"Who is Responsible for War Crimes?" Why? Radio Episode with Guests Matthew Talbert and Jessica Wolfendale
12:05AM Apr 16, 2020
Jack Russell Weinstein
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Hi, I'm jack Russell Weinstein, host of why philosophical discussions but everyday life. On today's episode we're talking about war crimes with Jessica wolfen Dale and Matthew Talbert. There's a scene in a recent episode of Doctor Who were one of the character tries to shoot his way out of a field full of snipers. Before he attacks he invokes one of the world's most popular video games, Call of Duty he says I've trained for this, the young man fails. Of course, making matters worse, but the setup is a familiar one. We're surrounded by so many images of war that we think we know it. We don't. Video games and actual combat have nothing in common because no matter how good of a shot someone may become, simulations never involve Real decision making video games have no actual consequences. People aren't injured. No one dies. Sports shooting persuades US of A similar fiction. that war is something that can be controlled. All gun collectors think they can handle their weapons responsibly. They'll believe that other people are careless while they are not. So they're all equally surprised when they are the one who shoots someone by accident. Guns are made to kill, they're magnets attracted to death, they bring combat wherever they go. So our pop culture images of war and neglect two essential elements of the experience the inertia of violence and its consequences. They do not adequately communicate how soldiers who are moral agents in their civilian lives morph into tools who are subject to forces that they have no hope of directing. If human beings are creatures defined by our capacity for ethics, then we become inhuman as we become more inhumane. The sacrifice of the combatant is the abdication of some of their personhood, but how much must they give up? This is a question that will guide today's episode. Traditionally, soldiers are regarded as components of the militaries that housed them. They cut their hair and done uniforms to erase their individuality. They march in unison obey their superiors and live communally. But the horrors of two world wars and the brutality of Vietnam forced liberal democracies to ask whether those who served in the armed forces retain some decision making powers. Does a democratic citizen really give up all accountability for his or her actions? The price of freedom is being held responsible for even those actions we commit under duress, to ask us another way. Doesn't the most obedient soldier have to be able to determine whether a command is lawful or not? isn't even the lowliest of subordinates a person first an agent of the state Second, the right to liberty is at least in theory in alienable. So surely even combatants are in some sense free. And if this is so, when and how do we punish those who cross the line? How Were the individuals in the military to be made accountable for the things that they shouldn't have done even if and here's the really hard part. Even if they didn't know they shouldn't have done them in the first place. An act of war that crosses the threshold of immorality is known as a war crime, killing civilians rape, torture, humiliation violations of the Geneva Convention. These are actions prohibited by international law acts that are condemned by most world leaders, but are still all too prevalent, the more chaotic the war, the more likely the crime. It's no accident that it was the intimate violations of September 11 that motivated the Bush administration to liberalize the American position on torture, fear, anger and vulnerability inspire people to forego the rules. desperation cancels out discipline, but who is to be held accountable for these breaches the president the commander's the soldiers themselves? If corporations or people can we not say an army is a person to and if it is, where does that leave the individuals within it? This brings us back to where we started. asking whether a soldier is still a person. On today's episode, we're considering the great philosophical questions about war crimes. Why do otherwise good people act badly? Who is to be held accountable? How are they to be punished? And what can we do to prevent transgressions in the future? There is not surprisingly little agreement on any of this. The conviction that there are war crimes in the first place is fairly new. Get facing this debate head on is to recognize what our doctor who character learned the hard way, that when we imagine war, we're usually many steps removed from it. And when we have the luxury of personal security, when we are lucky enough to not be fighting, that we show our gratitude by making warfare a little less evil, and a touch less brutal, trying to understand and eliminate war crimes is an optimistic act in the face of people that they're most vicious. It is yet another instance of the great endeavor to impose order on chaos and to find good in the midst of bad criminality is a uniquely human drive. Thankfully, so is the motivation. To eliminate it. And now our guest, Jessica wolf Adele is a professor of philosophy at Marquette University. Matthew Talbert is chair at Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of West Virginia and senior researcher in the Department of Philosophy at Lund University in Sweden. They're co authors of the forthcoming book war crimes causes excuses and blame. Jessica Matt, welcome to y.
We're pre recording the show today so we won't be stopping for comments but please send us your thoughts at ask firstname.lastname@example.org post them on Twitter or Instagram at at y radio show or visit our Facebook email@example.com slash why radio show You can find links to them and find out how to send us questions for future shows at why Radio show.org so Jessica and Matt, there's there's something oxymoronic about the term war crimes crimes require law law requires an authority isn't war the absence of law isn't war, chaos without structure.
Well, I think there's a couple of ways of thinking about that question. So in one sense, you might think that law only has validity if it can be enforced. And that's the chaos that occurs when wars occur, by itself precludes the application of law. And that's not a view I think that I share. So, you know, the development of international law raises questions about enforcement. But it certainly seems possible, at least in principle, to enforce the law. And we've seen the fact that there are war crimes trials, that enforcement is at least possible to some degree. But I also think there's another way of thinking about that question about whether the law applies to war, which is a sort of deeper question about whether war itself is outside morality in some sense. And that was that is a view that some people defend, but it's a view that's, I think, difficult to defend, since we're talking about a human endeavor that causes such huge amounts of suffering. If there's any realm of human endeavor in which morality is present, it's going to be involved
Why is that? Why isn't war a special case?
Well, what would make it a special case? Right? So is it a special case? Because immorality is more likely to happen? Well, if we're importing the idea of immorality there, then we're already importing idea of morality. Is it a special case? Because
Again, we don't we don't ever think that just because certain actions are common mean, they're outside moral evaluation. And if we think the purpose of moral evaluation, whatever our moral theory is, is partly to do with regulating human relationships and mitigating suffering, then again, it seems very difficult to explain why war should be exempt from moral evaluation.
So going back to something you said a moment ago, this notion that law doesn't necessarily need enforcement. I mean, that there's some international law that's and laws of war that are governed by treaties. But are you suggesting that there's a sort of a natural law a law That is good, independent of whether we apply it or whether it works properly, that there's something overarching that we can appeal to when we're talking about war.
I wouldn't use the term natural law because it has it has this very specific meaning in moral philosophy. But I would say that there's a very long history of arguments about moral constraints and war dating back welter through Greek and Roman times, there was discussions about well, you know, maybe certain actions are morally wrong and even in the conduct of war. So I certainly and we can think about the international law of wars as encoded in, in conventions, achievement, geneva conventions, as in some ways, reflecting this pre existing debate about the moral constraints that apply to war. Now, whether we want to think of those moral constraints is grounded in some kind of natural moral sense is a different question. But there is no doubt that there is a law History of, you know, argument that there are moral constraints on war. And of course, the debate has been about, you know, to what, what is moral constraints consist of? So, you know, so the debate about the morality of war and the moral conduct in warfare certainly predate attempts to codify those moral constraints through law itself.
