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glass_superman t1_irx9lia wrote

Is it even worthwhile to discuss or study "war crimes"?

Say we make some big advancement in our ethics around war. So what? I don't see how it would save any lives. You think that you're going to show Putin proof of some wrongdoing and he's going to act differently?

I'd like to hear someone describe a way in which philosophical study of the morality of war is going to improve society.


Butt_Putnam t1_irxh4cx wrote

Upvoting because it's a good question, but I couldn't disagree more with the premise. In Discipline and Punish Michel Foucault lays out an argument about why the criminal justice systems of the western world shifted from public torture and execution to a prison system. It's very well worth the read and I could not do it justice, but I'll try to lay out a argument from it. There are a few points from it worth bringing up. Public torture and executions were considered a right of the sovereign whose laws were broken. The severity of the punishment was not simply about the degree to which the law had been broken, but rather a display to the public of the sovereign upholding their end of the social contract. The power that sovereigns had to wield was justified by the notion that their laws and their rule protected those under it, and public displays were a signal that they upheld their end of the social contract, provided the order that they claimed to, and reinforced the notion that they had the right to employ that force. What ultimately abolished such displays was a change in the philosophy behind them. It was a deeper understanding of the inherent flaws of that system. It too easily evokes sympathy for the punished and may tilt public opinion against the sovereign. In times when the people do not feel the sovereign is upholding their end of the social contract, it provokes them, and directs their attention towards the sovereign. The shift towards gentler discipline, more private and less extreme forms of punishment, was the result of philosophical advancement, and the shift occurred in less than a century.

It's important to note that Foucault did not think that the shift was an effort to become more humanitarian, but rather a technological progression in our philosophy of power. But the advancement of this philosophy had a radical effect on how those subjected to criminal justice systems were treated.

Is it unreasonable to think that war crimes, which are also an application of power by rulers, for the purpose of control, could also change drastically in the way they manifest as a result of greater public understanding of the effects they have?


glass_superman t1_iryren4 wrote

>Upvoting because it's a good question, but I couldn't disagree more with the premise.

I love this! This is what we ought to be about, right?

What you say makes a lot of sense. I do agree that there is room for studying what we do to criminals and why. We came a long way from what you described to, for example: (read some 20 or so pages, perhaps 15 minutes?)

I guess that my concern is more about the practical. What's the point in determining that if Putin should be imprisoned given that we can't do it,

In practice, I do see use in that we might get the definition right and then teach our kids so well that we potentially raise a society that would never wage an unjust war (for whatever definition of unjust you want).

Or I suppose that maybe some 15 year old in Azerbaijan or whatever will in 30 years be the leader of the nation and maybe he'll remember Biden wagging his finger at Putin and learn right from wrong and he'll not wage a war because he learned morals that way.

But I just read and article proclaim that Biden is calling Putin a war criminal like it's some big proclamation that is going to have any effect on this war and I think that is bullshit. The outcome of this war is unaffected by such a proclamation.

In conclusion, studying war so that we can teach our kids morals around war is good. Beyond that, these moral judgements on an active war seem pointless.

As before, please disagree, up vote, and educate me!


Gasablanca t1_irzqy0w wrote

I enjoy your discussions. This is why I am in this sub.


My3rstAccount t1_irywudp wrote

Didn't that happen in China with the rise of the Confucian emperors. Basically if you act like people deserve to live or are good, they'll behave that way.


HowTheWestWS t1_it1g6ya wrote

We’ve let the violent patriarch go on for far too long. Nobody should be able to cause war in any part of the Earth. It should literally be an immediate arrest for anyone that does it regardless of their position!


Adventurous_Teach381 t1_is0ho00 wrote

Understanding why and how war crimes operate can help us design international institutions and norms to help prevent it. The International Criminal Court is imperfect and biased, but I'd imagine many war-lords since have second guessed their actions, or at least lived in fear after their horrific actions because of it.

Also, understanding war crimes can help us with teasing out culpability, which can help us bring justice to the victims.


glass_superman t1_is1w0fo wrote

Good points!

