Oct. 30, 2019

10. The Moral Status of Chemical Weapons: Arguments from World War I

While the human condition affords countless examples of what Pope had in mind, perhaps no more striking wartime example can be found than that of the employment of chemical weapons in World War I. Chemical weapons—regarded as vicious and hated by all self-identified “civilized peoples”—were first endured, then pitied, then embraced by both sides, even as both sides held their noses, both literally and figuratively, for having chosen to employ weapons condemned throughout history. Then, in a turn so quick as to make the head of the body politic spin, the international community roundly condemned these weapons, even as individual states muttered under their breath—in the form of treaty reservations—their willingness to employ them again if an enemy did. At least some in Germany took all of this in stride, as evidenced in a now famous diary entry by army officer and author Rudolf Binding, written in the immediate aftermath of the gas attacks at Ypres, Belgium: “I am not pleased with the idea of poisoning men. Of course, the entire world will rage about it at first and then imitate us.” Imitation did, indeed, follow, both in the attacks employing progressively more lethal weapons and the amassing, over the course of the 20th century, of huge stockpiles of chemical weapons.

Oct. 30, 2019

9. The Ethical Challenge of Information Warfare: Nothing New

This chapter considers the ethical challenge of a problem that was not new in 1914, had not been resolved by 1918, and continues to exist: the strategic weaponization of information as an instrument of war. It describes how Great Britain used its global cable and high-powered network in conjunction with its cryptographic expertise and military assets to conduct a highly successful information war campaign against Germany and its allies. The interception of the now famous Zimmermann Telegram, which many historians and analysts see as critical to the U.S. entry into the conflict in 1917, is the focal event.1 Drawing on the experiences of Britain’s 1914–1918 information war, this chapter next draws out five challenges that states continue to face in the increasingly ubiquitous domain of cyberspace.

Oct. 30, 2019

8. The Ethics of Care for Civilians, Internally Displaced Persons, and Enemy Prisoners of War

On the Web site of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is a film titled The Path to Nazi Genocide, which gives a 38-minute overview of the history of Nazi Germany, World War II, and the genocide of the European Jews.1 The film begins not with the 1933 ascent of the Nazis to power in Berlin or the German invasion of Poland in 1939, but with the events in Sarajevo in 1914—because so much of what occurred during the years of National Socialism, World War II, and the Holocaust itself can be traced back to the events of World War I and its turbulent aftermath.

Oct. 30, 2019

7. A Profession of Arms? Conflicting Views and the Lack of Virtue Ethics in Professional Military Education

The profession of arms is viewed in one of two ways by those who put on a military uniform. Holders of one perspective see what they do as an occupation—the principal means of making a living. From an occupational point of view, the profession of arms is a collection of technical skills, or what I call a more quantitative view, that encompasses performing the duties that are expected of them, but such performance may not necessarily be a part of their self-identity. The evaluation of their job is associated with some end result: increasing profit margin, meeting quotas, completing a mission or report, and the like. In the military, extensive training hones skills in a particular context to reach outcomes desired by higher authorities.

Oct. 30, 2019

6. Society and Intensive Conflict

On a well-known Internet auction site, it is quite easy to find the commemorative medals that Great Britain and the United States issued to veterans of the Great War. Both nations used the identical phrase on the reverse of the medal—The Great War for Civilisation. However odd such an inscription might seem a century later, it clearly had a contemporary resonance. Moving to the next war, the resonance continues. In his thoughtful account of the closing days of World War II, Max Hastings argues that the character of the conflict in Western Europe was determined by the character of the Western democracies themselves. The armies of Great Britain, the United States, and their associates, he suggests, may have lacked the ruthless military prowess and determination of the German and Soviet forces, but they “fought as bravely and well as any democracy could ask, if the values of civilization were to be retained in their ranks.”1 When Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt invoked “Christian civilization” in public pronouncements as the grand cause worthy of sacrifice, they were not so much making a religious statement as appealing to a shared sense of identity, one that they expected their listeners to understand and relate to.2 Eighty years later, it is by no means obvious that this shared identity still holds.