So, in a certain sense, what you're saying is the question I asked presumed that law establishes the idea of war crimes or or just more, but actually law, the the job of law is to put on paper or whatever the conversations that have already existed, that, that this is a discussion that's been going on for a long time. And it's just the legal structure that's catching up.
In some ways, that's true. I mean, there were developments in international law well instead of the 17th and 18th centuries. So and whether the general function General relationship between law and morality is very complex and something we probably can't cover in detail today. But you know, I think one way of thinking about the laws of war in particular is as reflecting and codifying certain pre existing moral claims about constraints on war. I don't think it follows from that, that that's the only purpose of the law of war, though, to sort of codify that. Because some of the laws of war might be also just to do with coordinating activities. So some ordinary criminal laws don't really codify pre existing moral beliefs. Rather, they are in place because of the nature coordinate people's activities in a large society.
I'm not sure I understand what that means.
I mean, like, Well think about traffic laws, right? I mean, the law that you have to drive the right side of the road doesn't reflect some pre existing moral belief that it's wrong to drive on the left. It's just that we needed a law to regulate people's traffic in a society. And so so the purpose of law can sometimes be just that right to do with the regulating activity, it doesn't have to be the case at all laws reflect or codify pre existing moral beliefs about the rightness or wrongness of specific actions. So I guess I mean, I think in the laws of war, most of the laws that we talked about in terms of the treatment of prisoners of war treatment of civilians, legitimate targets, use of weapons. These do I think, typically arise from pre existing moral beliefs about constraints on war. So I think there's probably less cases where those laws are about just Well, hey, we need to kind of regulate the movement of people in this international arena.
What I'm still struggling with this what what would an example be of a law that coordinates people, as opposed to moral constraints that would apply to either a single army or different countries at the same time? What are those losses like?
Well, as I was saying, I'm not sure I mean, I think most of us have or maybe don't look like that. But one more might be to do with rules regulating refugees. And I see duties of institution like went into and went under what conditions can refugees from all seek asylum? So some of that's based on our moral belief that refugees have a right to seek asylum, but then there's going to be very logistical issues about how you regulate the movement of people displaced by war. So maybe that's one example. But I do think the core laws of war are much based on moral constraints or pre existing moral constraints. That's
that's a really useful example, actually, because it reminds us that when we're talking about the theater of war, we're talking about more than just the rules of engagement. We're talking about the collateral damage, we're talking about the the aftermath, all that sort of stuff, which, which, which brings me back right in the United States. Now there's this debate as to what to do about refugees. And of course, this is happening all over the world with the war in Syria and the interactions between the war it was It that Saudi Arabia is having with with Yemen and it leads to a connection that you made earlier, which is the earliest discussions. And when the Greeks talked about war, they had different rules of engagement, and different consequences for people who they identified as Greeks and people who they identified as non Greeks as barbarians. Which which origin of the word isn't war, the place where our bigotry becomes the most prevalent where our tribalism and our nationalism and our contempt for other people? Isn't this the place where it is the most manifest and the most violent? And if so, is this question. I don't know doomed from the start.
What do you mean, doomed In what way?
I mean, in the sense that in the sense that, you know, I I now I'm 49 years old, I've been through a I've read and seen a lot about it. A lot of wars that I have not fought in and each time the the war heats up, there's more animosity towards the other side right? If you look at the propaganda of World War One and World War Two, the horrendous caricatures of the Germans, for example, and of course the Germans did that to other people as well, the Vietnam War. In Star Trek famously, Gene Roddenberry put an Asian in the front seat of the Starship Enterprise to counter the virulent negative imagery of Asians because of the Vietnam War. War brings with it the rhetoric of hatred, the rhetoric of separatism, the rhetoric of otherness, and so I guess the question I'm asking and I think what a lot of listeners will be asking is, since war tends to bring out the the worst in people isn't a discussion about morality too optimistic for those circumstances,
will ticket back to the first point that Jessica is making it? It seems clear to me that there's no realm of human conduct that's off limits when it comes to moral assessment. You could, you could make the moral assessment that everything is permitted and more. But that's just make moral assessment about warfare. It's not to say that it's for some reason beyond the realm of assessment. I mean, all human action seems open to our appraisal. Now, we might disagree in our appraisals, and maybe ethic part of what you're getting at is that it may be impossible to reach agreement, but that in itself doesn't necessarily cause us to question our own moral assessments.
I think too, it sounds like what you're asking is whether we think there's any point in applying moral concepts to war if we feel like these concepts will never actually change the brutality of war. So so I think that's a slightly separate question from the question about, you know, whether we subject water moral evaluation because I don't think we have to assume that the purpose of moral evaluation is to then bring about a change. I mean, we can certainly hope that it has that effect. But it doesn't seem to be that the the fact that it may be very difficult to change behavior in war shouldn't lead us to think, well, therefore, there's no point in moral evaluation or moral criticism about the conduct of war. And indeed, the fact that, you know, we have started to understand the ways in which bigotry and prejudice and hatred contribute to war crimes itself tells us that, you know, evaluating these issues has led us to understand this, this contribution to destruction, and it's provided a reason to think that we need to think about how to mitigate that. Right. But why would we care about that if we just felt Well, there's no point. So, I mean, I do think you're right, that war is one of the arenas of human behavior in which, you know, bigotry and hatred and prejudice manifests themselves in the most destructive forms. I don't think that means that there is no point or purpose to therefore talking about moral constraints. If anything, I think it means that it's even more important to talk clearly about moral constraints on wall. Because even though you may not be able to change people's bigotry, you can at least And particularly, we're talking about codifying moral constraints in the law, and then enforcing the law, you can at least ensure that there are limits to the destruction that they can cause or at least that there is appropriate punishment and punishment for war crimes sends a normative message, right about the fact that will Hey, no, it's not okay for you to treat your enemy like this, even if you view your enemy as subhuman. So So I think there are a couple of different questions going on there about what we think the purpose of thinking morally about war is, and then how we want to deal with the fact that war does seem to bring out these incredibly destructive tendencies in human thinking.
So in in a sense what you're suggesting Is that the problems about around war crimes and thinking about them and thinking about the morality of war is really just the same problem that we have with almost all philosophical inquiry, right? First of all, we hope to change behavior. If we can't hope to change behavior, we hope to send what you call the normative message, this moral claim that what you're doing is wrong. So even if we can't stop you, we want you to know that it's wrong, or the third is just simply, it's interesting. And it's worth talking about. And so even if, in the worst case scenario, we can't do anything, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't consider it, reflect on it, learn from it, and see what the consequences of learning itself are. So in that sense, it's not just not a special case in the moral realm, but it's also not a special case in the philosophical realm, because we're just applying the philosophical method to a particular set of problems. Is that right?
