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Just and Unjust Killing

Journal of Military Ethics, Vol. 7, No. 4, pp. 247-261, 2008

Posted: 23 Aug 2008 Last revised: 8 Dec 2008

Nolen Gertz

Pacific Lutheran University

Date Written: August 22, 2008


To provide a way to understand warfare and debate military conduct, Michael Walzer's Just and Unjust Wars tries to show that civilians and soldiers are not separated by a barrier of violence as we might think, but rather inhabit the same moral world. While this view enables us to question and criticize our leaders during times of war instead of simply claiming ignorance, its success is gained by obscuring certain fundamental boundaries that exist between combatants and noncombatants. By comparing Walzer's just war theory with the existential theories of Jean-Paul Sartre and Martin Heidegger, we can therefore find a more complete picture of what it means to declare war and what it means to engage in combat. This will allow us to see that what separates the soldier from the civilian is our everyday avoidance of death and anything associated with it. Through an investigation into the relationship between death and killing we can then ask, from an existential standpoint, whether we can call any war just so long as our evasion of death also results in our evasion of what soldiers must go through to protect us, thus preventing the soldier from being able to truly return home.

Keywords: Michael Walzer, Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Heidegger, war, rights, aggression, coercion, existentialism, death, killing

JEL Classification: Z00

Suggested Citation

Gertz, Nolen, Just and Unjust Killing (August 22, 2008). Journal of Military Ethics, Vol. 7, No. 4, pp. 247-261, 2008 . Available at SSRN:

Nolen Gertz (Contact Author)

Pacific Lutheran University ( email )

Tacoma, WA 98447
United States

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