16 May 2022


Early Modern Thought and the Beginning of Social International Ethics

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Hugo Grotius is widely known for projecting the argument over the state of justifiable war. In his arguments, he proposes the concept of military ethics and theology, against policy making; all in one fold. The doctrine that was proposed by Hugo was to ensure that whatever war fought was justifiable by meeting all the critical doctrines of ‘justified war.’ According to the standard of justified war, according to Grotius, it was defined and split into two concepts; “right to go to war” and “right conduct in war” ( Johnson, 2016). It would be correct for the purpose of this paper to finds out some of the standards that Grotius laid out for the justified war.

The first argument about justified war according to Hugo Grotius was the ethics and the morality of going to war. The second set of argument was on the right conduct during the war period. According to the Just War theory by Grotius, it sees war as just one option of solving future crisis. The critical responsibilities, unwanted outcomes and preventable atrocities are some of the standards that Grotius sees as ways that may justify war ( Johnson, 2016) . Whereas the proponents of the justified war propose the peaceful approach as the best means of solving all the issues, they do not at all agree that any kind of war can be justified.

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Grotius standard of justified war was that it should be free from any religious attachment. He argues that war was being fought across the entire Europe and for those who were seeking war as the best way of solving the religious conflicts between them; such as Catholics and Arminians, he proposed that they should seek peace through faith and not war. According to Enemark (2013), Grotius did not believe that war was only between the hostile nations and their aggressors, but was fought across all nations. According to the second part of his standards of war; on what the ‘right conduct in war,’ Grotius spells out some of the rules that should be followed. He highlights those people who should not be attacked while in war such as children, women, priests, and merchants. According to Hugo, these people made no direct contribution to war. His work in the contribution to war independent of Christiana and religious standing is massive. 

According to the standards put forth by Grotius, the Vietnam War was ethically justifiable. As seen in his theory and proposal of the justified war, especially the first part where he discusses the ‘right to go to war’ Hugo Grotius plainly explains that the decision to go to war was means of solving potential future crisis ( Enemark, 2013) . The war on Vietnam, to a large extent was quite justified since the independence of Vietnam was going to be a crisis in waiting. The Vietnam country was angling towards the communism. With the full understanding of the communism dangers as had been witnessed in some cases as Russia and the history of Joseph Stalin, Vietnam needed urgent help.

The separation of the South and North Vietnam set the ball rolling. There was much to be done by the powerful states to help the country. The intervention by the US to help the South Vietnam which was at the verge of collapse was fully called for. However, the constant attacks by the North Vietnam which was given full independence by the French government meant that they were going to colonize the South and make them part of the communist economy ( Havens, 2014) . Therefore, the war and the attack by America on the North Vietnam, in accordance to the standards proposed by Hugo Grotius were much ethical. The extent of attack by the US was indiscriminate. According to Grotius, during war, women, children and priest are not supposed to be attacked. However, this was not observed during US attacks. They attacked indiscriminately, leading to the death of many, both innocent and the culprits. Therefore, the war was supposed to be fought in focus areas and specific targets to minimize causalities.


Enemark, C. (2013).  Armed drones and the ethics of war: military virtue in a post-heroic age . Routledge.

Havens, T. R. (2014).  Fire Across the Sea: The Vietnam War and Japan 1965-1975 . Princeton University Press.

Johnson, J. T. (2016).  Ethics and the use of force: just war in historical perspective . Routledge.

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StudyBounty. (2023, September 15). Early Modern Thought and the Beginning of Social International Ethics.


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