Yes, I think so. I mean, I would just clarify that with you know, I think there are some people who argue that War does raise some distinctive ethical issues because it's a collective act because it raises problems about I mean, you talked about earlier in the introduction about the relationship between individual soldiers and the military. And some of those might be unique to the context of war. So in that sense, war could raise some unique ethical issues. But I don't think war as a, as an activity itself is, is therefore somehow distinct from other realms of human behavior that we think are subject to moral evaluation.
Just Just the way that we consider what a war crime might be, or the morality for in general change as we fight wars in different manners. So for example, what I mean is in the Revolutionary War, battles were planned in advance, the generals arranged to meet and the armies would meet on either side of a field for example, People would be sitting on the side and having a picnic and then they would say March and they would shoot at each other when World War One we had trench warfare that was marred by, among other things, gas attacks which had led to serious conversations afterwards. World War Two we had to blitzkrieg Vietnam we had a guerrilla war is, is how we talk about war crimes fluid as the wars we fight are, or is there a general consistency amongst the questions over time and amongst the the categories of what's permitted and what's not?
I think the general questions are going to remain the same. What's the legitimate target is a response proportional, are certain weapons beyond the bounds of what's acceptable, but the weapon systems of course, are going to change. So we have drone strikes and aerial bombardment nuclear weapons and chemical warfare. But the questions, I think, remain largely the same. But the systems to which those questions are applied change as technology changes.
And they're also sensitive to broader social changes in moral thinking. So, you know, views about, for example, humanitarian intervention. I mean, that's a very john Stuart Mill actually did write a paper on humanitarian intervention, the 19th century, but prior to that, the idea that there might be a sort of moral duty to, to invade another country to protect citizens of that country from their own government was really not address or race at all. So So sometimes changes in both the ability you know, international reach of military forces, raise new ethical issues that haven't been previously considered so in a time where it was perhaps not really feasible for one country to go and invade another country to protect the people of that country. You know, Chris has been Come up. But it also came up in the broader discussions about the idea of human rights and the idea of people having equal rights. So in that in that sort of larger background of political and social discussion about the idea of rights, then, of course changes some of the questions we ask about what will can be useful permissibly. And what this tells us about how we ought to treat people who are either combatants or non combatants or otherwise affected by war, you know, against the background of the idea that maybe people have rights, and that, again, is a relatively new idea in the history of, of moral thinking, this idea that people might have rights, that that generate a duty. So in that sense, I think it's true that the questions that we asked are fluid in the sense that they're responsive to broader social and political changes in moral thinking as well as to as Matt said, you know, technology changes some of the moral questions because it makes certain actions possible that weren't possible before. And actually the idea of, you know, the problems that some people talk about with drones and aerial bombardment came up first with the invention bows and arrows, which were as an early form of a distance weapon. And so, you know, some people thought that the bow and arrow was unethical because it was, you know, you could shoot someone who was 100 yards away and he wasn't a threat and that was, you know, and shooting someone who wasn't a threat was basically against the kind of proper conduct of war. So there was actually this debate very early on,
and also there was the issue of who was being targeted right. You know, now me a commoner, I could kill somebody who was wealthy enough to buy armor because I have a long bow that armor right. That's right.
That's really interesting. So so the changes in technology, broad questions that we think of as inherently modern, but aren't at all and right course there's the class issue and entitlement issue and all that when we come back from the break. I want to talk a little bit more about this. I want to talk about the notion of rights during war, and in particular, I want to shift the conversation to the perspective of the people who fight in the wars and ask about moral agency and get into the meat of your book about how to justify war crimes. Meaning that there are such things and, and the theory that you both propose, in assessing and punishing you are listening to why philosophical discussions about everyday life. I'm your host Jack Wessel Weinstein. We'll be back right after this.
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Your back was wide philosophical discussion about everyday life. I'm your host, Jack Weinstein. I'm talking with Jessica wolfin Dale and Matthew Talbert about war crimes asking what they are, how to justify rules against certain conduct, how to punish how to prevent a whole list of questions. And as I think about war, I often think about the movie Saving Private Ryan, which tries to be an accurate depiction of what a battle would look like, particularly the first 23 minutes. I'm not a huge fan of the rest of the movie. It feels like a Disney movie in a different guys. But the first battle is pretty impressive. And the most powerful moment for me comes in the very first moments. You start by seeing a group of soldiers coming in over the water, and there's no shots fired. There's no guns and then the front of the trailer Transport opens up into the water, and you hear a little plink. And there's a little hole in the helmet of the first soldier and he falls into the water. The first death in Saving Private Ryan is almost besides the point. And I find that incredibly important, because it forces us to encounter the fact that many soldiers are there just to be bodies, you shoot the first line of soldiers, so the next line of soldiers can get a few feet further up the beach, and then you shoot them and more soldiers can get further up the beach. And if you have enough people, then the soldiers will get far enough to fight the battle. People are disposable in war. And I have seen few things in cinema that have depicted that more than that moment. So Matt and Jessica, I want to ask you, given the fact that people are inherently disposable in a way that they wouldn't be otherwise, is it imparting too much moral authority on them to hold them accountable for their actions? Aren't they just tools? Aren't they just filler? Haven't they lost their agency to such an extent that to hold them accountable for anything is to expect too much of them?
The cases that we're focusing on are precisely instances in which combatants are exercising their agency. So there might be a sense in which there are tools, certainly sense in which That's true, but it's still the case that they make decisions. And we're particularly interested in the context contexts that are outside of active combat. I mean, we agree that inactive combat, it's especially difficult to hold people to a high moral standard, but outside of active combat when we have soldiers intentionally inflicting suffering through torture or intentionally killings, Civilians intentionally raping or killing prisoners. Those are actions that are performed on the basis of judgments about what to do in that context. So we can attribute those judgments to the combatants in question. And our view is that when those judgments that are expressed through the combatants behavior are objectionable, they can be proper grounds for moral blame on the part of victims on the part of survivors on the part of third parties.
I want to run something by you because, of course, your book focuses almost exclusively on the cases as you've described, and there's rich discussion and we'll talk about many of those including the backgrounds of the, what we'll call what you call the situation list and the dispositional arguments. We'll explain what that means in a minute. But I want to run something by you because your answer is different than what I had anticipated. What I imagined you to have said is something along the fall Yes, human beings are fodder and war. But that makes it even more important to regard them as agents when they're alive, that the specialness of people is recognizing them until they're not a person anymore. Is that an absurd position? I know, it's not entirely what you talk about in the book, but to what extent is holding people accountable for their agency until the very last moment, a prerequisite for regarding soldiers as people first and as soldiers? Second?
