The New Oxford Dictionary of War


The Oxford Dictionary’s new definition of war includes non-state, culturally evolved, and political conflicts. While this definition is far more inclusive than the OED’s, it does allow for further examination of wars, especially those that are non-declared. While wars are frequently motivated by trade, they may not necessarily be considered international. In such a scenario, war is generally defined as a clash between two or more parties with different goals.

The causes of war vary, but generally fall under four main categories. Karl Marx argues that war is the politics of economics; Thucydides cites fear, interest, and honor as reasons for war. Hobbes and Locke say war is an expression of competition, glory, or honor. Regardless of the motivation, war must be the last resort. Ultimately, the answer is in the hands of the nation, whose leaders should determine when it is in its best interests to wage war.

As with any other ethical issue, the question of legal authority raises normative and descriptive problems. The political authority that declares war may not be representative of the desires of the majority, but instead represent the will of a ruling elite. Moreover, the elite may not be representative of the masses, but may have ulterior motives that are in conflict with the interests of the masses. The ultimate question is who is responsible: the state or aristocracy?

Human rights organizations have taken action to address these problems. Human rights organizations are making strides to protect civilian populations. In a civil war, for example, civilians suffer higher casualties than the professional soldiers. According to UN Women, ninety percent of conflict casualties are civilians. Women and children make up the majority of them. Additionally, rape is used as a weapon of war in order to oppress, dominate, or intimidate communities.

While wars may be the most traumatic of human events, many of the other aspects of life that people live with are equally savaged. Health systems and education systems, the family, work environment, and supplies of food and water are all affected. The legal system and freedom of speech are also compromised. Ultimately, accountability for state abuses becomes impossible. Women’s, children’s, and minority rights all suffer in wars. And, a person’s right to life and liberty are affected.

The philosophical and scientific approach to the causes of war focuses on three different aspects of man’s nature: his political will, his biology, and his culture. Those who emphasize the role of reason in war are the most optimistic. In this perspective, the biological causes of war are irrelevant. Humans don’t choose to fight each other – they choose war to defend themselves. Therefore, the art of war is largely about using all means necessary for victory.

However, this is only the beginning of philosophical study of war. Philosophical studies have highlighted the detrimental effects of war on human health. More people die in war situations than in other conflicts, and conflicting situations create more deaths than any other kind of human conflict. War destroys families and communities, disrupts the social fabric of a nation, and diminishes both human and material capital. These are only the most obvious effects of war; there are many other unintended consequences that cannot be adequately explored.