Morality of War: Hugo Grotius and The Rights of War and Peace


Of Fraud Against the Enemy.

IN things of a moral nature, those means which conduce to a certain end do assume the very nature of that end. Therefore we are supposed to be authorised to employ those things which are necessary to the obtaining our just rights. If I cannot otherwise save my life, I may by any force whatever repel him who attempts it, though perhaps he who does so is not in any way to blame. This right does not properly arise from the other's crime, but from the prerogative with which nature has invested me of defending myself.

The Roman lawyers accounted all fraud used against an enemy innocent; and that it mattered not whether a man baffled his enemy by force or fraud. But every promise confers a new and special right on him to whom the promise is made; and this holds good even among enemies, notwithstanding their open hostility, and that not only in express promises, but also in tacit ones, as when an interview is demanded.

In other speeches it is enough to clear us of a lie if the words be true in any sense not altogether unusual; but in things sworn (because therein we treat not only with men, but with God, to Whom we stand obliged by our oaths, though there arise no right at all to man) it is necessary that our words be true in that sense in which we sincerely believe those to whom we swear do understand them, so that we may perfectly abhor the impiety of those who do not scruple to affirm that it is as lawful to deceive men with oaths as children with playthings. Some kinds of fraud, though permitted by nature, are rejected by nations and persons out of a greatness of spirit or a confidence of strength.

Nowadays the hanging out of a white flag is a tacit sign of demanding a parley, and shall be as obligatory as if the request were in words.

By the law of nations all subjects of the sovereign from whom one has received an injury are liable to the rule of reprisals. For reprisals are much of the same nature with taxes which are introduced for the payment of public debts. Among subjects, the law of nations excepts from reprisals only the persons of ambassadors and their baggage, when they are not sent to our enemies. But by the civil law of nations the persons of women and children are privileged, and even the goods of scholars and such as engage in marketing. 'Tender age must excuse the child and her sex the woman,' says Seneca.

What we say of them may be generally said of all men whose manner of life is wholly averse from arms. If not for justice, yet for pity, we must not attempt anything which may prove the destruction of innocents, unless for extra-ordinary reasons and for the safety of many.

Treatment of the Conquered in the Matter of Government and Taxation

IF equity is indispensable and humanity praiseworthy in our relations with private persons, they are the more applicable towards a nation, or part of one, in that injury or good is more considerable when done to many. As other things may be obtained in a just war, so the right of a sovereign over a people, and the right which the people themselves have in regard to sovereignty, may be acquired, but only so far as it is allowable by the degree of retribution due to their offence or the value of any other obligation.

To this we may add the necessity of avoiding extreme danger. In national peril it is a cruel compassion to trust too much to a conquered enemy. Sallust records of the ancient Romans, 'Our ancestors, the most religious of mankind, took nothing from the vanquished but the power to hurt.' It is a reflection worthy of a Christian; and another of his remarks is to the like effect: 'Wise men make war for the sake of peace, and undergo labour in hopes of rest.' Agreeably to this, our Christian divines teach us that the end of war is to remove those things which disturb peace.

Before the days of Ninus, the custom was rather to defend the bounds of a state than to enlarge them. The prudent moderation of the old Romans comes very near to this exemplary innocence of primitive times. 'What would our empire now have been,' says Seneca, 'if sound policy had not intermixed conquered and conquerors?'

Lastly, what is very admirable, all within the compass of the Roman Empire were by the decree of the Emperor Antoninus made citizens of Rome. There is another kind of moderation in victory--to leave to the conquered, either kings or people, their own government.

The imposition of taxes is often not so much to re-imburse the charges of a war as for the security of both conqueror and conquered for the future. Petilius Cerialis, in Tacitus, thus argues for the Romans with the Lingones and other Gauls, 'We, though so often provoked, yet by right of victory exact of you only what is necessary to maintain peace. For the peace of nations cannot be maintained without arms, nor arms without pay, nor pay without taxes.'

Agreeable hereunto are matters concerning the surrender of arms, fleet, elephants, and ceasing to maintain forts and an army. But that their own government be left to the vanquished is not only agreeable to humanity but also to policy.


IT is the duty of those not engaged in a war to do nothing that may strengthen him who prosecutes an ill cause, or to hinder the movements of him that hath a just cause, as we have said above; but in a dubious cause to behave themselves alike to both parties, as in suffering them to pass through their territory, in supplying their troops with provisions, and not relieving the besieged.


THOUGH even concerning the arbitrators, by whose judgement both parties have agreed to stand, the civil law may provide, as in some places it has provided, that it be permissible to appeal and exhibit bills of complaint, yet this cannot hold between kings and nations. For here is no superior power which can hinder or annul the obligation of a promise. Their sentence must be upheld, whether fair or unfair.

Concluding Exhortation to Peace

AND here I hope I may make an end, not that I have said all that might have been said, but what has been said may be enough to lay foundations, on which, if any other build a more stately fabric, so far shall he be from incurring my envy that he shall earn my gratitude.

Yet ere I dismiss my reader, just as before, when I treated of the design of undertaking war, I brought arguments to persuade all men to the utmost of their power to prevent it, so now I shall add some few admonitions that may be of use, both in war and after war, for the preservation of faith and peace. Violence is something brutish, and this is most prominent in war.

Wherefore the greater care must be taken to temper it with humanity, lest by too much imitating beasts we absolutely forget the man.

A safe peace is not too dearly bought at the expense of forgiving offenders, damages and charges, especially among Christians, to whom our Lord bequeathed peace. Peace being made, whatever the conditions, they must be strictly observed on account of that sacred obligation which we have proved attaches to faith. We ought scrupulously to beware not only of perfidy, but of whatsoever exasperates feeling. For what Cicero said of private friendships may be no less rightly applied to these public ones. All friendly relations are to be observed with the utmost devotion and honour, but particularly such as have been recovered from enmity by reconciliation.

May the Almighty (Who alone can do this) inscribe these maxims on the hearts of Christian powers; may He grant them also a mind with an understanding of law divine and human and with a sense of being a ministry ordained to govern man--man, who of all His creatures is dearest to God.

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