I think that does relate I think you're right that that holding people accountable and acknowledging agency is a crucial part is acknowledge them as persons and and I, I made the view that you described earlier where we might think, well, it's just it's unfair to think that soldiers could be expected to know whether an order is illegal because they're just cogs in a machine fails to do justice to the facts. That soldiers, in fact that and not as in the context of war crimes, but soldiers in war generally, actually do think seriously about the situations in which they act. And so to sort of write soldiers off as kind of blank slates, who are just, you know, molded by the military machine and, and regarded as fodder doesn't actually reflect the reality of the soldiers, at least in terms of the relation to the soldiers that I've read about or talked to, that way in which they think about what they're doing so and an alternative agency would also I think, mitigate partially the, you know, one of the big criticisms of World War One was the fact that soldiers were treated so obviously as just literal, you know, cannon fodder, and, and that for a lot of people was one of the reasons why the current sort of military culture saying England and Australia needed to be changed because it's so graciously disregarded. The The personhood of soldiers. And there might be lots of reasons for that to do with the class system in England and Australia, which we don't need to get into. But you know, one of the things that we think is really important in thinking about this is, is how when you look at war crimes, what you see is soldiers actually thinking actively and justifying their actions by relation to moral reasoning. So there's there's there's no basis for the idea that soldiers are the sort of is hapless tools who have no agency when it comes to the conduct of war. And one thing I just want to add to is actually this question about whether soldiers are just mere tools for the the military, again, it's a very old question and actually debates about this going back to Augustine, and Aquinas in relation to whether soldiers should refuse to fight in some cases, and there's disagreement. You know, some people did make the argument that the soldier is just the, just the tool and so the soldier can't be blamed for fighting in an unjust war. But other other thinkers even at these early times said that know that their actions About soldiers, you know, have a duty to think about the morality of what they're doing and that they don't get off the hook, just because they are, you know, lower down the chain of command. So again, this is a question which has very old roots in debates about sort of the the rights and obligations of soldiers and the moral status of soldiers as well.
Is there a consensus on why soldiers do bad things when you have people who, as civilians would be presumably otherwise good people who would never engage in any kind of atrocity. Yet, when people become soldiers, they often act differently. Is this a settled question, or is there a controversy as to why people in these circumstances engage in Acts that they would otherwise morally disapprove of?
Well, I think it's helpful to distinguish the two different kinds of situations in which that might occur. So I think there is consensus Brought a broad consensus perhaps, that you know that there are certain stressors on a combat situation which can lead to the commission of atrocities. So, you know, we call these heated battle crimes, right that, that the intense sort of noise, fear fatigue, stress of combat can be an explanatory factor in certain kinds of war crimes where, where military personnel sort of break or crack under pressure and shoot a prisoner of war or something like that. But there whether it is less consensus and where we think our book is particularly valuable is in in explaining these more, in some ways, a hard question, which is well, okay, so maybe that accounts for these sort of heat of battle crimes, but actually, you know, the kind of war crimes that we cause harm or suffering overall is institutionalized policy driven for crimes like genocide and a torture program. And then we want to know, well, how do these good people how do ordinary soldiers come to participate in something like that which has So, you know, they're doing something which you had you asked them prior to they're joining the military, they would have said no, of course that would be wrong. So how does so that process the process by which ordinary people come to view something like torture as being permissible or even, you know, justified or genocide is being justified even. That's there's, I think, less consensus about how that process comes about.
I just want to emphasize the last point that Jessica was making. What we've tried to do is to explain the cause of war crimes largely in terms of combatants coming to see forms of behavior as permissible, and that's what explains them participating in these behaviors. And that's as opposed to a different view that suggested it's really the environment or the situation in which the soldier finds him or herself. That's eliciting this behavior with out in a way the participation of the agent by explaining The behavior in terms of the combatants seeing it as permissible. We're trying to bring the actor back onto the stage. And that's what's going to allow us to make moral assessments and culpability assessments of the actors.
So let's talk a little bit about that. You spend the earlier chapters in your book, articulating First, the situationists argument, and then and then you criticize you talk about Stanley Milgram, the Stanford Prison Experiment. Would you talk a little bit about the background research that argues for the approach that it's a productive environment? So then we can talk about where that falls short and what the other options are?
Well, so Stanley Milgram, famous experiments on obedience were partly motivated by this phenomenon that we observe with the Holocaust. He had a lot of ordinary Germans participating in this, this effort to exterminate European jewelry. Now how is it That you got normal people to behave that way. And what Milgram took himself to show and a lot of your listeners will be familiar with the experiment. This is the one in which you subjects are replying to an advertisement in the newspaper. And they think that they're participating in an experiment on learning. And it turns out that they're asked to deliver shocks to a so called pupil who's giving responses to questions and as they give more incorrect responses, they receive higher voltage shocks and the subjects in the experiment, continue to administer the shocks over the objection of the supposed learner pupil. And what's interesting about that what what
so she gets out gets it gets stronger and stronger and stronger and stronger. And yet they keep doing it even though it's causing the person tremendous pain or it you know, it's supposed to but doesn't actually because it's right,
yeah, there are no shocks but they continue to administer what they believe To be painful shocks over the strenuous objections of the person who's supposedly receiving these shocks. But what's interesting is how little effort is required to elicit that sort of destructive behavior in the subjects. Now, what's causing that to happen? On the one hand, there seems to be a tendency to obey authority. And it is also the case that there's a conflict between that tendency, a tendency to obey authority, and a tendency to not want to inflict suffering on other people. But it seems that for most agents for most of the people, most of the subjects in these experiments, the inclination, the tendency, the disposition, to obey authority seems to win out and wins out relatively easily over what we might like to think of as more virtuous traits. So a lot of people have put a great deal of emphasis on the Milgram experiments and other experiments in that vein, to suggest that we have this inclination it's not an inclination towards causing harm or hurting people. But it's an inclination to do the things that other group members are doing to do the thing that we've been told to do by somebody that we view as legitimate authority. So that's, that's at least part of the sort of situationist account that social psychologists have given that some philosophers have given as well more recently.
And so the argument is that people when they aren't placed in an environment with certain expectations and norms, will mold to that and somehow become morally different that that that their, that their moral core is flexible enough that they can't really be blamed as an individual that it's the situation that it's the environment that does this. Is that correct?
