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What is war, really?

Some say war and conflict are unavoidable; some say they are natural to human psychology. We find it important to remember that, whatever else you think they are, war and conflict are “relations between persons,” as philosopher Thomas Nagel put it. War happens between humans and to humans; it is not an abstract theory or inevitable force. War is rarely our only choice — and when it is our only choice, it is usually because we’ve ignored every opportunity to achieve peace. 


By its nature, war makes it hard to think of people as human. It’s easier to think of them euphemistically, as targets or “collateral damage,” and the waging as being done by an impartial bureaucracy rather than individual people who call the shots. Euphemisms make war seem necessary and scientific, but they distract us from the humanity of all involved and our responsibilities to each other.

The human cost of war

What often gets overlooked in arguments about war is the “human cost” and the difficulty of calculating exactly how high this “cost” is. 


This is an especially grave, and especially difficult, question when it comes to deaths of civilians. There is much evidence that civilian deaths are not only increasing but often outnumber deaths of combatants. It is next to impossible to accurately calculate all of those whose lives have been indirectly affected, as in the cases of pandemics aggravated by war, loss of access to drinking water or food, and inability to access healthcare. The costs of war are greater and more broad-ranging than most people think, and all of these costs need to be taken into account. 


While the US prides itself on honoring its soldiers for being willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, it is well known that the military targets low-income communities for recruitment—which leads us to ask whether everyone is given a real choice in making this sacrifice. And the threat to life isn’t over when the war ends — in the US, seventeen veterans commit suicide every day, and the suicide rate rises as high as 22 a day if you count active-duty members, National Guardsmen, and reservists. Veterans made up as many as 20% of national suicides in 2008, despite only making up 10% of the adult population. And although they disproportionately struggle with suicidal ideation and PTSD, veterans often face months-long waits for appropriate care


It may be safe to say that we don’t know and may never know all the costs of war. Perhaps the struggle to nail down any clear number shows that the effects of war are too numerous for us to completely understand or adequately control. We should therefore act with great caution. 

Image by Jordy Meow

No more nukes!

As supporters of the inherent dignity and worth of all human beings, at the very least we call for an end to nuclear warfare. Nuclear weapons killed 100,000-200,000 civilians at Hiroshima and Nagasaki at their first use by the United States, and they threaten all of humanity today.


As long as the United States and other nations maintain their current nuclear weapons arsenals, they are guilty of planning and preparing for indiscriminate and disproportionate uses of force — in effect, for committing war crimes. Check out the white paper below to learn more about a potential path to disarmament.

We also hold a quarterly vigil with the Consistent Life Network outside the White House in Washington, D.C. — keep an eye out for the next one by following our social media or our Events page.

Image by Juli Kosolapova

Fast Facts



Do you recommend Just War Theory?

Just War Theory holds that a war can be considered just if it meets the following criteria: it has a just cause, right intention, and a probability of success; it is waged by a proper authority; it is a last resort; and its intention is proportional to the harms the war will cause. 


Just War Theory is a valuable framework, and it is certainly helpful in many cases. Unfortunately, though, it does not necessarily make choices simple. As with any ethical framework, how one ought to apply it is often ambiguous, and, unfortunately, people sometimes use its ambiguity to justify abhorrent action. Just War Theory should never be used to justify war — we must never confuse reflecting on whether our actions are just with trying to justify the actions we want to take. 


Deciding whether a war is just is the minimum. We need to make sure our decision making is always informed by the humanity of everyone involved.


Is Rehumanize International a pacifist organization?

No. Many people in the Rehumanize community are pacifists, but we don’t take a position on issues related to self-defense.


Learn More

Blog post on unilateral airstrikes: After Latest Pentagon Admission, Are We Not Also Terrorists?

Blog post on military spendingReport Cites Fraud and Abuse by Post-9/11 Military Contractors

White Paper: Toward the Abolition of Strategic Nuclear Weapons

Video: Leaving Violent Institutions: the Military and Planned Parenthood

Podcast: The 75th Anniversary of the Atomic Bombs: A Conversation with John Whitehead

Video: Quick Facts: Nukes Are Not Pro-Life!


Other Resources

Watson Institute

World Beyond War

Veterans for Peace


Rehumanize International is an affiliate of World Beyond War.

Image by Diana Parkhouse



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