Oct. 30, 2019

5. The Law of the Great War as an Ethical Paradigm, 1918–2038

The law of war as recognizable to modern military leaders comes from World War I in both its form and practice. Though the basic rules guiding care for the wounded and sick and the protection of captured enemy combatants and civilians long predate the Great War, no historical inevitability dictated the makeup of the law of war as it has formed over the past hundred years.

Oct. 30, 2019

4. Incompetence, Technology, and Justice: Today’s Lessons from World War I

This chapter looks at leadership issues from the Great War and draws lessons regarding accountability, the philosophy of technology, and postwar justice. Each of these areas tracks with one of the three basic components of just war thinking: the ethics of going to war (jus ad bellum), of how war is fought (jus in bello), and of ending war well (jus post bellum). When thinking about World War I, one has to consider whether the grotesque body counts were the result of incompetent leadership, and, if so, why were these incompetent leaders not fired? Second, World War I was characterized by the pell-mell introduction of new armaments and technologies, including tanks, machine guns, submarines, and chemical agents. What is the appropriate philosophical framework for establishing protocols for use and restraint of the tools of modern warfare? Third, each of the principal victors—Georges Clemenceau (France), David Lloyd George (the United Kingdom), and Woodrow Wilson (the United States)—took a different approach to postwar justice, ranging from vengeance to restoration. What was at stake, and which was the most appropriate? Operating from the just war framework, this chapter argues that these questions have currency today, whether in the consideration of how to measure the success of battlefield commanders, defining the norms and limits of cyber warfare, or advancing postconflict stability and justice.

Oct. 30, 2019

3. The Ethics of Nationalism

We are observing the 100th anniversary of the ending of World War I, a war that has been blamed to a large degree on the passions of nationalism. Today we see a debate over the virtues of nationalism vis-à-vis a growth in the importance of supranational institutions and more global governance that is strikingly similar in many ways to that which occurred in the aftermath of the war. The Brexit vote, the election of Donald Trump, and the surge of what has been referred to in a pejorative manner as “populist” and “nationalist” movements throughout the West are only the opening salvos of what I am convinced will be a mammoth struggle over ideas regarding national identity versus cosmopolitanism, more local national governments versus transnational governmental institutions, and so forth, and the impact that these ideas will have on the shape of the future international order.

Oct. 30, 2019

2. Grim Virtue: Decisiveness as an Implication of the Just War Tradition

So proclaims J.R.R. Tolkien’s Faramir, second son of Denethor, brother of Boromir, captain of the rangers of Ithilien, and later captain of the white tower when his brother falls. Faramir makes this assertion in a moment of great peril, in the midst of conflict, when he is given an opportunity to do a terrible thing in order to bring about a great good. He does not do it, and his proclamation, above, as to why he does not provides a tidy summary of the core of the just war framework, which could be rendered thus: Wars may be justly fought only in the last resort and for the aim of peace, when a sovereign authority—over whom there is no one greater charged with the care of the political community—determines that nothing else will properly retribute a sufficiently grave evil, take back what has been wrongly taken, or protect the innocent. In such cases, and only such, force may be rightly deployed to restore justice, order, and peace.

Oct. 30, 2019

1. What Should Military Ethics Learn from World War I? A Christian Assessment

The Somme has become a byword for disproportionate military slaughter, caused by criminally stupid and callous generals in the prosecution of a senseless, futile war. This narrative began to take root in Great Britain when I was a teenager in the 1960s and against the background of widespread opposition to America’s war in Vietnam. Although now under challenge from professional historians, it remains a common view and received something of a boost 5 years ago with the publication of Christopher Clark’s widely celebrated The Sleepwalkers. Clark concludes his account of the outbreak and escalation of World War I thus: “There is no smoking gun in this story; or, rather, there is one in the hand of every major character. . . . The outbreak of war was a tragedy, not a crime.” “The crisis that brought war in 1914,” he tells us, “was the fruit of a shared political culture,” which rendered Europe’s leaders “sleepwalkers, watchful but unseeing, haunted by dreams, yet blind to the reality of the horror they were about to bring into the world.”