To listen the article select text   Click to listen highlighted text! To listen the article select text

The Problem With Making War “Humane”

Humane warfare is a paradoxical idea with a long history. Essentially, the notion speaks of the attempt to make war less lethal and more ethical for the purpose of minimizing the suffering of soldiers and civilians, a concern that, by the 19th century, had grown on account of the carnage of industrialized and mechanized warfare. Expressing this view in the early 1860s, for instance, the founders of the Red Cross struggled to make warfare less hostile even as they acknowledged its inevitability. From their efforts emerged the First Geneva Convention (1864), which established international rules of warfare for the treatment of sick and wounded soldiers. At the same time there emerged a transatlantic peace movement that sought to resist war, not by making it more humane but by outlawing it altogether. For peace activists such as Leo Tolstoy, Jane Addams, Bertha von Suttner, and others, humanizing warfare amounted essentially to legitimating and perpetuating it. They believed that criminalizing and abolishing war was the only option.

This old debate between advocates of humane warfare and its pacifist critics foregrounds the argument of Samuel Moyn’s new book, Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War. Moyn, a professor at Yale Law School and a historian of human rights, seeks to explain how the United States came to embrace humane warfare, which, since the events of 9/11 have resulted in endless wars around the globe. This turn of events, Moyn shows, was far from inevitable. In between the two world wars, the peace movement in the United States swelled to 12 million adherents. Most Americans still wanted little to do with European-style power politics, as demonstrated by its strong isolationist bloc, as well as the role US leaders played in establishing the Kellogg-Briand Pact, a 1928 multilateral agreement that sought to eliminate war as an instrument of national policy. However, the advent of the Cold War led to the demise of the peace movement as the United States embraced its new role as the world’s superpower leading to brutal wars-fought in Korea and Vietnam in the attempt to contain communism.

It was not until late in the Vietnam War, argues Moyn, that US elites came to take humane warfare seriously. Allegations of war crimes after the My Lai massacre, long the parlance of the radical anti-war left, now became “respectable” as they moved to the liberal center. As a consequence, says Moyn, the 1970s witnessed lawyers and various groups concerning themselves with something called “international humanitarian law.” However, if Vietnam planted the seeds of humane warfare, the War on Terror would “perfect” it, Moyn argues. Despite the hope that the Obama administration would bring to an end George W. Bush’s global war on terror, it actually expanded it. Obama did so by making recourse to precision weaponry, a “drone empire,” and a troupe of lawyers that devised legal frameworks for targeted killings around the world. Instead of ending the war on terror, Moyn affirms, Obama not only made it morally plausible for a domestic audience, but in the process expanded the scope of US military operations. Thus, “as American wars have become more humane, they have also become endless”—just as Tolstoy and his fellow pacifists predicted.

The Nation spoke with Samuel Moyn about his new book, the pacifism of Leo Tolstoy, how the Vietnam War changed the way US elites came to think about warfare, and how humane war was perfected under the Obama administration. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Click to listen highlighted text!