Monday, January 7, 2008

The Power of Just War Theory

International relations scholars of the realist ilk (as well as certain collaborators of mine on this blog) often express skepticism of the power of basic just war principles over the actions of weapons-bearers facing battle or governments facing grave security threats.

Evidence of this position is often given in the language of body counts. A litany of atrocities is listed, seemingly underscoring Sherman's famous dictum that "war is hell."

To that I would respond with Fredrick Kratochwil and John Ruggie's point that ethical norms "are counterfactually valid." You know they exist not because they are always followed, but because they are invoked even when they're broken.

As evidence of my position, consider this blog post reprinted on Armchair Generalist's website. It is the "in case of death" letter of a military blogger just killed in action in Iraq, the first US casualty of the New Year:

"I suppose I should speak to the circumstances of my death. It would be nice to believe that I died leading men in battle, preferably saving their lives at the cost of my own. More likely I was caught by a marksman or an IED. But if there is an afterlife, I'm telling anyone who asks that I went down surrounded by hundreds of insurgents defending a village composed solely of innocent women and children. It'll be our little secret, ok?"

1 comment:

Cleitus the Black said...

Counterfactual validity?

What stuff and nonsense. This sounds remarkably like what the withered and irascible Grandma Cleitus called "wishful thinking."

Of course the benighted Major would have liked to imagine (and lie to the angelic hosts) that he'd gone down swinging, protecting the innocent from marauding hordes.

That doesn't changed the fact that he, as a mid-grade factotum in an invading army had his mortal flame snuffed by a handful of bullets fired by patriotic defenders of the very Nation upon whose soil he trod.

There were no innocents to be protected - in fact, I suspect there are about as many "innocents" (in every meaning of the word) remaining in Iraq as their are nuns in your average whorehouse; and the war in which he was an active participant can be no means categorized as just; it was a war of conquest, not defense; a war to unseat a former ally who had since become unpopular; a war that was never a war (as that would require a declaration of Congress).

Counterfactual validity?

Sadly, my dear Doctor, the facts counter the validity of your very argument.

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