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GAMSAT Essay on War + Corrections

Here’s an essay on a popular topic among Gamsat students: war.

Have a read of the essay below. Afterwards I will explain a couple of problems with it and how it could be improved.

“I have never advocated war except as a means of peace” – Ulysses S. Grant

The question of whether there is ever a just reason to go to war is an issue that has been debated from a number of points of view. Ulysses S. Grant once stated that “I have never advocated war except as a means of peace”, the point I think he is trying to make with this statement is that he would never condone a declaration of war on another nation/opposing faction for such mainstream reasons that have plagued international relations in the past such as; to settle a dispute between leaders, eg The Hundred Years War between England and France, or to increase a nation’s territory either at home or abroad. Instead he states that he would be in favour of war if it would lead to peace. For instance when Tokugawa Ieyasu fought a war against Ishida Mitsuhide which culminated in victory for the Tokugawa forces at the Battle of Segikahara, Ieyasu’s objective was too bring an end to the constant fighting of the previous century of Japanese history. With his victory Ieyasu was able to forge a peace in Japan that lasted for over 250 years with the founding of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

In contrast to the view of Ulysses S. Grant is the belief that there are just reasons for war with no thought of peace afterwards. For instance war may be necessary to stop the ambition’s of a nation in domination of it’s neighbours, and to stop them doing evil. On of the key examples of this would be the declaration of war on Germany by Britain, her Empire, and France at the start of the 2nd World War. Having tried to appease Hitler during the previous 3 years and failing to stop his ambitions for Europe these 2 nations realised that it would take a war to stop Hitler. As such they were not declaring war to achieve a peace directly but to stop the ambitions of Hitler’s Germany.

Trying to change an unjust system can also be a just reason for war. This is demonstrated during the Three Servile Wars fought by slaves against the Roman Republic. The most famous leader of these slaves would be Spartacus, leader during the 3rd Servile War. Whilst it started as a few dozen gladiators winning their freedom it mothballed into 80,000 slaves taking their freedom and fighting against the Roman Republic to put an end to their slavery.

Whilst his thoughts about reasons for war can be challenged through providing just reasons for declaring war on another nation Grant’s comments still hold true. Even with the other just reasons for war their overall objective is still in line with Grant to produce a lasting peace, even if that is by crushing ambition or winning your freedom.

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As far as GAMSAT essays go this isn’t a bad one. The writer’s knowledge of history is certainly impressive. He brings this knowledge in to support his argument anecdotally. However, as per the GAMSAT marking scheme, you don’t get points for knowing lots of stuff.

 

Problem 1: Sentences too long

I previously published an article about the value of short sentences. The sentences here are very long and difficult to follow. Several are completely unnecessary. The first paragraph can be trimmed down substantially:

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The question of whether there is ever a just reason to go to war is an issue that has been debated from a number of points of view. (…Never say this – show it!) Ulysses S. Grant once stated that “I have never advocated war except as a means of peace”, (…We know, it’s in the title.)

The point I think he is trying to make with this statement is that he would never condone a declaration of war on another nation/opposing faction for such mainstream reasons that have plagued international relations in the past such as; to settle a dispute between leaders, eg The Hundred Years War between England and France, or to increase a nation’s territory either at home or abroad. Instead he states that he would be in favour of war if it would lead to peace.

For example, when Tokugawa Ieyasu fought Ishida Mitsuhide at the Battle of Segikahara, Ieyasu sought to bring an end to warfare in Japan. Following his victory, Ieyasu founded the Tokugawa Shogunate and forged a peace in Japan that lasted for over 250 years.

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Isn’t that easier to follow?

 

Problem 2: Failure To Distinguish Between Objective & Subjective Ideas

An objective idea is an idea which holds the same meaning regardless of the perspective.

eg. 2 + 2 = 4

A subjective idea is one which adopts different meanings depending on the perpective of the viewer.

eg. Justice

Justice is a highly subjective concept. One man’s justice is another’s torture. The writer speaks of “just” reasons for war. But what one nation considers a just reason for war others will see as a brutal invasion of their homeland.

The writer claims that valid reasons for war include “…to stop the ambitions of a nation … to stop them doing evil” … but does not acknowledge the subjective nature of evil. Those ambitious nations do not believe themselves to be evil. They believe they are righteous too – they just have different core beliefs than you.

Look at America’s “War on Terror” for example. Both sides, the US government & the Islamic militants, feel they are righteous. Both sides claim to be fighting for God. Both sides spew their own propaganda within their social circles, and both sides have equal difficulty in comprehending how the other can believe they are doing anything but evil.

Or look at it another way. When a slave unsuccessfully & violently rebels against her masters and the laws that imprison her, she is branded as a ‘terrorist’. The upper class celebrates the punishment of her rebellion as ‘justice’. Had she succeeded in her revolution, however, the new controlling majority would have celebrated the punishment of their cruel former rulers as ‘justice’.

Clearly any allegedly righteous justification for violence is rooted in subjectivity.

The writer appears to argue against Grant by proposing that there are good reasons for war other than to bring peace, but at no point does he actually question the validity of Grant’s statement. He only considers the side of the argument that favours war.

Any war can result in peace if the war-bringer seeks total annihilation of all enemies. Peace, in this case, only exists because there is no longer any opposition to the ruling power. This is the counterpoint to Grant’s argument and the essay writer would have gotten more points for his essay if he had demonstrated an understanding of this.

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In an essay that wields broad subjective ideas such as evil and justice it is important to be as specific as you can in your use of language. You must show you understand the ideas that you express. Leave no aspect of your GAMSAT writing open to ambiguous interpretation.