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World War II Was the Only Truly Justified(Foreign) War Ever Fought by the USA

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 9/21/2014 Category: Politics
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 925 times Debate No: 62049
Debate Rounds (3)
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Since its founding, the United States has been engaged in a nearly endless string of conflicts. ranging from relatively minor skirmishes to two full blown world wars. I posit that of all these conflicts, World War II has been the only foreign affair that was justified. Serious arguments only please. For the purposes of this debate, we will confine our definitions to foreign, interventionist affairs. The War for Independence does not count, nor do conflicts like the War of 1812, which could be argued to be a purely self-defensive conflict, or the Civil War, whose purpose no can agree on to begin with. First round will be opening arguments, second will be rebuttals and further arguments, third will be final rebuttals with closing arguments.

To begin, I will point out that of all the wars fought by the US, WWII was the only one with clearly defined goals, clearly defined stakes and clearly defined enemies who instigated the conflict. The Pearl Harbor attack was a violent declaration of war which no sane nation could ignore. Hitler was fast revealing his true intentions: to become a world ruler and dominate as far as he could reach. With the fall of either Britain or Russia, Hitler would have been unopposed on the European continent. Once the solidification of power there was complete, the US's ability to defend against a naval invasion from Japan AND Germany would have been exceedingly difficult, if not impossible. Thus the US's cause against Hitler was clear: a preemptive alliance with Britain and Russia was necessary right away. To delay a counterstroke by even a year would have meant a purely defensive US operation, at best. Hence the need to intervene in France and push into Germany.
By contrast, all other forms of interference by the US have been shakily justified, with many of these engagements doing more harm than good. WWI, for example, was an affair between European powers that should never have happened. US intervention DID end the conflict, but in the aftermath, the meddling by Wilson and other US policy makers only served to jumble the European continent and set the stage for WWII.
To back up my points, I refer to the ever reliable Just War Theory, which, more or less, is defined to include:
1) Just Cause
2) Comparative Justice
3)Competent Authority
4) Right Intention
5)Probability of Success
6)Last Resort
7) Proportionality(Source: Wikipedia, Obviously)
Examination of these points supports the need for WWII, while all other US foreign affairs do not. These arguments are very broad for now, but I shall refine them and source them as we get further into the debate.


I accept the rules and the requirements of this debate, and I look forward to a fruitful discussion.

This is a very interesting topic, and my opponent heralds an opinion which I have never really come into contact with, that arguing the only ever justified war for the United States was the Second World War. While I could level many critiques arguing that the USA's campaign in that war was not justified, it is my understanding that actual conduct in a war is not important here, but simply the causes and situation surrounding the war; hence, you could say the US butchered a war, but it was still justified in initiating it. So it is my duty here to find at least one US overseas conflict that conforms to Pro's rules of a justified conflict

The First Barbary War

The "Barbary States" referred to free provinces in the Ottoman empire, including Algiers and Tripoli. (1) In 1801, Thomas Jefferson began a bombardment and semi-invasion of these after years of abuse and failed diplomacy. 4 years later, the enemy provinces surrendered. Let us see how it meets the requirements:

1, Just Cause

One would be hard-pressed to deny that the US had a very legitimate grievance. For decades, the Barbary States had been plundering US navy and merchant ships, enslaving the crew, seizing the loot, and using it to sponsor further state terrorism. (2) The only way to ward off these attacks was to pay the pirate-States ludicrously high tributes every month, and, of course, to pay the ludicrously high ransom prices of the captured soldiers and sailors. In fact, at one point yearly cost of the tributes came out to 20% of the Government's budget! (3)

2. Comparative Justice

Given that the Barbary States took over 1.5 million slaves between 1775-1815, from Europe as well as America (4), almost anything would be comparative justice. However, as wars go, this one was "clean". Virtually no civilian casualties, low personnel casualties, and the job, which saved millions, was completed. (5)

3. Competent Authority

It could be argued that no Government is competent enough to run a war, but Thomas Jefferson has to be pretty high on the list of competent rulers. The point is: if you say Thomas Jefferson was not competent, then you cannot say a war could ever be justified.

