Home > Uncategorized > Hugo Grotius: Provoking no wars, invading no countries, spoiling no neighbors to aggrandize themselves

Hugo Grotius: Provoking no wars, invading no countries, spoiling no neighbors to aggrandize themselves

Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Hugo Grotius
From The Rights of War and Peace
Translated by A. C. Campbell

Though most powers, when engaging in war, are desirous to colour over their real motives with justifiable pretexts, yet some, totally disregarding such methods of vindication, seem able to give no better reason for their conduct, than what is told by the Roman lawyers of a robber, who being asked, what right he had to a thing, which he had seized, replied, it was his own, because he had taken it into his possession. Aristotle in the third book of his Rhetoric, speaking of the promoters of war, asks, if it is not unjust for a neighbouring people to be enslaved, and if those promoters have no regard to the rights of unoffending nations? Cicero, in the first book of his Offices, speaks in the same strain, and calls “the courage, which is conspicuous in danger and enterprise, if devoid of justice, absolutely undeserving of the name of valour. It should rather be considered as a brutal fierceness outraging every principle of humanity.”


Others make use of pretexts, which though plausible at first sight, will not bear the examination and test of moral rectitude, and, when stripped of their disguise, such pretexts will be found fraught with injustice. In such hostilities, says Livy, it is not a trial of right, but some object of secret and unruly ambition, which acts as the chief spring. Most powers, it is said by Plutarch, employ the relative situations of peace and war, as a current specie, for the purchase of whatever they deem expedient.


It was shown above that apprehensions from a neighbouring power are not a sufficient ground for war. For to authorize hostilities as a defensive measure, they must arise from the necessity which just apprehensions create; apprehensions not only of the power, but of the intentions of a formidable state, and such apprehensions as amount to a moral certainty. For which reason the opinion of those is by no means to be approved of, who lay down as just ground of war, the construction of fortifications in a neighbouring country, with whom there is no existing treaty to prohibit such constructions, or the securing of a strong hold, which may at some future period prove a means of annoyance. For as a guard against such apprehensions, every power may construct, in its own territory, strong works, and other military securities of the same kind, without having recourse to actual war. One cannot but admire the character, which Tacitus has drawn of the Chauci, a noble and high-spirited people of Germany, “who, he says, were desirous of maintaining their greatness by justice, rather than by acts of ungovernable rapacity and ambition – provoking no wars, invading no countries, spoiling no neighbours to aggrandize themselves, – yet, when necessity prompted, able to raise men with arms in their hands at a moment’s warning – a great population with a numerous breed of horses to form a well mounted cavalry – and, with all these advantages, upholding their reputation in the midst of peace.”


Nor can the advantage to be gained by a war be ever pleaded as a motive of equal weight and justice with necessity.

Neither can the desire of emigrating to a more favourable soil and climate justify an attack upon a neighbouring power. This, as we are informed by Tacitus, was a frequent cause of war among the ancient Germans.

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