A Moral Military

A Moral Military

Sidney Axinn
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt14btf9m
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    A Moral Military
    Book Description:

    In this new edition of the classic book on the moral conduct of war, Sidney Axinn provides a full-length treatment of the military conventions from a philosophical point of view. Axinn considers these basic ethical questions within the context of the laws of warfare: Should a good soldier ever disobey a direct military order? Are there restrictions on how we fight a war? What is meant by "military honor," and does it really affect the contemporary soldier? Is human dignity possible under battlefield conditions?

    Axinn answers "yes" to these questions. His objective inA Moral Militaryis to establish a basic framework for moral military action and to assist in analyzing military professional ethics. He argues for the seriousness of the concept of military honor but limits honorable military activity by a strict interpretation of the notion of war crime.

    With revisions and expansions throughout, including a new chapter on torture,A Moral Militaryis an essential guide on the nature of war during a time when the limits of acceptable behavior are being stretched in new directions.

    eISBN: 978-1-59213-959-0
    Subjects: Philosophy, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Preface to the Revised and Expanded Edition
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface to the First Edition
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Should a soldier ever disobey a direct military order? Are there restrictions on how we fight a war? What is “military honor,” and does it really affect the contemporary soldier? These questions lead to a number of ethical problems, including the odd but basic one: Is human dignity possible under battlefield conditions? This book considers views on several sides of these matters, analyzes the “laws of warfare,” and concludes that the answer is “yes” to each of the above questions. Military honor matters, morality restricts military choices, and human dignity can be won or lost.

    If military honor and “laws”...

  6. 2 Morality: Why Sacrifice Myself?
    (pp. 11-39)

    Moral questions concern choices between the alternative paths of satisfyingeitherone’s personal, individual goals or the goals of some entity outside of and different from one’s self. Such questions arise on almost every page of this book. During a war, should one risk one’s life as a soldier or flee the country? Should one follow the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners, or may prisoners be shot to preserve one’s own personal safety? Should a soldier keep his or her word, even if personal convenience, safety, or advancement suggest otherwise? Should a soldier use torture to obtain possible...

  7. 3 Military Honor and the Laws of Warfare: When Can I Lie to the Enemy?
    (pp. 40-64)

    In ideal terms, military honor is military persons’ display of what Thomas Hobbes calledthe relish of justice:“That which gives to human actions the relish of justice, is a certain nobleness or gallantness of courage, rarely found, by which a man scorns to be beholden for the contentment of his life, to fraud, or breach of promise.”¹ In other words, honor is honesty even when it hurts. If honor is desirable and if Hobbes is right that it is rarely found, can we teach it?

    When students in a civilian college are found to be cheating on an examination,...

  8. 4 Hostilities: All Is Not Fair
    (pp. 65-86)

    The laws of war will allow the enemy’s water supply to be bombed, or the enemy to be drowned in it, but they will not allow putting poison into that water. The enemy can be made to die of thirst or drowned but cannot be killed by an undetectable poison. Odd though it may seem, there is a reasonable basis for this distinction. Here we consider this and related limitations on hostilities.

    Before studying the specific details of international law that affect hostilities, we must note the role of “protecting powers.” The Geneva Conventions (1949) clarified the status of a...

  9. 5 Prisoners of War
    (pp. 87-96)

    Earlier chapters made regular reference to the modern conception ofprisoner of war(POW) and used the concept in various ways. However, the subject is so important that it calls for special consideration. In the Army’s FM 27-10, the chapter on POWs is by far the longest. Here, we will give merely an outline of a few of the many aspects of the POW status.

    The British Manual on Military Law gives a helpful bit of history:

    Few of the customs of war have undergone greater changes than those relating to the treatment of prisoners. In ancient times captured soldiers...

