Thursday, December 23, 2004

The Johnny Caspar Slot (or, Weapon of Choice Part 3)

Something else on the torture/prisoner abuse situation. A good number of months ago now I made a point to Phil regarding the professional reading lists compiled for U.S. military officers that I think bears repeating here. The lists have been updated in a manner that provides significantly more coverage to counterinsurgency and issues like "4th Generation Warfare". This is undoubtedly a Good Thing, though I am unconvinced that it goes quite far enough. But I digress. The point I wish to raise is that fact that books on military ethics and the ethics of war are notable by their complete absence. I think Phil and I were in agreement in taking the view that this is not a good thing and that recent events should perhaps have encouraged the powers that be to take steps to rectify the matter.
There may be a number of reasons for the current reading list situation, of course. One arguably does not want to create too many barrack-room lawyers out of the lower ranks. In addition, some work in the field of ethics can be rather abstract and may arguably not repay the effort required to gain true understanding from them.

This line of reasoning can only go so far, however. Phil and I tend to boost different books on the topic - Phil likes Michael Walzer's Just and Unjust Wars, which is indeed the recognised standard text on the subject and a very fine book. My personal plug - purely for reasons of personal preference - goes to A. J. Coates' The Ethics of War. Neither of these books should be beyond the intellectual grasp of any half way tuned in junior officer or senior NCO. Even easier to digest are books that have emerged dealing explicitly with the current War on Terror, such as Michael Ignatieff's The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror or Jean Bethke Elshtain's Just War Against Terror: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World, both of which are first class (though of the two, my personal seal of quality probably goes to the Ignatieff book).

Or are we all just jerking off?

Would exposure to these works really change anything? I honestly don't know. As Charles Callwell noted over a century ago, theory isn't worth terribly much if practice points the other way. It's also a bit much to expect the Lyddie Englands of this world to spend their evenings working through Walzer and Coates and Ignatieff. But there are people higher up (and not that much higher up - I think we should be looking at starting at the NCO level here) who have a duty of care and direction toward the Lyddie Englands and it seems to me that there is a responsibility to at least prod these people into thinking about the issues (not that all have not considered them, by any means). I would argue that the historical record indicates that ignorance has caused as much misery in this world as stupidity (which is not the same thing) or wickedness - and unlike the latter two factors, it is eminently rectifiable.

Let us start now.


Blogger Josh Jasper said...

Oh Lord, Do we have the strength to cary out this mighty task, in just one night, or are we just jerking offJust wandered over from Phil Carter. Keep up the good work! You guys are doing great.

1:39 AM  
Blogger Anthony said...

Thank you very much for your kind comment - nice to know that somebody we don't already know is reading. Merry Christmas!

8:21 AM  

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