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An important and rather surprising development in much recent philosophical and public discourse about war has been the endorsement of preventive war. This is clearly related to the Bush administration’s famous (or infamous) enthusiasm for this form of military engagement that they preferred to call preemptive war, a preference which, as many commentators have noted, obscures important moral and political issues.
The widespread discussion of this topic is also bolstered by a concern for two prominent phenomena of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, namely terrorism and extreme political persecution. The first worry gained additional momentum from the attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001 that provoked “the war on terror,” and the second was given additional urgency by the ghastly slaughter in Rwanda during 1994 that helped stimulate a huge debate on the value of armed humanitarian intervention which, having failed to occur in Rwanda, then took place to some extent in Bosnia and fully in Serbia and Kosovo, and was cited by some as justification for the intervention in Iraq. It was also cited in the more recent air power intervention in Libya. In what follows, I want to consider not only the issue of preventive war in the context of state-on-state hostility and political tension, but in the context of contemporary terrorism and, more briefly, humanitarian disaster.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of 'em dead,
And we're cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
“He's a cheery old card,” grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.
* * * * * * * * *
But he did for them both by his plan of attack.
Recent writings on war and violence by philosophers have understandably concentrated a lot of attention upon those provisions of the jus in bello that concern the immunity of noncombatants from direct attack and targeting. I say this is understandable because the history of so many twentieth-century wars tells of the staggering loss of non-combatant life, limb, health, and property, very much of it attributable to the tactic of aerial bombardment. It is one highly commendable achievement of the International Red Cross movement and the United Nations to have made the immunity of noncombatants an important element in the Geneva Conventions via its Protocols, so that where international law was once silent about the victimisation of noncombatants, it can no longer be so. The success of the movement to write these provisions into international law provides some evidence against the claim, discussed in Chapter 1, that just war theory is utterly ineffectual.
Michael Walzer has argued that membership in the political community entails in certain circumstances an obligation to die for the state. In this, he follows Hobbes, and to a greater degree Rousseau, though like Hobbes, but for somewhat different reasons, he is uneasy with the obligation and, in the upshot, hedges it in various ways. Hobbes and Rousseau are not (unlike Walzer) conspicuous contributors to, or advocates for, just war theory, and this is, I believe, significant, since adherence to just war theory makes it difficult to maintain an unqualified commitment to the obligation. Indeed, some of the most significant challenges to at least the scope of the obligation have come from conscientious objectors who do not reject war altogether, and often rely upon a just war perspective to legitimate their refusal of service. In what follows, I shall examine some of the problems raised by the idea that governments should legally accommodate such challenges in a nonpunitive way. Let us begin with Hobbes's discussion of the alleged obligation to die for the state.
The old distinction maintained in civilized warfare between the civilian and combatant populations disappeared. Everyone who grew food, or who sewed a garment, everyone who felled a tree or repaired a house, every railway station and every warehouse was held to be fair game for destruction.
H. G. Wells, writing of World War 1
To any but those consumed with warrior lust, it must make sense to ask, as we asked in Chapter 3: “when, if ever, is it right to go to war?” In the broadest interpretation of morality, this is a moral question, since, as noted earlier, those who look solely to national interest, even national aggrandisement, or to the balance of power will invoke moral or ethical concepts in the course of answering it. They have, they will declare, as leaders of their people (or even as politicians) an obligation to pursue the national interest, since that is what they have been entrusted to do. The national or imperial interest so pursued will produce a certain sort of global harmony, or at least betterment; the resort to political violence in sober pursuit of the national interest eliminates the dangerous consequences of moralistic motivations driving nations either to complacent inaction or to ideological warfare; the balance of power is a recipe for stability and a certain type of peace.
The world will not help us; we must help ourselves. We must kill as many of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders as possible, as quickly as possible, while minimizing collateral damage, but not letting that damage stop us.
