War confronts us with some of the most difficult ethical dilemmas in human experience. Peace is less stressful, but even maintaining the peace can be more difficult than it appears. Restoring peace once lost can be daunting, and can present the responsible citizen with moral dilemmas every bit as challenging as those faced by soldiers at war. In both circumstances, the leaders of nation states must face stark tradeoffs as they decide whom to provide with resources and who not. In the worst cases, they must decide who lives, and who dies. And of course, soldiers at war do this also, and occasionally the ordinary citizen.
Then there are issues like torture, and treatment of prisoners of war, and treatment of civilian refugees, and whether to intervene in conflicts among neighbors or not, and if so, how. Each of these may seem easy in the abstract, but they are very, very difficult when the people are real and the facts of the case unclear, which is common.
It takes days to discuss the nuances of such dilemmas, but the decisions of real people faced with morally difficult choices must sometimes be made in the blink of an eye. Then, they may be judged by others far away and years later. We do not have days today, so I will begin with a simple outline of the types of hard questions faced by four actors in the dramas of war and peace. They are: the soldier, the citizen, peacemakers and leaders of governments. I will consider their dilemmas in a slightly different order below.
For the Soldier:
1. When is it appropriate to kill?
2. When is killing required?
3. How should I treat civilians?
4. Should I distinguish between “able bodied men” and women or children?
5. Can I distinguish between the “innocent” and the “guilty?” And whether or not I can, can landmines or a 1000-kilogram bomb?
6. How should I treat my enemies, even while killing them?
7. How should I treat POWs? [Prisoner’s of War] What if they know secrets
that could save millions?
8. When is torture justified, if ever, and why?
9. When can orders be disobeyed?
10. When MUST orders be disobeyed?
11. If the laws of war contradict the orders of my leader (or my God) what should I do?
This was an essay prepared to support several presentations at Busan National University and at affiliated colleges over 9 days in 2002. It was published in Korean there, but I do not have links to any of that so registered the paper here at the U of Minnesota's excellent Digital Conservancy.
Busan (or Pusan depending on the date of translation) National University in southern South Korea
Andregg, Michael M..
Ethical Dilemmas in War and Peace.
Busan National University in South Korea.
Retrieved from the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy,
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