  10. 6 Spies
    (pp. 97-106)

    According to the Hague Rules, “a person can only be considered a spy when, acting clandestinely or on false pretences, he obtains or endeavors to obtain information in the zone of operations of a belligerent, with the intention of communicating it to the hostile party.”¹

    Suppose the two countries involved are at peace. Does this definition apply to the case of obtaining restricted (confidential, secret, or other classified)² information from one’s own country with the intention of giving it to a foreign power when the two countries are not at war? While such an act may be most serious and...

  11. 7 Nonhostile Relations with the Enemy
    (pp. 107-112)

    What dealings, other than hostilities, does a military unit have with its enemy? In addition to the responsibility for POWs, several kinds are to be expected. An armistice period, a period in which fighting ceases, may have to be arranged and carefully monitored. A surrender may be agreed upon and carried out. These activities, along with travel within occupied territory, must be regulated. Occupation of a territory may require all or most of the machinery of the ordinary government.

    In order to make the arrangements for an armistice, a surrender, or a safeguard for persons such as diplomats, the wounded,...

  12. 8 War Crimes, Remedies, and Retaliation (Dirty Warfare)
    (pp. 113-139)

    The concept of a war crime is at the center of military ethics. What is a war crime, who is responsible for it, and what reprisals are justified against it? The business of this chapter is to respond directly to these questions. In addition, due to the events of the past few decades, we must pay new attention to the termterrorism. How is terrorism related to war crimes? After considering the general idea of a war crime, we will define terrorism.

    The term war crime covers any violation of the laws of warfare. Such crimes may be committed by...

  13. 9 The Dirty-Hands Theory of Command
    (pp. 140-152)

    If we take our subject seriously, the theory of leadership known as “dirty hands” must be considered. Without this theory, a discussion of military morality would seem unreal. Briefly, the theory holds that in order to govern an institution, one must sometimes do things that are immoral. To act properly as a mayor of a city, a chief of a police department, a head of a large corporation, or a commander of an engaged military unit, one must have morally dirty hands. Further, this theory insists, we do not want leaders who are so concerned with their own personal morality...

  14. 10 Torture
    (pp. 153-162)

    Tony Lagouranis, who spent a year in Iraq as a U.S. Army military interrogator in Abu Ghraib and other prisons, says that he “noticed something very disturbing. People are absolutely fascinated by torture. As soon as someone learns that I was an interrogator, I can see him formulate the next question.… ‘Did you torture anyone?’ It comes from people all across the political spectrum, from people both disgusted by torture and from people who actually want the troops to do it.”¹ I’ll leave to the psychologists the question of why people are so fascinated by torture. This chapter will deal...

  15. 11 Nuclear Devices and Low-intensity Conflicts
    (pp. 163-177)

    Are nuclear weapons acceptable or forbidden as a means of waging war? Two responses will be offered to this question. The first is based on a reading of the Conventions and the second comes from an analysis by an eminent contemporary philosopher, Richard Wasserstrom.

    When we consult the existing manuals on the question, we find a strange situation. They include only extremely brief references to the most powerful weapons of all and only oblique comments on their usability. In its July 1956 edition, FM 27-10 has a single sentence in the paragraph on atomic weapons that states that these weapons...

  16. 12 Conclusions
    (pp. 178-196)

    Chapter 2 considered the range of moral styles. The rest of this book may be thought of as a discussion of various aspects of the war conventions. Now we have this question: What is the moral status of the style that follows the conventions and the moral status of the styles that do not? Specific and narrower questions about morality appeared in each chapter, but we are still left with the matter of the status of the conventions as a whole.

    To judge moral status calls for us to locate three factors: (1) the moralactor, (2) thebeneficiaryof...

  17. Appendix 1. Are the Hague and Geneva Conventions Obsolete?
    (pp. 197-202)
  18. Appendix 2. Topics Not Considered in the Text
    (pp. 203-206)
  19. Appendix 3. Test on the Laws of Land Warfare
    (pp. 207-212)
  20. Notes
    (pp. 213-232)
  21. Brief Bibliography
    (pp. 233-236)
  22. Index
    (pp. 237-240)
  23. Back Matter
    (pp. 241-241)