Fall 2023 (37.3) Review

How to End a War: Essays on Justice, Peace, and Repair

How to End a War: Essays on Justice, Peace, and Repair, Graham Parsons and Mark A. Wilson, eds. (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2023), 207 pp., cloth $110, eBook $110.

As the world wonders when and how the armed conflict in Ukraine will end, the new edited volume from Graham Parsons and Mark Wilson could not be any timelier. The contributions in How to End a War: Essays on Justice, Peace, and Repair explore the justice of ending wars from a variety of
angles. Among other things, they explore the questions of when wars should be ended and how the peace should be restored afterward. For a long time, these two questions
were largely ignored by just war thinkers. But in the last two decades, there has been a growing acknowledgement of the
need to extend just war theory beyond its two established branches, jus ad bellum and jus in bello. That extension brings
into focus these important questions on the morality of war and helps to provide adequate guidance on the full “life cycle”
of armed conflicts: the beginning of war and the war fighting itself, but also the end of war (jus ex bello) and the subsequent peace building (jus post bellum). This volume contributes to that body of literature in two key ways.

First, it does so by further developing these two relatively new branches of just war theory. It delves into jus ex bello (or jus terminatio), the branch that fills the gap between jus in bello and jus post bellum. Two philosophers that are well known for proposing jus ex bello norms, Darrel Moellendorf and David Rodin, have contributed chapters on this topic. In these interesting but rather technical chapters, they build on their earlier work, with a specific focus on proportionality considerations that help determine when continuing a war is no longer justified. Various other contributions further develop the concept of jus post bellum, including Colleen Murphy’s, which analyzes the relationship between jus post bellum and transitional justice, pointing out that both theories govern highly challenging nonideal situations. Murphy rightly argues that some realism and modesty are necessary to temper high ambitions and aspirations in the aftermath of war, given the high chance that only modest goals can be achieved. A different perspective on jus post bellum is offered by Daniel Philpott, who discusses postwar reconciliation. His account is aspirational, as it involves dealing with the deep causes of war and working toward forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation—post bellum goals that can be quite ambitious in situations where communities recover from war. The chapter by Dan Maurer considers the operational reality of war, highlights several paradoxes that come to the surface when applying jus post bellum at the tactical level, and offers a code of conduct for combatants, which he terms a “post bellum Lieber Code” (p. 171). Taken together, these analyses advance the principles that guide the conclusion and the aftermath of armed conflicts, and they highlight that just war theory inherently involves balancing ideal aspirational principles with pragmatic considerations that account for the complex reality of the nonideal world.

Second, the volume contributes to the literature by situating just war theory in the broader field of postwar justice. The strategic complexities related to ending of wars, and recent failures to bring wars such as the U.S. war in Afghanistan to a proper end, indicate for the editors that there is a “serious gap in just war thinking” (p. 2). Filling this gap requires not only integrating jus ex bello and jus post bellum but also attending to related issues, such as the well-being of combatants and veterans, the effectiveness of operational guidance, historical patterns, and political dynamics. Integrating the perspective of combatants and veterans into this volume is especially important. Cheyney Ryan shifts the perspective in his chapter from the “observer” in the rights discourse of just war theory to the “participant”—namely, the personal experience of the soldier (p. 15)—which contributes to a more complete picture of the character and experience of war.

Lisa Tessman dives deep into the topic of moral injury in her contribution. In this excellent chapter, she focuses on situations in which combatants did the best they could given the circumstances, but nonetheless did something “unthinkable” and suffer as a result. Such “unavoidable wrongdoing” can lead to a discrepancy between combatants’ own feelings of being responsible and other people releasing them from that responsibility (pp. 32–39). Tessman argues that we should not dismiss those feelings, but rather must acknowledge “both the fittingness of taking oneself to be responsible for an unavoidable failure, and the unfairness of the normative expectation that one avoid the unavoidable” (p. 40). By discussing the differences between self-reactive and interpersonal reactive attitudes, she shows that although moral responsibility in the sense of objective blameworthiness is absent, the feeling of being responsible should be acknowledged as fitting (albeit unfair) because one’s subjective values have been violated. Nancy Sherman, in a chapter on Stoicism and moral injury, uses her Stoic lens to suggest how such feelings, “the anguish of moral self-blame” (p. 62), could be calmed. By tapping into the interpersonal perspective (how would you judge others who have done the same thing in similar circumstances?), self-empathy can be cultivated, which can help to alleviate the burden that morally injured combatants bear.

How to End a War is worthwhile reading for its new perspectives on jus ex bello and jus post bellum, the integral view on just war theory (where the different branches are intimately connected), and for highlighting the links between the theory and related issues that are equally important for the justice of ending wars. In this way, the volume also draws much needed attention to the experiences of the combatants that we send to war.

Can we apply these insights to the ongoing war in Ukraine? When should it end? At this point, it seems that Ukraine is still morally allowed to continue the war, as the just cause of thwarting Russian aggression is still present, there remains a reasonable chance of success (even more so than at the start of the war), and, arguably, because the costs are not excessive in relation to the value of protecting Ukraine’s territorial integrity and political independence. And when it ends, how should the peace be restored? This volume gives an idea of the challenges that will exist in the aftermath of war, and that justice requires things such as reestablishing order, rebuilding and reconstructing Ukrainian houses and infrastructure, a fair distribution of the costs involved, holding wrongdoers to account, and taking care of civilians and veterans who suffer from the wounds of war. While a perfectly just peace might be unattainable, the principles discussed in How to End a War help to shape responsibilities after war, and they underscore the importance of working toward a restoration of peace and stability, where the well-being of those impacted by war is not forgotten.

—Lonneke Peperkamp

Lonneke Peperkamp is professor of military ethics and leadership at the Netherlands Defence Academy in Breda and vice president of EuroISME (International Society for Military Ethics in Europe). Her research interests are in the field of just war theory, space security, new technologies in warfare, global justice, and human rights.

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