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Seminars in Moral Philosophy Week 5 MT10

Event Name Seminars in Moral Philosophy Week 5 MT10
Start Date 8th Nov 2010 4:30pm
End Date 8th Nov 2010 6:30pm
Duration 2 hours

Cecile Fabre (Lincoln, Oxford)

"Internecine war killings" to be held in the Lecture Room, 10 Merton Street, Oxford - Seminars in Moral Philosophy webpage


The ethics of war have known a remarkable revival in the last few years. In this paper, I address an entirely neglected, but nevertheless interesting issue, to wit, what the military call ‘blue-on-blue’ killings or, as I shall refer to such acts here, internecine killings. Such killings, or threats thereof, have always occurred in wars, of which the following are classic examples: the WWI officer who incompetently and recklessly orders his men into pointless butchery and who is killed by one of them in the heat of combat; the GI who ‘frags’ his commanding officer in the middle of the night or under cover of battle, hoping that the latter will be replaced by a more competent officer; the soldier who is ordered by his officer, at gunpoint, to go over the trenches, or to kill innocent civilians; the soldier who collapses under the strain of combat and starts shooting wildly and indiscriminately at his comrades; the air-force pilot who, in a case of so-called friendly-fire, fires missiles at tanks which he genuinely believes belong to the enemy.

My aim, in this paper, is to assess whether an increasingly influential theory of the just war, to wit, that developed by Jeff McMahan and others, licences wartime internecine killings. I shall restrict my inquiry to the cases where a soldier S kills his commanding officer O in self-defence. In those cases, unlike in other kinds of internecine killings such as friendly fire or those committed by soldiers running amok, the fact that both attacker and victim stand in a special relationship of authority and obedience must be taken into account when assessing S’s killing of O and the threat to which O subjects him: that is, S kills O notwithstanding the fact that he is under a (prima facie) duty to obey a superior order, whilst O threatens to kill him precisely for refusing to obey such an order. I argue that, at the bar of McMahan’s and others’ account of permissible lethal defensive force, O lacks a justification for subjecting S to a lethal threat as a means to enforcing his order, and S thus has the right to kill O should he so act. I proceed as follows: I set out the central features of the aforementioned account in section 2. In section 3, I defend internecine killings in cases where O himself subjects S to a lethal threat. In section 4, I turn to cases where O exposes S to a lethal threat at the hands of the enemy – cases, in other words, where the presence of an intervening agency might be thought to weaken S’s claim legitimately to kill O in self-defence. There too, I argue, S has the right to kill O, at least under certain conditions.

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