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Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Moral Responsibility of Volunteer Soldiers

Should they say no to fighting in an unjust war?

Jeff McMahan
The Boston Review
Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Here is an excerpt:

Traditional Just War Theory

The idea that voluntary enlistment in the military can be morally problematic derives from a neglected tradition of just war thinking. This approach to the ethics of war informed the work of some of the classical just war theorists, such as the 16th century Spanish philosophers Francisco de Vitoria and Francisco Su├írez. It was, however, gradually abandoned by thinkers whose views together constitute what I call “traditional just war theory.” The traditional theory has been ascendant since at least the 18th century, but the older approach has recently been resurrected by a group of “revisionists.” The best way to understand revisionist just war theory is to contrast it with the traditional theory, which has had a profound influence in shaping common sense thinking about the ethics of war, in part because it was developed in tandem with the international law of armed conflict.

According to traditional just war theory, a soldier does no wrong by fighting in an unjust war, provided that he or she obeys the rules regulating the conduct of war. This theoretical idea finds powerful expression in public sentiments. For centuries it has been regarded as not merely permissible but conspicuously noble and admirable for a soldier to go to war without any concern for whether the war’s cause was just.

The entire article is here.
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