Yeah, that's a more sophisticated version of the view because the way that you were articulated it just now involved, the person coming to see the behavior as permissible or required. And that wasn't something that that Milgram suggested right from Milgram, it was odd that the subjects seem to be acting against their own moral values. But But you're correct that philosophers when they've gotten a hold of the social psychology literature, one of the ways they've interpreted in the context of war crimes is to say that what's happening is these pressures, these social pressures are causing people's moral values to, to be to be altered,
right? So john Doris and Dominic Murphy, who we talked about in the book a little bit, you know, in their view, a military training military culture undermines what they call soldiers normative competence, which is their ability to understand and reflect appropriately to the moral environment. And so in their view, soldiers might come to believe that say torture is permissible through the product of these different forces. And they conclude from that, that soldiers therefore, are generally excused because they have no control over the acquisition of these beliefs and the situational content texts to which they're exposed during military training and culture that undermines your ability to, you know, form, what we might think of as correct or appropriate or evaluate moral considerations in a way that would ordinarily be the case.
So so you made a distinction mat between people as Milgram described, who are acting against their moral points of view. And then the more sophisticated notion that people develop a different moral point of view. What's the difference between those two and why is that important?
Well, I mean, with the Milgram experiments, it's important to know that, you know, even the subjects who continue to give electric shocks all the way to the very last highest voltage, a lot of them displayed to stress and conflict while they were giving the shot. So it's really quite fascinating. If you look at the video says, you know, some of them are just showing sort of nervous laughter like that. It's they're experiencing a conflict and it's mysterious. A little bit why they they feel they can't resolve that conflict in favor of stopping. But it certainly does seem true that they're not like, oh, okay, well, this is the right thing to do. So I'll keep giving the shocks and so forth. So in that sense, that would be one difference, whereas what we were talking about is a case where, you know, soldiers learn to view these activities as morally permissible and so there isn't a conflict anymore.
And with so Milgram ran several different versions of his experiment, right. And so in the versions of the experiment, where he lets the subjects set the voltage meter, determine how much shock they're going to get, you get a lot less obedience or you get a lot less shocking and the voltages aren't nearly as high. When you insert a distance between the the, the person who's taken to be an experimenter and the subject say it's done over the phone, they say, give the shock. There you get a lot less obedience as well. You're going to get much more obedience though if you've gotten the subject of think that what they're doing is right, and the context in which they're acting against their own values, you're not going to get the obedience in a wide range of circumstances. But if you can convince a combatant that torture is permissible is required, or that we ought to be raping women. So as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing, then you're going to be able to elicit that behavior in all kinds of contexts, even when people aren't acting under direct authority when they're not being explicitly ordered to do the thing by somebody who's in the room. So as a training technique, if you can get people to view the behavior as required, you're going to get a lot more conformity.
I'm tempted to ask but I'm gonna hold off this question for a little bit. I'm tempted to ask which is worse whether or not it's worse to do things even though you're opposed to them morality, morally or whether it's worse to sort of develop a new morality but but let's put that aside because I want to ask This seems pretty persuasive that that environment, molds people or forces people to do things that they wouldn't have done otherwise. Yet the two of you object to this, you don't think that this is an adequate account of war crimes? Why?
Well, sort of a couple of reasons. So So first, we think that one of the problems with a situation is account is that it can't it has a lot of trouble explaining one of the realities of war crimes, which is that war crimes, perpetrators show really quite wide variety in their attitudes and behaviors in relation to what they do. So even perpetrators who were exposed to the same situational forces or went through the same training, experience, same combat environments. Some perpetrators engage almost kind of enthusiastically in war crimes, but others are much more reluctant. And then there are some soldiers who, despite being exposed to the same situational forces, actually refused to commit war crimes. So there's quite a lot of diversity at the level of individual perpetrators, but it's very difficult for the situation is different. To explain that diversity given that, according to that account, you know, war crimes occur because these situational forces kind of imprint moral beliefs or behaviors onto soldiers. So if that's the case, and why do we get such diversity at the level of individual perpetrator behavior? So that's one problem, we think. And the other is that we think that it just doesn't do justice to the fact that you know, when you actually start looking at war crimes, it's just not the case that soldiers are these sort of blank slates upon which, you know, moral beliefs are imprinted, and then they act just according to these imprinted moral beliefs. You know, soldiers who engage in war crimes, talk about and justify and think about their actions in ways that are complex, violently complex, and they make reference to their own individual, unique sort of goals and values and self conceptions. So you know, again, to sort of just describe war crimes is the product of these forces acting on soldiers and if soldiers are kind of just passive puppets then sort of pushed around by These forces neglects that aspect of war crimes.
So I wonder if you talk about what you call the dispositional account and how it counters this other point of view, but in doing so, first, is this another example of the nature nurture debate? Are we having the conversation that some people are naturally this or some people or we're product to the environment? To what extent is this that and to what extent is it something else?
I don't think it maps on to neatly to that nature nurture distinction. The idea as Jessica was just putting it, what we're interested in is this account. The situation is to account as applied to war crimes, which suggests that people are pushed around by the environment that they're in. But that's not the same thing as nurture. It's a nurture suggests. The environment in which you were raised the sort of formative influences to which you were subjected. But the situational factors that we're interested in are much more immediate. The fact that you're in this room with five other people who are acting in a certain way seems to incline you to act similarly seems to incline you to ignore things that otherwise you would notice, and vice versa. So that's not exactly nurture. Now, what we want to suggest is that that picture is inadequate, because a better account of why we observe the why we've seemed to see situational influences is that the situation is filtered through an agent's own perspective. That's part of at least of the dispositional account. But again, that's not what what
what does that mean that that's fairly abstract, what does that mean?
So, well, you know, one example that we we use at one point is how the same situation can mean different things to different people, what the situation will mean will depend on how it's construed by the individual. So the example that we use from a couple other offer authors is, is a dinner party. So for the host of the dinner party, it's a context in which their social status is measured. So that makes them have certain reactions to certain features of the environment. For the guests. It's just a context for socialization. So what's happening in the environment will mean different things to them. For the local politician, it's an opportunity to glad hand and so different things, things that are happening in the environment, we mean different things to him that it will mean to the other people. So the idea of what people bring to the context is is what we're interested in again, because that gets the agent into the picture and makes it less a story of individuals just being pushed around by forces over which they have no control.
It makes me think of a company session I had with my students fairly recently, where I was saying that, from their perspective, the class is an individual project, that they're focused on their grades, they're focused on their individual learning, they're focused on on how tired they are that day. But during class, I think of the class as the fundamental unit. And yes, I'm going to look and see which students need to participate more, etc. But we are people who are sharing the same experience, but or the same event, but we are experiencing them very differently because of what we bring to the table.
Right? That's right. That's a good illustration of what we're getting at. So it also means that we can't there isn't going to be a way of describing what the situation is. That's independent from the individual perspective of people in that situation.
