Defining War

Lawrence Freedman

in The Oxford Handbook of War

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780199562930
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Politics & International Relations

Defining War


In its origins war is about a miserable condition and that is how it is still commonly and understandably viewed. But it is a condition which is often knowingly entered because not doing so carries its own miseries and dangers. The alternative to war is normally described as ‘peace’, with positive connotations of harmony and tranquillity. But peace can also involve oppression and subjugation, an incessant fear of attack, inadequate resources for survival, or a lingering sense of dishonour. This goes to the heart of the issue of war. On the one hand it is about a purposive activity, geared to the demands of personal, group, and national security. On the other it is about the grim consequences of conflict. War is a bad thing to happen but, at least on occasion, a good thing to do. States continue to prepare for war while professing to wish to legislate it out of existence, promising only to fight for the most righteous of reasons, as a last resort, and in the most civilized manner.

Keywords: war; miseries; oppression; fear of attack; national security; conflict

Article.  6885 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; International Relations

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