Eventually, these posts will get around to summarizing my own research, in which I’ve compared moral judgments made in war to those made in peace.
But for now, let’s think about other, less academic and perhaps more thought-provoking, evidence about the distinction between war and peace.
Exhibit A: This protester seems to be trying to apply a “regular” legal and moral judgment about intentional killing of other people, to the war context. In so doing, they are probably implying a bunch of things about the status of combatants, civilians, and others who are killed (or who kill) in war (cf. “abortion is murder”).
Exhibit B: Anders Behring Breivik, the man who murdered 77 people (many of them children) in Norway in 2011, was relying on the “opposite” idea to the one expressed by the protester above. He believed he was fighting a “civil war”, and felt he should have been tried in a military court rather than a civilian one (source: my memory of this book). In a military court, he may have been tried for violations of the Geneva Conventions, but probably not for murder (source: guesswork).
Exhibit C: Breivik obviously doesn’t have the authority to “declare war” just like that, and thus insist on military justice. But who does have that authority? It’s a surprisingly thorny question, but perhaps even more surprising is the fact that many wars are fought without this formal declaration. For example, the last time the U.S. declared war was 1942. (So what was going on in Vietnam, you might ask? This wikipedia page provides a short explanation which raises more questions than it answers…)
Exhibit D: While it might be politically expedient in some cases not to declare war, doing so can also be rhetorically powerful, evoking collective effort, sacrifice, coordination, and victory. This seems to be what Bill McKibben was trying to do, when he wrote that We Need to Literally Declare War on Climate Change. It’s not just a rhetorical device, either; some have suggested literally using mobilization for WWII as a guide when mobilizing for the Anthropocene.
The attentive reader will probably have noticed two things: One, in all these cases, the distinction between war and peace is being challenged, negotiated, subverted, or blurred. Whatever the difference between the two contexts is or isn’t, the boundary between them is paradoxically worth fighting over. Two, my research (and the previous post) is about moral judgment. But, the cases above might have had just as much to do with legal judgments. Do legal distinctions mirror moral distinctions? Why, why not? Let’s save those questions, too, for a future post…
I know, I know, I keep doing this! But really, there is so much to unpack in this area – my thesis was almost 100,000 words long! You’re welcome to jump straight into it of course (hah), but please forgive me for breaking it into 500 word hyper-linked chunks for the present medium.