So about that. Yeah. Well,
the dinner party case, you know, we might think just looking at it. From the outside we go, oh, it did a party did a party is a social event. This is a social situation, right? And we might use that characterization. To then try and predict their behavior or understand the behavior of people at the dinner party table, right? Because we've imposed this interpretation of the situation just by looking at the objective features of a situation, it's people having dinner together. But clearly, if we do that, we're going to actually fail to understand how well the people in that situation aren't all going to view the dinner party as just a social event, right? And so we're not going to be able to correctly understand their behavior without understanding Oh, for this guest. It's an opportunity to like schmooze and raise money for their political campaign for this gas. It's about raising their social status. So, you know, we're actually going to fail to understand people's behavior in the situation, if we fail to actually take account of their concerns that the situation
some the way this is put sometimes is to say that the real situation is both these objective features plus the construes that agents are bringing to it. You're not gonna To understand how people or why people are responding as they are without understanding both of those aspects.
So how do we map this on to war crimes? How does this change our view of the kind of thing that we're talking about?
Well, it doesn't mean that we want to be cautious about approaches that just say, Ah, well, people participate in torture, because, you know, they've been taught to believe that torture is right. And, and so you know, they're all going to see it as a particular duty. And that's why they do it. Whereas when you look at the behavior of individual perpetrators, this gets back to my earlier point that a problem with the situation as viewers is failure to account for differences in perpetrator behavior, is that we're not going to understand the differences we see unless we understand Oh, for this torture, you know, they see being a good torture as being self controlled and disciplined, and and, and so forth. But this torture, I've used torture as a kind of vengeance against an enemy. And so they are adapting the narratives about torture in light of that particular personal set. believes and that's going to affect their behavior, right. So that's going to allow us to see, get a better understanding of these differences between perpetrators sort of on the ground as it were. So there's two, there's an example we talked about in the book about these two soldiers who served in units in Russia and Poland that were engaged in mass shootings in World War Two Germany units. And on one soldier who wrote diaries at the time, you know, he describes it as being well, that's his job I have to do and I don't really like it. It's not very soldierly. But you know, it's what I've been ordered to do. So I'll do it, and I'll do it well, and another another soldier, again, very similar situational experience, similar external situational context. He found it extremely distressing to engage in these shootings, but he saw it as being part of this, you know, fighting an existential threat against the German people. So he saw his role as actually overcoming his distress so he became better at killing because he you know, was framing and understanding his behavior in the content. So this idea is the genocide as being a form of national self defense against an existential threat. So there's, you know, really significant differences there and how these two soldiers understood and made sense of what they were doing.
So let's take a specific example. One you mentioned in the book and one that'll be very familiar to most of our listeners, the the treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib in Iraq, not Afghanistan, right Iraq, and, um, and, and it came out after the fact that there are all these photos of the prisoners being humiliated. Some of the prisoners were shocked with attached electrical cords, there was rape, there was all sorts of humiliation and abuse, and this came out and people were horrified. So, we call Jessica mad into the room and we say, Okay, we have to deal with this. How do we understand it? What do we do about it? What Jessica and Matt say, what's the process? What's the procedure? How do we investigate this?
What exactly are we interested in? are we interested in assessing culpability at this point? Or
are on wanting how it happened?
I guess that I guess that's the first answer to the question, right. I mean, the first answer is, okay. So you have a series of questions that you're interested in. One is, how did it happen? Another is who is responsible? Is that are there other questions on that list? That you have to that, that that are on the agenda that you have to ask?
Well, yeah, how do you keep it from happening again, militate against that kind of behavior. That's, that's something that we're
okay. So interesting. So what happened? Why did it happen? Who's responsible for it? And how do you have and how do you stop it from happening again? What's the next step?
Okay, so I guess I'm not being clear enough, but But yeah, so let's take, let's take the The culpability question, let's take the what happened. Question is, how do you ask? How do you answer the question? Is it a war crime first? Because if it's not a war crime, we don't need you to and we'll pay other consultants. Right. So. So how do you determine whether it's a war crime or not?
Well, on one level, you know,
whether it's a war crime, in the kind of technical sense is dependent doesn't violate the current international laws of war. And, you know, despite the bush administration's attempt to to sort of legalized torture, it did violate the international laws of war. So I'm willing to kind of just, you know, say that, yeah, this is a war crime. And I certainly I don't think we can need to get into an argument of justification of torture, whatever. If you do believe torture is justified saying rare cases, none of those justifications are going to apply to Abu Ghraib, right that whatever, you know, case of justified torture you come up with it's very unlikely to look like what happened at all. gripes I have a gripe is, you know, could have pretty much a grade to be a war crime. So that's one answer in terms of what happened. I mean, what was interesting at the time is that
let me interrupt for just a second. So when people used I can't remember the phrase enhanced interrogation techniques to substitute torture. What are they trying to get out of that discussion? They tried to say, No, it's not torture, we all accept the torture is illegal. It's enhanced interrogation is the goal of that to define away the problem.
It Well, the goal of Bush administration, and this comes down to torture memos that were prepared for the Bush administration by the Office of Legal Counsel. There are those are two strategies. One was to say, these techniques don't count as torture, so therefore, they're not illegal. But the other side of it was to say even if they do kind of torture, we can plead necessity, we can plead sort of emergency and so there'll be an excuse for using this technique. So they kind of try to provide two separate cover their bases Legally speaking. But certainly the intense interrogation was intended to be all these are techniques that don't meet the legal definition of torture. So therefore, they're fine. And of course, you know, legal scholars have very effectively pulled apart the legal reasoning and all the torture memos. But you know, so that that was the strategy. But again, what happened in Abu Ghraib? This these weren't examples of enhanced interrogation,
right. But the talk about enhanced interrogation that's more applicable to the professionalized environment guns.
It is a great, right,
which is, which again, I think those two things are not distinct. So right. So one of the ways in the problems of the focus in Abu Ghraib has been is that seeing it as this is just this group of people behaving atrociously how do we understand this behavior of this, this group of bad apples, right? And so so one approach was to sort of account for their behavior in terms of failures of individual self control on their part, that in the pointing to the fact that they were under bombardment that it was stressful to is a very individualized explanation which doesn't connect to what they were doing to this wider torture program in which torture was authorized and justified and, and
sanitized as it were.
So this leads to a question about the phrase bad apples, right? Aren't there people who are going to say, okay, so people say these are bad apples. They're not representative of the American military as a whole. And then there are other people who say, No, this is institutional structure, any soldier in that position is going to be pushed into doing that, how do you negotiate those two positions? And do you have to negotiate it to figure out who's culpable how to deal with this as a war crime?