4. Right Intention

There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that Thomas Jefferson and his administration had any ulterior motives or shady business to attend to. The US garnered no material wealth from the conflict (6), did not conquer any land, gain great political popularity, etc... The intention was simply to force the pirate-states to sue for peace, which they did, and in 1805, a peace treaty was signed that stipulated, among other things, that the Barbary States may no longer conduct raids on land and on sea. (7)

5. Probability of Success

Hard to say on this one. The United States certainly were far more capable and powerful in the military sector, and the Barbary States were united but not organized, so had I lived at the time, I would have been very confident in US victory.

6. Last Resort

After researching this issue, there is no doubt in my mind that this invasion was the last resort. The only negotiation terms the Barbary States would accept involved ever-increasing tribute, and when asked why they attacked countries with whom they had no disagreement, the leaders of the States claimed they had religious rite above all else to kill and maim as they saw fit. Even under threat of invasion, the provinces remained stubbornly defiant, and ultimately, Jefferson had to make good on his promises.

7. Proportionality

No, the retribution was not proportional to the crime in that the Barbary States practiced much greater and much worse cruelty and evil than the United States. The casualty count after the 4-year conflict was a measly 835 men, among the lowest in recorded history. (8)

Simply put: the war was quick, effective, and not especially destructive, undoubtedly saving far more lives than it cost. The US initiated the struggle to protect Americans as well as other countries plagued by the attacks. To say this war was not justified or carried out efficiently would simply be fatuous. Good luck to my opponent in the next round.

(3) (4)
(5) (8)
Debate Round No. 1


I apologize. When I wrote out the requirements of the debate, I had grouped conflicts like the Barbary Wars in my head with the War of 1812("nor do conflicts like the War of 1812, which could be argued to be a purely self-defensive conflict") since the Barbary Wars were purely defensive in nature. I consider wars like WWI to be the controversial ones since they were preemptive wars, with the US being the aggressor against a state that had not yet directly threatened America. If I were to amend the title of the debate to be more specific, I would use the word "preemptive" in there. Now, although the Japanese were clearly the aggressors that drew us into WWII, I have met people who claim that WWII should have been fought as a purely defensive war, with the focus being on Japan alone and allowing Germany to duke it out with Britain(even though Japan and Germany were freaking allies). This claim got me interested in this debate, since I always found the second war against Germany legitimate in a way that the first never really was. Preemptively invading France in this case was warranted, while, say, preemptively invading Vietnam was less so.

I do concede your points about the Barbary Wars, and I agree with your assessment, I had simply not considered it to be an issue. If I may outline my theory a bit better: There have been 5 formal wars fought by the US: 1812, Mexican, Spanish, WWI and WWII. Of these five, 1812 was defensive, and the rest were either preemptive to a degree, or they were acquisitional and thus controversial( ) It is these types of wars that I debate the legitimacy of, as well as those wars that were not formally declared by Congress, and especially those directed by the UN(which I think has the least authority of all). So Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, all of these I challenge the legitimacy of.

If my worthy opponent wouldn't mind debating on these terms I would be honored. Otherwise, I will concede to him, since I failed to clearly outline the parameters of this debate, and thus he wins both substantially and technically. I eagerly await his response.


I thank my opponent for his acceptance of responsibility for the misunderstanding, and would ask the gaffe be taken into account (for example, what is a "formal war"), but not the ultimate standard of judgement in this debate,

I would also argue that the Barbary Wars do fit the parameters of our discussion, but am perfectly happy to vie for the merits of the US's involvement in WW1.

World War 1:

Threats to the United States

There is little doubt that the First World War simply did not need to happen; it began as a classic mid-evil land grab on the part of Austria-Hungary and Russia. (1) However, to suggest that the resulting threat to the United States and it's allies be ignored is puerile. The threats, and indeed actual attacks endured by the US were real and immediate,

The first of these threats is known as the Zimmerman Telegram. Sent by Germany, the short message to the Mexican Government message was this: invade the United States, and when we're done here in Europe, we'll help you finish the US off and reclaim the land in the South stolen during the Mexican-American war. (2) If not for the interception by British intelligence, who knows how history might have been altered.

