Amoral and savage, war often brings out the worst in people and latest events only confirm this sad fact

The concept of the morality of war has always been complicated. The laws of war seem to contradict and transgress the majority of laws within civilized society. War has such an impact that its rules override all of what has been learnt before. Soldiers are not ordinary people. It would not be acceptable for civilians to behave in the way that the armed forces do.

War tests the morals of the human race. It not only tests the soldiers, but it tests the values of a nation. In war, nations can be pulled apart. However, this is not the only impact that war has on international relations. As well as highlighting differences, it also unites nations. It can bring nations together in unexpected alliances. War can highlight the certain values they share, despite the fact that they might have significant differences. A common cause in the war can unite unlikely groups of nations.

Consequently, alliances can be made between countries which, although they have a common goal in the war, have very different values and attitudes in society. These unexpected alliances, although useful, can prove disastrous. The values of the soldiers can clash, leading to the collapse of the alliance or even causing the soldiers to question the values of their own nation.

Examples of this can be found in the Second World War. Countries around the world were pulled into war. They were forced to make alliances to survive and to achieve their aims, despite the fact that the countries had very different attitudes in their domestic affairs. These differences were put aside however, to achieve common international aims. Unlikely alliances proved to be successful, such as the alliance between the US and China, because although these had very different political standpoints internally, they managed to collaborate for the sake of the war. On the other hand, some alliances were less successful, for example, Hitler’s alliance with Stalin, which eventually resulted in Hitler betraying Stalin and attacking the USSR.

Alliances between nations depend on trust and a common aim. However, even with these attributes, an alliance can become difficult to sustain. Although the aims of the nations may be similar, the attitudes of the soldiers may differ, making collaboration a challenge. This is particularly evident when the nations have very different cultures – an issue that has become a problem recently, with Western involvement in Middle Eastern wars. The situation has been highlighted by allegations of US soldiers being forced to conceal the sexual abuse of children in Afghanistan.

It has been revealed that American soldiers who saw Afghan soldiers sexually abusing young boys in a practice known as ‘bacha bazi’ (which translates as ‘boy play’) were pressured to keep silent about what they had witnessed. The US Government denies the accusation that soldiers were told to ignore the issue. However, reports have emerged from members of the armed forces who tried to protect the boys and speak against the practice, claiming that their superiors had not supported them in their decision to attempt to prevent the sexual abuse of children.

It is not just the difference between American and Afghan culture which is causing this problem though. War seems to cross human rights boundaries, regardless of the culture that the soldiers originate from. What is considered doing one’s duty in war would be considered cruel at home. What is brave and heroic on the battlefield is cowardly in everyday society. War makes murder acceptable. It condones violence. War has its own set of rules.

The fact that murder and violence become legal and acceptable, means that a whole new attitude towards crime and violence is created. This has led to heinous crimes and hideous cruelty throughout the history of war. Torture of prisoners of war and mistreatment of civilians is often a large part of it. However, this is condoned by some soldiers more than others. The rivalry and competition between soldiers, as well as the frequent injustice and horrors that they witness can alter their attitudes, regardless of their previous beliefs and upbringing.

It is upsetting that this behaviour should seem acceptable. Violating human rights cannot be justified. It cannot be blamed on the culture or history of a nation and it cannot be excused. The armed forces should not become exempt from punishment for such cruelty. Behaviour like this and the suffering that it causes cannot be ignored in the twenty-first century.




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