To be clear, I didn't ask my question because I was certain that there is no use for studying this! I just think that we ought to always be asking ourselves if a field of research is worthwhile. (At least that's how I operate in my life and work.)


nevaraon t1_irxciff wrote

We already hit the pinnacle of war philosophy in M.A.S.H.


glass_superman t1_irz76ie wrote

Imagine a trolley and you hold the lever. One path leads to the creation of 11 seasons of M*A*S*H. There other side leads to bad TV.

However, the rail to Hawkeye and Radar has 500,000 Koreans lashed to it.

What do you do?


nevaraon t1_irz7bs3 wrote

Well, i feel like i should point out that i play Rimworld and thus, i consider how many hats could be made


Add32 t1_irxr16q wrote

The ethics of war are not somthing putin cares about. Those fighting against him can and should still use them.

There is also the question of whether initiating a war is ever ethical/justified. It's not to hard to craft an example where aggressive intervention appears to be the only moral path forward. (And if we can do that, we definitely need ethics for war/intervention/occupation.)


jordantask t1_irxypu4 wrote

I would argue that this kind of exercise is not intended for the Putins of the world but rather those who actually do the fighting. If we can convince them to be more disciplined and moral we might limit war crimes and violence against civilians.

There will be wars as long as Putins exist, but soldiers can nullify the worst of their effects by just refusing to participate in war crimes.


ConsciousLiterature t1_is11hob wrote

I don't think anybody really cares about the ethics of war no matter how much lip service they give to it. Look at the Israelis for example. They are absolutely convinced that everything they do is just and justified and ethical and necessary. The apartheid has overwhelming support within the country. It never occurs to them that Palestinians might be human beings subject to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Same for the United States which conducts all kinds of atrocities and war crimes all around the world while crowing about how moral and ethical and exceptional they are.

Normally the excuse is something like "well we could have killed and maimed more of them but look at how great we are because we stopped at this point!"


Add32 t1_is1bmi9 wrote

I was mostly establishing that exploring the ethics of war has a use, not that it was always used. (that not all conflicts are inherently unethical)

If you want to change a country, get involved in its politics. There is no shortcut.


ConsciousLiterature t1_is1lcxt wrote

If you want to change a country become rich and powerful. Nothing else will change a country.


jordantask t1_irxyb1h wrote

The people who give the orders will learn nothing but the people fighting the war might be able to.


Augenglubscher t1_iry1j0x wrote

Most probably won't, look at the Iraq War for example. 72 % of Americans supported the invasion that killed over a million people, yet nowadays people act like they totally didn't support it and a) act like Bush was solely responsible, and b) treat Bush, a literal war criminal, like some sort of cute grandpa.


iiioiia t1_iry4vbd wrote

If we leave it at only discussing and studying, it seems unlikely that there would be any noteworthy change. However, if we were to go further and prosecute (for example: death sentence for people who are found guilty of adequately illegal crimes), it could plausibly change behavior.

Also, bringing awareness of these crimes to a broader spectrum of the public could increase the chances of similar extra-judicial punishment being carried out.

The US Military is well aware of how persuasive fear can be, I think it would be interesting to see what would happen if the management of that organization was on the receiving end of the transaction for a change. Perhaps they might find the experience as persuasive as their innocent victims do.


glass_superman t1_iryoevq wrote

Who would exact punishment? How would America etc even put Putin in jail?

I agree that awareness is good and that is what Geneva convention did. It wrote down what everyone already believed.

Enforcement seems impossible.


iiioiia t1_irytw4y wrote

>Who would exact punishment?

Vigilante "justice" of some kind.

> How would America etc even put Putin in jail?


>I agree that awareness is good and that is what Geneva convention did. It wrote down what everyone already believed.

I'm thinking more about events in the last few decades. How many innocent dead people are there in the middle East as a consequence of US foreign policy?

>Enforcement seems impossible.

Dare to dream baby!


Kickstand8604 t1_iry7dl7 wrote

Only way to hold putin accountable is to drive all the way to Moscow and bring him back.