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Romantics at War

Romantics at War: Glory and Guilt in the Age of Terrorism

Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Romantics at War
    Book Description:

    America is at war with terrorism. Terrorists must be brought to justice.

    We hear these phrases together so often that we rarely pause to reflect on the dramatic differences between the demands of war and the demands of justice, differences so deep that the pursuit of one often comes at the expense of the other. In this book, one of the country's most important legal thinkers brings much-needed clarity to the still unfolding debates about how to pursue war and justice in the age of terrorism. George Fletcher also draws on his rare ability to combine insights from history, philosophy, literature, and law to place these debates in a rich cultural context. He seeks to explain why Americans--for so many years cynical about war--have recently found war so appealing. He finds the answer in a revival of Romanticism, a growing desire in the post-Vietnam era to identify with grand causes and to put nations at the center of ideas about glory and guilt.

    Fletcher opens with unsettling questions about the nature of terrorism, war, and justice, showing how dangerously slippery the concepts can be. He argues that those sympathetic to war are heirs to the ideals of Byron, Fichte, and other Romantics in their belief that nations--not just individuals--must uphold honor and be held accountable for crimes. Fletcher writes that ideas about collective glory and guilt are far more plausible and widespread than liberal individualists typically recognize. But as he traces the implications of the Romantic mindset for debates about war crimes, treason, military tribunals, and genocide, he also shows that losing oneself in a grand cause can all too easily lead to moral catastrophe.

    A work of extraordinary intellectual power and relevance, the book will change how we think not only about world events, but about the conflicting individualist and collective impulses that tear at all of us.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2517-2
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. CHAPTER ONE War’s Appeal
    (pp. 1-25)

    When the first plane hit, we thought it was an accident. We did not anticipate an attack. We could not even muster fighter planes fast enough to protect the second World Trade Center tower or the Pentagon. If the passengers on the fourth hijacked jet had not been courageous, we might have suffered even more serious harm in Washington, D.C. But not only our military was caught by surprise. Our minds were also asleep.

    We had received all the clues necessary to know that we were in danger. Islamic fundamentalist terrorists had already tried to blow up the World Trade...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Irreconcilable Conflicts
    (pp. 26-43)

    Is the conflict between liberal individualism and Romanticism the kind that lends itself to a solution? Could both sides just sit down and negotiate, compromise, and split the difference? Here, interestingly, it depends on whom you ask. If you put the question to a child of the Enlightenment, the answer is, of course, that there must be some way to accommodate the Romantic hostility to the Enlightenment within a broadened conception of Enlightenment values. This seems to be the ambition of Nancy Rosenblum in her bookAnother Liberalism, which begins with a provocative account of the Romantic attraction to war...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Collective Crime
    (pp. 44-70)

    Traditionally, international law addressed the behavior of states. The state is a collective reduced to a person, a sovereign, a single entity that can take its place alongside the other sovereigns in the law of nations. As all human beings are created equal, all states are equal subjects in international law. Traditionally, in the way we thought about international relations, the only players were states; individual human beings—the plural subjects constituting the state—did not count. Since the Nuremberg proceedings, however, treaty-makers and international criminal courts have emphasized the responsibility of individuals for crimes against the law of nations....

  7. CHAPTER FOUR The Guilt of Nations
    (pp. 71-91)

    We have concluded without too much difficulty that armies act, governments act, nations act. Collectives act. Perhaps this is a rather elementary conclusion. We could have reached it intuitively—without the pyrotechnics about the proper interpretation of the nature of war and the Rome Statute. Once I was in a conversation about this topic with Bernard Williams, in which my astute interlocutor responded, “Of course, there is a difference between collective and individual action. Just think of this sentence ‘The Fifth Army feinted toward the Rhine and then fell to looting and raping.’” It was a brilliant example, for when...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Individuals at War
    (pp. 92-116)

    Entering military service brings a curtain down upon one’s prior life. The citizen disappears behind the curtain, undergoes basic training, and reemerges as soldier. The soldier becomes an agent bound in service to the state and the nation. As a good soldier, he or she obeys the officers in command. Thinking less about right or wrong, surrendering to the moral judgment of the commander, enables the phalanx of soldiers to respond in military situations with discipline and efficiency. Destroying property, wounding, and killing in the name of the war are no longer immoral acts. To paraphrase the unforgettable line from...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Guilty Relations
    (pp. 117-138)

    The German “invasion” in 1942 failed because the men chosen for the mission were all of divided loyalties. They had spent time in the United States. Most of them spoke English well enough to pass as citizens. Yet theReichtrusted them without any supervision to remain loyal to Hitler on American soil. Dasch caved in almost immediately and supplied the FBI with the inside information necessary to arrest the other seven. He betrayed the mission, partly out of self-interest, partly because he may have felt some residual loyalty to the United States.

    This is a typical case of treason...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Romantic Perversions
    (pp. 139-156)

    To understand how and why the Romantic influence over criminal law confounds our thinking about treason, we should take a step back and review the course of our argument. We began with the observation that despite the liberal and individualist influence on the facade of legal discourse, the idea of polycentric collective action runs through contemporary legal thought. I demonstrated this in the context of liability for international aggression, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Further, we concluded that—so far as there is collective guilt for these crimes—it is appropriate to treat the nation as the bearer...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT Distributing Guilt
    (pp. 157-178)

    Enlightened liberal thinkers have good reason to be disturbed by the implications of Romanticism for punishing guilty actions. The two moral perversions of Romantic thinking—transmission by birth and guiltless sincerity—should be enough to make one dubious about Romantic thinking in the law. If that were not enough, the critic of Romanticism can point to the potentially chauvinistic tendencies of Herder, Fichte, Wordsworth, and Byron. Even if communal self-love does not erupt in xenophobic and bellicose policies, taking the nation seriously as a collective entity has its own problems. It generates a receptivity to collective guilt that in turn...

  12. CHAPTER NINE Shadows of the Past
    (pp. 179-195)

    Our attraction to collective guilt, despite its vices, suggests a residual memory of a time when nations made a deeper mark on our consciousness than did individuals. Imagine a world in which only the nation could enter into a covenant with God. Think of a time when warfare meant the obliteration of entire peoples. Nations were not merely part of the chorus of history. They were the only players on the stage.

    This is the world of the Bible. By immersing ourselves in its stories we can gain another perspective on current quandaries about crime and guilt. We can learn...

  13. CHAPTER TEN Living with Guilt
    (pp. 196-214)

    The result of war is sometimes glory, but more often guilt. Losers feel guilty for letting down their comrades in arms, and they may tender similar feelings toward the home front and their political leaders. Winners may make things worse by subjecting them to trials for alleged war crimes. The victors, for their part, cannot easily escape guilt for the actions that seemed necessary to win the war. Their morally sensitive countrymen never allow them to forget, for example, that they engaged in actions like nuking Hiroshima or confining Japanese Americans in security camps. Even survivors feel guilty. InWe...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 215-240)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 241-251)