“Is All Fair in Love & War?” Just & Unjust Wars through the prism of Jewish and Secular Thought Part 4

Fair Conduct in War: The second component to the notion of Just War Theory is fair conduct in war.  A Just War can be fought in an unjust way as General Sherman committed in the burning of Atlanta (Just and Unjust Wars, 32), and unjust wars can be fought in strict accordance with rules of engagement. There is a need to hold soldiers to certain standards even if they fight unwillingly.  Soldiers may not be responsible for the war itself but are responsible for their conduct during war which includes disobeying immoral orders (35-38). Part of fighting a war is insuring that the force used is proportional and the force has limited, if any, permanent damage to society (128-129). Soldiers need to be concerned about two sorts of rules:  first, when and how they can kill and second, whom they can kill – the definition of a combatant as well as what defines a non-combatant (42). When a soldier fights another soldier, one is engaging in acts of war. However those same actions may be considered acts of murder when soldiers take aim at wounded or disarmed soldiers as well as non-combatants.  When soldiers do not rape or deliberately kill civilians, this is not an act of magnanimity but of appropriate behavior (135).    Walzer asserts that there must be a plausible distinction between combatant and non-combatant. He recognizes that there are certain challenges in warfare in creating these differences (137). This includes determining the difference between civilians who are part of the war effort (e.g. munitions workers) and those who are not engaged in the fighting or in support of, those who are.  Walzer reminds us that saving civilians may incur risk to the lives of soldiers.  That is a cost of war. However, the challenge to this rule is what degree of protection does the civilian deserve and what cost is there to the individual soldier in order to protect the civilians?  While laws say nothing about such matters, they leave such decisions to be made by the men on the spot with reference only to their own moral notions or the military in which they serve (152 – 156).

Posted in Ethics, War

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