Legitimacy or illegitimacy of U.S. invasions in Iraq and Vietnam based on just war theory

United States throughout the history has been involved in a commendable number of nations’ internal affairs. Some of the incidences to be considered in this term paper are the invasion of Iraq in 2003 as well its involvement in Vietnam. These invasions resulted to massive bloodshed  and killings. Whether or not some or even all these invasions are legitimate or illegitimate as well as ethically defensible forms one of the most  difficult question which require a comprehensive information in order to answer it effectively (Wool 462).  However, in this term paper the evaluation of this topic will be carried out on the basis of the just war theory so as to determine  the legitimacy or illegitimacy of various justifications that are given in the  attempts of validating the invasions which leads to the killing of people during the times of war and more preferably the ones carried out by United States on Iraq and Vietnam (Walzer 76).

According to the just war theory, in order for any cause of war to be  just it must be in a position to serve peace but not to merely protect the unjust status quo. In order for any country to invade another one, this should be the last resort which is supposed to be applied after all the pacifistic approaches have been exhaustively exploited (Boscia 163) . Thus, if a country is involved in the oppression against a certain group as a result of immoral actions  then before a military action response is taken against that group there is need to attempt taking the necessary actions capable of stopping the unjust oppression (Evans 123). There is a great aspect of illegitimacy when a country is upholding unjust policies that results to military invasion which acts as an extension of the nation’s unjust policy. Therefore the wars initiated in this way are not just war in whatever aspect due to the fact that the reactionary war will act as an instrument of injustice making it illegitimate while the action will consist of an unjust intent (Zupan 28).

The just war theory that was proposed by Douglas P. Lackey makes it clear that nation’s government should be able to take a military action when certain conditions are in existence. For instance,  when a group of terrorists have an intent as well as means of attacking that respective state then  the attack remains eminent, justifiable and legitimate. There should also be the ability to distinguish between pre-emptive and preventative basically as if or not the country can prove intention of the invasion (Walzer 96). There is also another assertion in the theory  whereby more than just providing a prove of  intent in the attempts of legitimizing military action there must also be a prove that it was actually the last resort after all other possible options have been exhausted (Wool 463).

Based on the just war theory for a war to be just it must have been the last resort after exhaustion of all other non-violent options. For a war to be legitimate it must have been waged upon approval by a legitimate authority as well as serving the purpose of redressing a wrong suffered. For instance, it can be legitimate if used for self-defence from an attack  from an armed group.  Further, in order for any actions of war to be legitimate the cause of the war should be with the right intentions (Evans 83).

Moreover, for a war to be just it must be fought with high chances to win over the opponents however the injury and deaths that result are not in any way morally justifiable. Since the final goal of a just war is to restore peace, then the aftermath of it determines if it was legitimate or illegitimate (Boscia 163).

In cases where violence is used during the war then it must be proportional to the suffered injury. This theory thus prohibits nations from the use of unnecessary force over the group or country that is targeted for an attack (Walzer 176). Moreover, the weapons used should be precise in order to discriminate between non- combatants and combatants. This is mainly because civilians should not be permissible targets during the war, thus any available effort should be taken into consideration to avoid killing civilians (Zupan 128).

The invasion on Iraq was correctly named as a preventive while not a pre-emptive one according to an editorial article on New York Times. Pre-emptive war at times may be justified but preventive war is never justified. However, by the terms preventive and pre-emptive inter-changeably, as it was the case during the Bush Administration in order to justify the war on Iraq, usually led to the blur of moral, legal as well as political distinctions of vital importance in international rules and regulations against aggression. Thus the actions accompanied to the war are rendered illegitimate(Evans 123) .

