars can be carried out ethically. It's an interesting book with lots of examples pulled from history. I can't remember Walzer ever asking the question of whether war is EVER ethical, but perhaps he did. I read this one a long time ago.
War is complex, and I never fully grasped how complex it was until I read this. Walzer's arguments have been critiqued, criticized, and torn apart since he wrote this, but regardless of whether or not you agree with him, this book will fundamentally shift how you view the justice in bello and ad bellum.
Scott Ramsey
This book has opened my eyes to the grey in the moral argument of war. War is evil, but in some cases the evil action of war may be the best response. Though, I believe that through out history war has been a tool of aggression and waged for unjust purpose more often than not.
Walzer doesn't just list what the just war theory contains but applies it to old and modern wars. Never lost me and he really opened my eyes to how truly horrific war really is. Awesome book! Would recommend to anyone interest in war history or political science!
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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
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