The telegraph was an extreme provocation which had to be responded to, but was only one small threat. In 1917, Germany authorized its notorious U-Boats to sink American ships at will, a year after the Germans had sunk a commercial liner, killing over 100 Americans. (3) By March, Germany had launched dozens of attacks on unarmed passenger and merchant ships, killing hundreds of non-combatant Americans and destroying hundreds of tons of valuable cargo. (4)

Lastly, the situation was looking dire for America's allies, Britain and France. Germany was plainly winning, by winning battles and militarily cutting off foreign aid, resulting in rationing and countless shortages. Some go as far as to say England was a week away from surrender when the United States decided to join. (5) Protecting our allies and "making the world safe for democracy" became very important in 1917.

How Does it Meet the "Justified War Theory"?

1. Just Cause

The deaths of hundreds of Americans with many more to come, the direct threat of invasion, and of course the very real possibility of Germany conquering Europe? Few greater causes exist.

2. Comparative Justice

Germany gave permission for its navy to obliterate ships, civilian or otherwise at will, and tried to arrange the invasion of the United States. Moreover, Germany did not initiate the war, but was certainly the greatest perpetrator and aggressor. The response was required and comparative.

3. Competent Authority

The war by the United States was run by a perfectly competent leader in Woodrow Wilson, elected by the people, and who was very hesitant to enter into war, running for reelection on the slogan "he kept us out of the War" (6) There are better presidents to run a conflict, but President Wilson was plenty able.

4. Right Intentions

All of the right intentions. The US did it's best to defeat Germany and bring on a lasting peace (woe to that goal), heavily involved in the formation of the Treaty of Versailles.

5. Probability of Success

An allied victory was likely, but definitely not guaranteed. However, given the circumstances, the United States has very little choice on whether to get involved--it was a necessity.

6. Last Resort

I believe I can say with confidence that Wilhelm and Germany had no intention of letting up. The attacks on American ships would continue, and the war would drag on, with the allies more and more beaten every day. For an anti-war president like Wilson, were there a peaceful solution, it would have been taken.

7. Proportionality

A somewhat arbitrary standard in the case of WW1, but Germany had to be stopped, for the sake of Europe as well as the United States. The action taken was proportional to what had to be done.

As I am running low on characters, I will cut my arguments here. But to rebut, my opponent must explain the following: how the attacks and provocations on the US did not warrant and really demand extreme and immediate action, how the US could justify allowing Germany to win the war and take much of Europe under its yoke, and how the US would solve the problem by any other method.

(3) (4)
Debate Round No. 2


IrishWolverine forfeited this round.


My opponent, having never really made an argument, forfeits. Arguments extended through final round.
Debate Round No. 3
3 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Posted by IrishWolverine 3 years ago
@ cheyennebodie I am actually a staunch conservative(which you would have seen if you'd taken 2 seconds to look at my profile). Part of the conservative ideal is to value human life, and one manner of doing so is to seriously and thoroughly examine the prerequisites for war. I don't think we should be "fair", I think we should be justified. Bombing the bejesus out of foreign nations in no flippant task. I seek to be sure we're bombing the right ones.
Posted by cheyennebodie 3 years ago
Korea was a united nations war.Now America bore the brunt of it. And if we had not stopped communists from invading from the north, South Korea would be just as poor as the north.Viet nam would have the same outcome if politicians would have let the military run things.Afganistan was just a reaction from 9/11.The 1990 Iraq war was also a U.N. war.Now the second Iraq war could leave some doubt about us being there.

You are probably liberal. Obsessed about being fair. And you think we were not justified because they could not handle us militarily.Maybe we should have armed our enemies so we would be " fair".
Posted by AlternativeDavid 3 years ago
Looks like this one is over.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by imabench 2 years ago
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Total points awarded:04 
Reasons for voting decision: Con blew pro's case out of the water with the mention of the Barbary war that the US fought, and even when Pro tried to change the resolution of the debate to focus on more 'war'-like wars, con still gave a decent argument for intervention in WWI when Pro forfeited. Arguments to the con, conduct as well since pro both forfeited a round and tried to change the resolution. Very one-sided win