Ethics Discussions at PEA Soup: Cécile Fabre’s “Guns, Food, and Liability to Attack in War”

We are pleased to announce the first installment of our collaboration with Ethics, where we will host a discussion of one article from each issue of the journal, and the journal will make a copy of that article freely accessible (for a limited time) to our participants. 

Our first featured article is Cécile Fabre's "Guns, Food, and Liability to Attack in War" (Volume 120, issue 1).  The article is now available here.  We are also very pleased that Jeff McMahan has agreed to provide a précis to introduce the discussion.  Professor McMahan's précis will appear, and discussion of the article will begin, on Monday, January 11.

One Reply to “Ethics Discussions at PEA Soup: Cécile Fabre’s “Guns, Food, and Liability to Attack in War””

  1. I thank Cecile Fabre for her clarification that here we are concerned with the ethical aspects during an ongoing war only after it has unfolded and events preceding is not within the scope of our discussion. The discussion so far has veered around ‘functionalist’ approach and ‘threshold limit’ of the function of civilians in an ongoing war that makes them liable to be attacked and killed. On the functionalist approach my main objection is on a somewhat different premise. During the course of an ongoing war, just or otherwise, all kinds of rights of civilians (human rights, negative or positive rights) are the first casualty irrespective of which side of the war they are unfortunate to be in. At the least their movements and daily lives get disrupted, they start living under constant fear from getting caught in the crossfire, and at the worst they may be used as a pawn or human shield to protect the fighting military (an ironic twist of international human rights norms which seeks to protect civilians and the military uses to its advantage). They no longer enjoy a free will of their own to decide on the morality of their own actions. Even if they were in a position to do so it is practically impossible for the attacking side to know this for sure. Therefore, they are entitled to benefit of doubt and it is the moral duty of the attacking side to recognize it as such.
    As for the threshold limit of the civilians function during a war that might invite liability to be attacked and killed I would resort to simple conventional dictionary distinctions between ‘military’ and ‘civilian’ rather than tread into dangerous territory that could lead us to practically justify any action and any amount of killing of civilians.
    Military: A member of the armed forces .. (period) ( no distinction as to whether formally inducted by a nation or informally coerced by a belligerent group or self inducted through righteous indignation)
    Civilian: A person whose primary occupation is civil or nonmilitary (that is, not a member of the armed forces)
    The threshold word is ‘armed forces’. A military is a person who has been a part of the armed forces prior to outbreak of the war and continues to be so during the war until he is captured and disarmed where by he attains the status of a prisoner of war. A civilian by contrast was not a part of the armed forces prior to outbreak of the war and continues to be so during its tenure until the time he gets inducted into the armed forces and has the potential to kill the enemy military directly, not by any other stretch of imagination. Military doctors, nurses, and unarmed people who provide indirect support to the army, should be also considered in the same category and immune to liability. Unintentional killing of such categories of people is at par with the unintentional killing of civilians both of which constitute collateral damage and has to be kept well measured.
    Therefore, my view is that civilians, the way defined above, can never invite the liability of being killed. Immunity from harm is their human right. However, for them, the unfortunate probability of being killed as a part of inevitable collateral damage in any war still remains. This is an issue that rests solely on the attacking side of a just war who has to decide on, “The permissible limits of collateral killing in a just war and liability for compensatory justice thereafter for collateral damage,” so that the war continues to remain a just one when judged years after it is over.

Comments are closed.