While speaking on the US Senate floor prior to the Iraq invasion Senator Edward Kennedy succinctly laid out the difference between pre-emptive and preventive war. He argued that pre-emptive war takes place when country is reacting to a threat of attack that is  imminent. This takes place when there are already mobilized forces to attack indicating an obvious and immediate threat. At this times the war is legitimate however in both situations, that is, in Iraq and Vietnam there was no great threat of an attack which could have warranted for a war declaration (Walzer 176). On the other hand, preventive war involves a situation whereby one nation strikes the target country long before it has been in a position to develop a capability that is capable of becoming a threat in the future. This was the case in Iraq and Vietnam, even though Iraq had mass destruction weapons the United States also have them and this was not a reason to legitimize the Iraq invasion (Wool 465). Preventive attacks are in general condemned worldwide and that was the reason why many countries were against the United States and its allies invasion to Iraq (Rice and Bartlett 276).

According to the just war theory there must be a legitimate cause of a war for it to be also legitimate. However, in both cases the actions taken by the United States to invade the these two countries were not justified because the reasons given are just but mere excuses in order to fulfil their personal ambitions (Evans 173). For instance, in Iraq they accused it of possessing weapons of massive destruction which after invasion they didn’t get. They also accused the Saddam Hussein regime of collaborating with the Al-Qaeda  terrorists led by Osama bin Laden hence leading to fall of the whole country at the expense of fighting terrorism. Moreover, their involvement in Vietnam was not based on any other reason but to counter the influence of communism in Southern part of Vietnam which it was strongly against (Zupan 78).

It is was also supremely hypocritical and ironic that American and its allies used weapons that caused mass destruction on Iraq in search of non-existent Iraq’s weapons mass destruction weapons (Boscia 165). For instance, they used a bomb which had the capacity of  obliterating  all the things within a radius of 1,000 yard. Thus it was capable of destroying everything within that area. There was no possibility how such a bomb could have been used as a precision weapon therefore targets both the combatants and civilians which is not legitimized by just war theory. Hence this actions on Iraq could not in whatever circumstance amount to just war (Walzer 276).

The US warplanes were also used in both Iraq and Vietnam to drop bombs. These were at times not precise as well as mass destructive targeting civilians who are in no way involved in the war. The United States also used missiles that were launched from a long distance away and capable of causing massive destruction to their targets as well as the surrounding environments which involves people’s populations both young and old (Rice and Bartlett 278).

The  actions of the United States in both Iraq and Vietnam led to a very devastating situation whereby the death toll in Iraq was approximately 100,000 while in Vietnam which was the longest war United States has ever been involved in led to the death of between two to three million Vietnamese. These statistics completely delegitimizes the United States  in both Iraq and Vietnam because majority of the casualties were civilians and this is totally discouraged by the just war theory. Moreover, even after the war the effects continued to be felt as a result of the depleted uranium sources originating from the bombardments (Walzer 276).

In conclusion, preventive wars as seen on both Iraq and Vietnam are illegitimate and intrinsically unjust. This is due to the fact that they are based on lies as well as with massive and indiscriminately with usage of weapons of massive destruction (Wool 467).  Therefore this raises the question why exactly the United States invaded Iraq, and the answer may be  probably to get  control over it since it is the second largest supplier of oil worldwide. This therefore enables the US to get control over fuel pricing which gives the United States leverage over the world economy and more preferably over its economic and military rivals in the East such as China and Japan (Evans 183).

Moreover, the involvement of the United States in Vietnam resulted  to the longest war in the history of America. However, its cause was not justified since it was not based on legitimate reasons but only to gain control over the south Vietnam from the communism forces of the north. This was due to the fact that the United States was an anti-communist and so it wanted to protect its interests in the involvement in the Vietnamese war which led to death of so many civilians.


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Surlis, Paul. “Iraq War, Unjust, Illegal and Immoral; Just War Theory Condemns Invasion”. Feb. 2005. Consistent Ethics of Life. 29 March 2011. http://www.cjd.org/paper/surlis.html

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Zupan, Daniel S. War, morality and autonomy: an investigation in just war theory. (Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2004).


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