“Enough,” editorial in the Jerusalem Post, September 11, 2003, p. 8
I recognized beforehand that someone might be … bringing their kid to work. … However, if I had known there was an entire day-centre, it might have given me pause to switch targets. That's a large amount of collateral damage.
Timothy McVeigh, interviewed by reporters for The Buffalo News about his attack upon the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building
We have been examining the principle of discrimination, in particular, its prohibition of intentional attacks upon noncombatants. But there remains an important area of contention, even if all I have argued in Chapter 6 about the immunity of noncombatants is accepted. This area is that often covered by the military euphemism “collateral damage.”
This phrase is one of those catchwords that help to sanitise the horrible reality of war and other employments of political violence. It has taken its place along with “surgical strike,” “revisiting the area” (i.e., renewed bombing), and “neutralising assets” as part of the linguistic camouflage that contemporary war fighters often use to disguise the human and moral costs of what they do.
Mercenary warriors have generally had a bad name over the centuries, and never more so perhaps than in the last third of the twentieth century. My purpose here is to examine both the name and the evaluation. I do this not only because of the considerable intrinsic interest of the topic, but also because I think that such an examination is likely to throw light upon wider issues in the theory of war, and especially upon the ethics of war and the morality of political violence in general. More specifically, closer attention to what is morally distinctive about mercenaries is likely to improve our understanding of the moral status and responsibilities of regular soldiers.
Both the name and the ill repute raise philosophical perplexities. There are underlying puzzles about what we are to understand by the term “mercenary,” and there is a deal of obscurity about the source of the obloquy commonly heaped upon those who bear the name. Not that all evaluations have been negative: the supporters of mercenary soldiery include St. Thomas More, whose wise Utopians would do everything they could to avoid sending their own citizens into battle, and so “most of their fighting is done by mercenaries.” Indeed, mercenaries have been commonly employed in warfare throughout the centuries. To support or defend mercenaries, however, we need to have at least a rough idea of what they are.
The problems posed by what are called weapons of mass destruction (WMD) loom large in contemporary international politics. Their alleged presence in Iraq was the principal public reason for the Iraq war, and their actual absence an embarrassment, if not a political and moral disaster, for the invaders and their supporters. Iran's alleged pursuit of them is the focus of another international crisis, so clarification of the nature of such weapons and the distinctive dangers they pose, or even are believed to pose, calls for specific treatment here, even though some of the problems raised by WMD will require revisiting some matters that have been dealt with in earlier chapters.
Since there is usually a tremendous amount of destruction in war, whatever weapons are used, it may seem that the concentration on specific weapons as “weapons of mass destruction” is peculiar. Is the machine gun a weapon of mass destruction because its use has enabled the efficient and rapid killing and injuring of vastly more people than previous weapons? Is the aeroplane, especially the bomber? These are not normally viewed with the disapproval reserved to WMD. Why not? There seem to be two reasons. First, these weapons are not in themselves geared to the idea of mass destruction, though that has indeed proved to be a common employment.
My interest in war and related forms of political violence dates back to my early childhood, when, before conscription was instituted, my father volunteered for service in World War II. I recall being shocked when I realised that war involved people who didn't know each other and had no direct grievance against each other trying desperately to kill each other because they were on opposite “sides.” My shock was of course all the greater and more personal for the realisation that my father might kill or be killed. He was not killed or physically wounded, as it happens, though he took part in one of the bloodiest battles of the Australian involvement in the Pacific war against the Japanese on the island of Tarakan off the Borneo coast. I don't know what part he played in the killing of enemy soldiers, since, like many combat soldiers, he was most reluctant to speak to his family of his war service.
Since then, my conviction that there is something affronting, even absurd, and certainly morally problematic about the resort to war has been strengthened by reading and reflection about war's reality. I have never myself experienced what Keegan once called “the face of battle,” and hope never to do so.