Now, we do not need to negotiate that. So it's part of the feature of our view that even if the bad apple explanation weren't accurate, the individuals may still will be culpable. The bad actor Apple account is one that attempts to isolate culpability to identify specific individuals as culpable because they're acting out their own bad natures. Now we agree that if that were the story, yeah, they wouldn't be culpable. But what we want to insist upon is that, even if that isn't the story, even if there are situational forces in play, that would incline any number of other soldiers in their place to have acted similarly, that doesn't necessarily undermine culpability, because you're still because the way that the situation situational forces bring about the behavior is by affecting people's values, and their judgments about what they have reason to do and their judgments about ways people may be treated. Once you have people acting in such a way that they're expressing their values and their reason judgments through their behavior. You've got grounds for culpability on our view.
So a person becomes culpable If they're acting on their own values, as opposed to the values of someone else, is that right?
Well, it's not possible to act on the values of somebody else. My only not only my values can inform my behavior. Now you can hold a gun to my head, and you can say, you've got to act the way that I want you to. And I may act the way that you want me to. But that's only because I've judged that I've got reason to do that, given the coercive pressure you're applying towards me. Now, I think I think what you're getting at though, is the idea that, well, maybe it's just the values of the higher ups, and that that's somehow affecting the behavior of people lower down the totem pole, it's affecting their behavior, but in a way that doesn't really implicate them. And that's the sort of picture that we're pushing against. The way that you get this bad behavior, the way that you're able to, to effectively organize a system so that you get these outcomes is by instilling bad values in People who are lower down in the chain of command. Now a question is, well, it's not their fault that they have those values because they've been exposed to this, this fairly disciplined and effective strategy for getting them to have these values. So how can you help? How can you hold them responsible? And our answer is, we don't hold them responsible for having those values. But insofar as their actions Express values that now belong to them, it's fair to hold them accountable for acting that way. It's fair in particular for victims to resent the treatment that they've been subjected to intentional, unwilling treatment in this these cases.
I I want to follow up on that in just a second because that's incredibly interesting. But you very, you very quickly passed over a really important move that folks who are familiar with history philosophy will have seen Thomas Hobbes do someone like john paul SART do, which is this notion that we are free under duress. So you said a person holds a gun to their head and they say, do this And they're still responsible because they value their life more than the gun. Imagine our listeners Imagine if someone held the gun to your head and said, You are going to drop a bomb and kill 5000 toddlers or we kill you. We hope that most people will say fine kill me, I'm not going to do it. There is this value choice even when there's a gun in your to your head, because you have to choose your life over other people's pain, suffering and life. And so what you're arguing suggests that the values go really really deeply, including how much we value our own, experience our own pain, our own choices over other people, right? I mean, that's why the agency is so deep because there are times when we do think that it's appropriate to choose other people over ourselves. And of course, that's what we ask soldiers to do constantly.
Right? Yeah. So in the coercion example, I am willing to say that Yeah, you're responsible Because you're making a choice, but it doesn't follow that you're blameworthy, you're blameworthy. Only if the choice that you made was a bad one. And in some cases, you're not.
offense. That's a subtle difference what so
so let's say you you hold the gun to my head, and I say, Ah, he's well, there's a few ways this can go. One is you hold the gun to my head, and that to us Harry Frankfurt's language that stampedes me, I just do what you want me to do without even thinking about it. I don't even make a judgement. I'm so terrified. In that case, maybe I'm not responsible, because I'm not acting on my own judgments. But let's suppose that I'm pretty cool. And you hold a gun to my head and I say, Oh, he's got a gun to my head. I'm choosing to do what he wants me to do. Well, what's going to have to be the case for me to avoid blameworthiness? Is that what you're asking me to do? Isn't out of proportion with the threat that you're imposing on me? You know, if you if you say, You forced me to engage in arm bank robbery, and if I don't, you've threatened to punch me Really hard on the arm? Well, that's not, I can't make it make use of that excuse because what you've gotten me to do is so out of proportion with the threat that you've imposed on me, but it's you in catering, you say, if you don't engage in some petty shoplifting, I'm going to murder you and your family. And that's a threat that I have reason to think you'll you'll carry out that that would seem to get me off the moral hook. Even if I've acted deliberately, even if I've chosen to do this thing that you've asked me to do. The threat was so profound and so believable, that it seems to justify my behavior.
I mean, we could think of a distinction between being responsible being blue blameworthy, it just in terms of, you know, you're responsible for what you do when your actions are subject to moral appraisal. Now, that appraisal could be positive or negative, it doesn't follow that it has to result in blame. But when you're actually sufficiently under your control, say, expressive of your will, in in sufficiently expressive of your will, that Yeah, then the question rises Well, are you blameworthy or not? So in that sense, we could just take a responsibility of that to distinguish cases where say, you have a seizure, and you cause harm where we just think, well, you're not responsible because your action wasn't even under your control and any relevant sense. So that can be one way of thinking about the distinction between, you know, being responsible versus being blameworthy. And certainly our view, we don't typically think that, you know, duress cases are cases where you aren't necessarily blameworthy. There are cases in our view, where if you cause harm under duress, you may not be blameworthy. You might be so responsible, because your actions might be under your control, but they may not express a ill will they manner Express objectionable attitudes to the people that you harm? And so in that sense, you wouldn't be blameworthy.
So back to Abu Ghraib so Rive established it's a war crime. And we're in the process of establishing whether or not people are culpable. Are they culpable because they are free. And they could have said no, and they're acting on their own values. Is that where we left off? Or is there more to it than that?
Well, for our account, it's not that we don't require that they could have said no. Right? Well, there's a couple ways of thinking about that. In our view, it's not the case that I have to have been able to hold alternative moral beliefs, right. In our view, we could say, Yeah, they believe this was okay. And maybe they sincerely believed it was okay to treat prisoners like this, maybe they had no control over how those beliefs were acquired. But, you know, their actions to what the prisoners voluntary under their control, and they express, you know, highly objectionable attitudes towards the people that they harm. And so those are all reasons to say there are there they are accountable, they're blameworthy for what they did, and it doesn't really matter on our account, whether, you know, back during the military training, they somehow they couldn't have helped but acquire these beliefs. What matters is you know, at the point of action, they they are actually freely and and their actions express their attitudes towards the victims.
Would this be a different situation if the perpetrators were child soldiers? There's, you know, the United States does not have 1213 year old soldiers. But there are many places in the world where they have them and even younger in some instances, is this scenario the consequence of adulthood? Or would children be held to the same standard?
I think it's still the case that you can enter the US military at the age of 17. If you have parental consent, at least that has been the case. And then by standards of international law, you're a child soldier because you're under the age of 18 is what we've said about child soldiers is that they're often not responsible. They're often not responsible because they're often quite young. They're often subject to brutal coercion, they have often been abducted from their families and forced to fight. But on the other hand, sometimes that's not the case. Sometimes a child soldier is 17 sometimes the child soldiers volunteered and decided to commit atrocities without being forced to do so. And in those cases, we think you get moral responsibility.
