Terrorism and the Ethics of War

Stephen Nathanson

Language: English

Pages: 328

ISBN: 0521137160

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Most people strongly condemn terrorism; yet they often fail to say how terrorist acts differ from other acts of violence such as the killing of civilians in war. Stephen Nathanson argues that we cannot have morally credible views about terrorism if we focus on terrorism alone and neglect broader issues about the ethics of war. His book challenges influential views on the ethics of war, including the realist view that morality does not apply to war, and Michael Walzer's defence of attacks on civilians in 'supreme emergency' circumstances. It provides a clear definition of terrorism, an analysis of what makes terrorism morally wrong, and a rule-utilitarian defence of noncombatant immunity, as well as discussions of the Allied bombings of cities in World War II, collateral damage, and the clash between rights theories and utilitarianism. It will interest a wide range of readers in philosophy, political theory, international relations and law.













The right to life also includes a right to defend ourselves against fatal attack and other grievous harms. Moreover, with 14 15 Nozick comes closest to maintaining the absoluteness of certain rights, but even he seems to concede something like an extreme emergency exception in a footnote comment; Anarchy, State, and Utopia, 30. Nozick’s willingness to respect property rights even at the cost of great suffering reveals a less appealing aspect of absolute rights. Jeremy Waldron discusses the problem of conflicting rights in “Rights in Conflict,” Ethics 99 (April 1989), 503–19.

Or is it like diverting a runaway trolley from a track with five people on it to a track with one? If we think that the cave case is more like the transplant case, then we are likely to think it wrong 17 For an influential analysis of both the transplant and the trolley case, see Judith Thomson, The Realm of Rights (Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1990), chapters 5–7. The trolley example appears in Foot, “The Problem of Abortion and the Principle of Double Effect,” 23. 186 Defending noncombatant immunity to dynamite the exit open.

Sometimes terrorists make political demands and threaten more violence if the demands are not met. Or they engage in violence to publicize their cause. Sometimes they act out of revenge – both to make others suffer and to let them know that continued suffering is the price they will pay for resisting the terrorists’ agenda. Whatever the goals of a specific attack may be, it must be connected to a political agenda. Violence that is unconnected to such an agenda is generally not called “terrorism,” even if it causes widespread fear.

Combatants may be attacked. Noncombatants may not be intentionally killed or injured except in supreme emergencies. Combatants may be attacked, but noncombatants may not be intentionally killed or injured. Weak noncombatant immunity Noncombatant immunity with a supreme emergency exception Strong noncombatant immunity walzer’s rejection of proportionality and utilitarianism As we have seen, the proportionality principle requires that whatever harms are caused by a military attack must be proportionate to the military gains.

When they say that the lives of innocent people “may never be taken directly,” they mean to forbid only intentional killings and to leave open the possibility that actions that kill innocent people “indirectly” (unintentionally) may be permissible. This idea is part of commonsense morality. We commonly distinguish, for example, between murdering people and designing highways, even though both activities cause the deaths of innocent people. The difference is that murderers intend to kill people while highway designers intend to create effective means of transportation that facilitate travel and enhance people’s lives.

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