… my thoughts were powerless against an unhappiness so huge. I couldn't alter European history, or order the artillery to stop firing. I could stare at the War as I stared at the sultry sky, longing for life and freedom and vaguely altruistic about my fellow-victims. But a second-lieutenant could attempt nothing – except to satisfy his superior officers; and altogether, I concluded, Armageddon was too immense for my solitary understanding.
Sassoon's ironic articulation of the enormity of war and its capacity to reach beyond understanding or individual control captures something that has been echoed in the thoughts and writings of many participants, observers, and theorists of warfare. Indeed, the impotence and blankness that Sassoon describes is one of the perceptions that lies behind a famous dictum propounded by the philosopher Thomas Hobbes in the seventeenth century. Always a foe of euphemism and evasion, Hobbes succinctly posed a central issue with which much of this book will be concerned: “Where there is no common power, there is no law: where no law, no injustice. Force and fraud, are in war the two cardinal virtues.” Amongst other things, we shall examine whether this bleak view is true and what would follow if it were. Initially, the existence of laws of war, just war theories, and codes of military ethics would seem to give the lie to Hobbes, and it is interesting that he makes virtually no reference to the extensive body of writing on such matters that existed at the time he wrote, though he must have been familiar with it.
Political violence in the form of wars, insurgencies, terrorism and violent rebellion constitutes a major human challenge. C. A. J. Coady brings a philosophical and ethical perspective as he places the problems of war and political violence in the frame of reflective ethics. In this book, Coady re-examines a range of urgent problems pertinent to political violence against the background of a contemporary approach to just war thinking. The problems examined include: the right to make war and conduct war, terrorism, revolution, humanitarianism, mercenary warriors, the ideal of peace and the right way to end war. Coady attempts to vindicate the contemporary relevance of the just war tradition to current problems without applying the tradition in a merely mechanical or uncritical fashion.
There can be no doubt that the value of peace has served as a significant inspiration for theorists and activists over the centuries. Thomas Hobbes made the pursuit of peace a foundation stone of his laws of nature and a reiterated theme in his discussion and elaboration of them, and they, in turn, supported his whole ethic and political philosophy. His first “and fundamental” law of nature is “to seek Peace and follow it.” Pacifists, of course, are devoted to peace, but many nonpacifists claim an equal dedication, even if it lacks the same consequences. As mentioned in Chapter 1, the United States Strategic Air Command, whose constant task was to maintain the credibility of nuclear devastation, even had as its motto “Peace is our profession,” without any apparent awareness of the delightful ambiguity contained in the word “profession.” Hugo Grotius called his famous treatise on the law of war The Rights of War and Peace (De Jure Belli Ac Pacis), and declared “the unabated desire and invariable prospect of peace” to be “the only end for which hostilities can be lawfully begun.” The Lieber Code says of many nations and great governments related to one another in close intercourse in “modern times”: “Peace is their normal condition; war is the exception. The ultimate object of all modern war is a renewed state of peace.”
Terrorism intrigues and disturbs policy makers, the media, and the public even more in the infancy of the new millennium than it did in the last quarter of the twentieth century. And although this fact no doubt delights terrorists themselves, and consoles them for the apparent ineffectiveness of much terrorist activity in achieving ultimate political goals, it is nonetheless surprising that the phenomenon has commanded such attention. Prior to September 11, 2001, the death and damage done by what are commonly called terrorist attacks in any single year had been mostly insignificant compared to the annual road toll in the United States, or to the “collateral” death and damage caused by the NATO bombing of Serbia in just one month of 1999. Even the September 11 attacks were small-scale compared to the destruction wrought by other dramatic attacks, such the bombing of Dresden and the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II. These might well qualify themselves as terrorist acts, and indeed I shall argue that they should, but most of the contemporary anxiety about terrorism is focused on the activities of substate agents whose successes have been nowhere as spectacular. The explanation of what can seem a disproportionate concern with substate terrorism is sometimes said to lie in the random and unexpected nature of the attacks, but this cannot be the whole story, since most road deaths are, if anything, even more random and unexpected, though of course they are not usually “attacks.”