Sometimes War Is Just: Two Stories from the Liberation of Dachau During World War II

There are two things that are common to the reality of war. The first is that wars have always been the result of an almost endless variety of moral failures on the part of human beings in every generation, in every culture, throughout the history of mankind. The second is that, on very rare occasions, war is a just response to evils of many kinds.

Many great minds throughout history have struggled with the reality of war and its causes. It is clear that war is a constant in human history, but there has always been an innate desire to find ways to end the dark passions that bring them about.

Photo: YouTube/WMAR-2 News

Not the least of those minds was a man named Augustine, a man who knew the power of the passions of the ego, who had struggled with the reality of human weaknesses and the demands of the ego in his own life and wrote about that struggle in his Confessions, probably the first autobiography in history. He possessed a capacious mind and had the courage to look inward to reflect on those things with an intellectual clarity and an honesty that are rare. On the matter of war, he gave a great deal of thought and developed something that has come to be known as a “Just War Theory.” Another man with a maybe even more gifted mind took Augustine’s thought and developed even more; his name was Thomas Aquinas.

Photo: YouTube/WMAR-2 News

The intention of this “Just War” theory is not to argue for war but to prevent it. There are seven principles that must ALL be present and observed in order to define a given war as “just.” They are:

  1. The war must be a “last resort” after all avenues for peaceful resolutions have been exhausted.
  2. It must be declared by a “legitimate authority.”
  3. It must have a just cause, that is, it must be a response to some identified moral wrong that is being suffered, like legitimate self-defense from an active, unjust, and unprovoked attack, and must always be fought with the objective to correct the inflicted wrong and to bring about a greater peace.
  4. There must a Rational Probability of Success.
  5. It must be governed by Right Intention, the primary intention being the re-establishment of peace, and its aim should be justice for all involved.
  6. It must be Proportional. The issue of Proportionality demands that the response must be proportional to the casualties suffered. All “disproportionate” military action must be avoided and must be limited ONLY to the amount of force that is absolutely necessary.
  7. And finally, the seventh principle of the “Just War Theory” deals with Civilian Casualties. It states that “innocent citizens must never be the target of war: all efforts must be made to prevent civilian casualties. All of these imply that those conducting a war, at every level, from the highest level of authority to the military command level and to the level of the soldier in the field, must conduct themselves with a sense of moral responsibility.
Photo: YouTube/WMAR-2 News

It is probably fairly clear, after reading these seven principles for a Just War, that such a war has probably never existed in its entirety in all of human history. For the Allies, WWII may come close on many of these principles, but there were many failures against it as well, including the carpet bombings of cities and, especially, the nuclear bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which defied the principles of Proportionality and the Protection of Civilians.

But WWII was just in its intention and in the fact that it was a “last resort” to defend the innocent against the unjust and immoral aggression of both Germany and Japan. The Nazi and the Imperialist Japanese forces were guilty of defying every element of just war, but one of Germany’s most egregious crimes was the conscious and meticulous efforts at genocide against the Jews of Europe.

Photo: YouTube/WMAR-2 News

These two videos are the personal stories of two U.S. Army soldiers, one a private first class with the 42nd Infantry and the other an American officer of Jewish heritage, both of whom took part in the liberation of the concentration/death camp at Dachau. They tell their stories from the personal “boots on the ground” reality of what they saw there when they arrived at Dachau at the end of April 1945.

The horrors of the Nazi effort to exterminate the Jews, cynically called the “Final Solution” was a horror of inhumanity that ranks among the worst crimes in human history. These men in these two videos were not decisions makers, they were unwitting witnesses to one of man’s worst crimes against humanity. It is important to hear their stories, for they are accounts of history from the “regular Joes,” so to speak, rather than that of ivory-towered academics.

See James A. Rose’s story in the video below:

In the end, the reality is that war truly is hell, and, sometimes, it is absolutely necessary to enter into it to restore peace and to end unjust effects on the innocent. WWII was a case in point, even though great injustices were done by all parties during the course of it. It had to be engaged for all the right reasons. Those who were involved in the liberation of the several death camps around Europe know only too well the “just cause” of that part of the war. What they witnessed there and what the victims of that Nazi crime against humanity experienced must be known and remembered, if only in the hope that knowing and remembering will possibly prevent such things from ever happening again.

See Chick Paper’s story below:

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