The Ethics of War as Given by the M.A.S.H. 4077th

By Kaylyn Wade

“Senseless destruction.  That’s what it’s all about.  Get the picture?” – Capt. B.F. “Hawkeye” Pierce

Earlier this year, the television show M.A.S.H. was released on Netflix, making it available for the first time to addicts of the streaming service everywhere.  So, what’s the big deal regarding a forty-plus year old television show about a sixty-plus year old war?

Strict definitions of “just war” exist in the field of political theory.   There must be just cause before initiating war, it must be enacted with just means, and acts of war must be proportional to whatever action sparked the initiation of war.  War must be carried out with the right authority and the right intention.  During war, non-combatants must be protected and only the appropriate amount of force can be used.  Even when these guidelines are followed, however, how “just” of a war can ever truly exist?

With the flood of Syrian refugees into Europe, the international community is wondering what could have been done differently.  If war had been declared against the Assad regime in Syria after President Obama’s “red line” was crossed, would these people have been able to remain in their home country?  Or, on the other hand, would they have stayed only to become casualties of war?  What action can be considered “just” in this situation?

If Iran fails to meet the requirements laid out in the recently agreed upon nuclear deal, will war be inevitable?  If it does come about, will it be just?

Colin Powell at the UN in 2003. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Communism was viewed as the ultimate evil in the 1950s, when the Korean War was fought, and it was not the only war fought on the premise of fighting against that ultimate evil.  Were these wars just?  Today many view Islamic extremism as the ultimate evil.  Will wars be fought to put an end to it as well, as they were against communism?  Will these wars be considered just?

According to the men and women of the M.A.S.H. 4077th, just cause, proportionality, right intention, and appropriate force do not make a just war.  A just situation can only be found when lives and livelihoods are not threatened, and there is no universe in which war exists without this threat.  During war, there can be no guarantee of safety for non-combatants.  And, what about the combatants?  There was a time when they were also non-combatants, and even now that their titles have changed, they are still people, and, being so, hold intrinsic value.  How can any action be called “just” when, at its heart, its purpose is to hazard people’s lives as leverage in hopes of proving one side right against the other?

Yes, it may be the ultimate in naiveté and idealism to suggest the possibility of a world without war.  Instead of suggesting a world without war, what I am suggesting is that we rethink any conversation that uses the words “just” and “war” simultaneously.

When we declare war, we may have good intentions.  We may declare war as a way to take a stand against the use of chemical weapons.  We may declare war to protect ourselves against a threat to our security.  We may declare war to end a genocide.  But, even in these instances, will the end result of our actions truly have served the cause of our “just” intentions?  Or will the end result of our actions be still more death and destruction?

Use of the word “just” should be reserved for actions that truly reflect the meaning of the word.  A “just” action is providing an education to a little girl who would not otherwise receive one.  A “just” action is allowing a man to pray multiple times daily if that is what his religion dictates.  A “just” action is equipping a single mother with a means to provide for her family.  A “just” action is even incarcerating a man convicted of murder, rape, or assault.

What should not be called a “just” action is sending men and women to fight other men and women, with the number left standing at the end and their location to be the determinant of who “wins.”

Why go to war and accept the inherent mass risk to life?

Why build a tower using five hundred thousand tongue depressors, then blow it up?

“Senseless destruction.  That’s what it’s all about.  Get the picture?”

IMG_0164Kaylyn Wade is a master’s candidate at the Patterson School, concentrating mainly in Diplomacy with a secondary focus in Security and Intelligence.  Her undergraduate studies were at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in history and political science.  She is particularly interested in examining the convergence of religion, politics, and public opinion and participation in the Middle East.  She is always happy to be contacted at


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