This book examines the moral choices faced by U.S. political and military leaders in deciding when and how to employ force, from the American Revolution to the present day.

Specifically, the book looks at discrete ethical dilemmas in various American conflicts from a just war perspective. For example, was the casus belli of the American Revolution just, and more specifically, was the Continental Congress a "legitimate" political authority? Was it just for Truman to drop the atomic bomb on Japan? How much of a role did the egos of Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon play in prolonging the Vietnam War? Often there are trade-offs that civilian and military leaders must take into account, such as General Scott’s 1847 decision to bombard the city of Veracruz in order to quickly move his troops off the malarial Mexican coast. The book also considers the moral significance and policy practicalities of different motives and courses of action. The case studies provided highlight the nuances and even limits of just war principles, such as just cause, right intention, legitimate authority, last resort, likelihood of success, discrimination, and proportionality, and principles for ending war such as order, justice, and conciliation.

This book will be of interest for students of just war theory, ethics, philosophy, American history and military history more generally.

chapter 1|18 pages

Just American wars?

From Lieber’s Code to the Cold War and beyond

part I|2 pages

The ethics of going to war

chapter 2|16 pages

Arguing the American Revolution

Just cause, legitimate authority, and right intention

chapter 3|16 pages

When is enough enough?

Last resort and likelihood of success in the War of 1812

chapter 4|28 pages

Dominos, ego, and national honor

The ethics of going to, and prolonging, the Vietnam War

part II|2 pages

The ethics of how war is fought

chapter 5|26 pages

The Texas Rangers, Yellow Jack, and Veracruz

Proportionality and discrimination in the Mexican–American War

chapter 6|12 pages

Truman, Hiroshima, and contemporary nuclear issues

The intersection of jus ad bellum and jus in bello

part III|3 pages

Bringing war to a morally and politically satisfying end

chapter 7|16 pages

The Taft Commission in Manila

Political order, justice, and conciliation after the Spanish–American War

chapter 8|19 pages

Vindication or vengeance in 1919?

The contrasting policies of Wilson, Clemenceau, and Lloyd George

chapter 10|21 pages


Just war dilemmas since 9/11