Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Just Jus

Walzer puts it, shall we say, nicely (in the very Austinian sense):
All of us who argue about the rights and wrongs of war agree that justice in the strong sense, the sense that it has in domestic society and everyday life, is lost as soon as the fighting begins. War is a zone of radical coercion, in which justice is always under a cloud. Still, sometimes we are right to enter the zone.
I shall leave aside the just causes of war to another time.

Right now, I want to focus on the ways in which war is fought, the idea of the just waging of war. Walzer concedes a litte dating on the just war theory
Jus ad bellum (which deals with the decision to go to war) and jus in bello (which deals with the conduct of the battles) are its standard elements, first worked out by Catholic philosophers and jurists in the Middle Ages.
That is, he is basing his criticism on a theory developped to suite the mental and social development of the middle ages.

If just war theory is built around
Ideas like self-defense and aggression, war as a combat between combatants, the immunity of noncombatants, the doctrine of proportionality, the rules of surrender and the rights of prisoners- these are our common heritage, the product of many centuries of arguing about war.
then it is a heritage largely based on medieval modes of warfare. Mano-e-mano, a sword in hand, where the fighting was done on the field between participants who ciould choose to run away.

What chance of surrender are there, though, for a conscript in a bunker about to be hit by a cruise missile? What of children in trenches being bulldozed to their deaths? Waves of conscripts under chemical attack clouds? Lines of men being gunned down by machine-gun fire? Where is the justice in the slaughtering of someone who may never in their life be involved in taking another's life, because they happen to be wearing a certain uniform in a certain warzone?

After all, jus in bello generally recognises this odd distinction between soldiers (supposedly voluntary patricipants to a war - after all, they could always surrender, or desert, they have that option) and civilians. Yet, in modern total war, this distinction is inevitably hard to make. It is known for a certain fact that in war civilians will die. The demonstrable attempt to prevent collatoral damage does not negate the priori consciousness that deaths will occur. In civil life, that is, at the very least, manslaughter, if not murder. More and more, modern war is total war, armies versus whole cities - how can you spot a soldier if the bugger won't wear a shiny bright uniform and stand up and be shot, like in the old days?

The fact is, that the technology of war, and of organising war, has advanced, with several effects. Old notions of personal honour, and a fair chance in a fight are wiped out by industrial death technology, killing with the flick of a switch. Whole populations are mobilised because communications are there to do it. If they are not mobilised, they die anyway, because the force of war is such that either they get caught in the immediate effects, or like the 70% unemployed of Iraq, they suffer the disruption to the integrated system of production that is modern capitalism.

Of course, we could just decry these new technologies as unjust. Though that would mean declaring any war fought with them as unjust. Further, though they increase the ease of killing, they also improve the chance of protecting. After all, military commanders have a conflicting duty alongside that of waging war justly - they must protect their own troops. They have a duty of care.

It's irrelevent that the commander of the Belgrano, 20yrs on, admitted that that ship was going to be a threat. The fact was, that even apparently sailing away outside the British exclusion zone, it posed enough of a threat to British soldiers to necessitate killing the boys in its hold without a second chance. That the British soldiers had been placed in harms way is neither here nor there. The Belgrano was just war at work.

Commanders must adopt the advanced technologies, else they will see their troops slaughtered. They must risk collatoral damage, or else see their troops get picked off in bloody house to house fighting. Once you drop a daisy cutter, you don't have the option of assessing whether or not its victims deserved to die on a case by case basis.

Finally, it's worth noting, as I did some years ago here that much of the modern theory of war comes from past-times professional soldiers, who had an interest in regulating the rules of war. Irrespective of the cause of the war, they were professionals who fought because that was what they did. The Olympic spirit - its not how well you do, its how well you dfight, the taking part that counts. I think it's no coincidence that such values were inculcated at the time of Empire and military rule by Britain. This is, though, an admirable position for professional soldiers, except, of course, it brings them into potential conflict with political masters who have to think of the cause of the war.

Walzer is right, the 'rules of war' do need updating. But, the need for updating them comes, partly, from the very technology that makes war so unrelentingly horrible. Nowadays, we have the information to know what happens in wars - they are not events far away, unreported in a tiny hamlet in germany as they would have been in 1712, or whenever. They are under our gaze, the unconscious of war has become conscious, and that may make it intolerable. Certainly, it will show the hypocrisy necessary to fight a just war for what it is.

Coming next, the cause of wars.


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