So are and this feels like such a simple basic question, but our war crimes to be assessed or are the perpetrators of war crimes to be assessed on a case by case basis? Can you evaluate them as a group? Or is it really like a criminal case in the United States is supposed to be anyway, that, that you are looking at each individual separately, and you can't make any decision unless you understand both the person and the parameters that led to the decision to act?
Well, that's the way we been treating these cases and discussions. But that's we recognize pretty idealized, right? So we're saying, if you want to know whether or not an individual is blameworthy, then these are the kinds of questions you'll ask what were their motivations? Do they act willingly? What were they intending to do? Now, you, there are all kinds of considerations that might make it so that you don't ask those questions in a legal context. Maybe you want to have a legal decision that covers a broader group of people. But what we've been interested in, for the most part is this question of individual moral responsibility.
That's it. I think. I mean, I think our view is a little different from say, so dorsen Murphy, for example, think that the situation his view means that the presumption should be that war crimes perpetrators are not responsible because of, you know, their arguments about the effect of situational forces. So I guess we could say on our view that, you know, the presumption might be different and maybe the presumption is, you know, unless we have a clear indication of say the presence of coercion Or some other, you know, clearly excusing condition the presumption might be a presumption in favor of responsibility. But again, that's certainly defeasible like it is going to depend on to on a case by case basis. Particularly, we're talking about holding people legally accountable.
So that's that. That's interesting. So, one of the ways that war crimes may or may not differ from criminal prosecution in the United States is whether or not we decide to start with a presumption of innocence or not, do we start by assuming that a person is culpable? Or do we start by assuming that a person isn't culpable because of the situation?
Well, that presumption of innocence, I think, of course, would remain because that's, you know, the presumption is that well, we we're not going to presume that this person is guilty of the crime of which they're charged initially. Right. But I mean, we're talking more if they're if you have people who have committed the crimes, right. So in that sense, presumption of innocence doesn't quite apply. implies that we're not asking did this person commit torture? We're saying well, they did. And now how blameworthy, are they? How culpable? Are they?
Right? Sure. So I guess I didn't articulate that. Right. What I meant was, so when when Jessica and Matt walk into the room, they presume that the the presumption is that people are culpable for their war crimes. And they have to be proven. And it has to be argued otherwise. Whereas the other folks you mentioned, if they walked into the room, they would presume that people are not culpable for their war crimes. And then the argument would have to be that no, this is a case in which they are is that Am I understanding that correctly?
Yeah, I think that's, you know, I don't think we've thought about it in those terms. But that doesn't sound implausible. I mean, suppose that we were walking into a room and we know that the person in that room conducted torture. Well, yeah, I suppose I would walk into that room thinking, Okay, I know that you've tortured people. I strongly suspect your blame, were they you could tell me a story that showed you weren't blameworthy. But but in most cases, yeah, they torture is going to be blameworthy. I would like
just to add, I just want to add for our audience that the phrase that doesn't sound implausible is the greatest compliment in philosophical circles. If you're not completely wrong, there is a circumstance in which you might be right. I'm sorry, Jessica, please go all
the things that we you know, we not making any claims in our book about about how we should reform legal accountability. So that says I didn't I don't want I want to make that clear that we're not saying, well, therefore, in the legal sense, we should just presume everybody
talking about milk just more interpersonal.
Yes. Right. So so we're getting close to the end. And I want to talk about prevention of war crimes. But I also want to talk about a claim that you make, sort of in anticipation that that part of the core issue is that war crimes do not show sufficient moral regard for others that if we find if we look for a unifying factor, on the philosophical level of war crimes, There is this lack of moral regard. So you talk a little bit about that. And then maybe we can transition into prevention. Well,
that's an artifact of the legal structure, right? It just so happens that the things that are denominated war crimes tend to be these instances in which you get a lack of regard. Things could have worked out differently. But right, so the idea is that behavior that's blameworthy is behavior that's objectionable in a certain kind of way. And it's objectionable insofar as it expresses a lack of appropriate regard for other people's standing. And that can take the form of treatment is
also a technical phrase, what does that mean the lack of appropriate regard for
smoking, so that can take the form of contempt I have contemporary, I don't care about the fact that my actions going to injure you. I don't think you have a standing to object to being treated in this way. That's for me to hold contemptuous attitudes towards you. Or I could just be indifferent to your suffering. It doesn't. I know it's gonna happen and it doesn't really matter. Just with me one way or the other, both of those kinds of orientations that we can have towards other people are objectionable by that other person's lights. Right? If you treat me in a way that had Vince's contempt for my, my standing, you think my suffering doesn't matter, and you treat me in a way that shows me that that's going to be objectionable from my perspective, and it's going to make it appropriate for me to target you with the responses that are embodied in moral blame or the responses that express moral blame. So emotional responses like resentment.
So, I guess and this is a very basic question before we get to prevention, and it circles down to the beginning, but there are going to be people who listen to that comment and say, well, the standard for war crimes is that people don't don't like it or don't feel morally regarded, but isn't anyone who is shot and killed in war, a person who doesn't like it, and doesn't feel that they've been regarded morally what's the difference between the war crimes that people aren't sufficiently regarding other folks as agents. And when you kill somebody,
Well, some people would argue that if you're an illegitimate aggressor, they may be all aggression is illegitimate, but let's say Nazi Germany, they're fighting an illegitimate war effort, you might think that all of the killing that they do is is morally objectionable can't be morally justified and in a way, all the killing that they do might count as war crimes. That's not the standard perspective, the standard perspective is that some people are, are appropriate targets, some people can lawfully be killed. So what we would say is that if that were our view, what we would say is that those killings don't treat people in a way that they don't deserve to be treated. You're permissibly treated as a target so my killing you doesn't, doesn't express an objectionable kind of disregard for your moral standing because you don't have the standing to object to being targeted. But everybody that we're thinking of at least agrees that you do have standing that everybody has standing when they were civilian, to object to being targeted, that most people most of the time have standing to object to being tortured, to being raped, etc. So as long as you agree with us that those are illegitimate treatments, we're going to encourage you to agree with us that blame is proper in those contexts. Now, if you think that all war is illegitimate, all killing and war is illegitimate, then you might apply our account of blame more than us, and you're gonna get the result that there's much more blame, then even we think there is and that's, that's, that's fine.
Yeah, there's nothing necessarily incomplete. I mean, it's not the case at all cases of inflicting suffering, display a lack of regard for someone I mean, even in cases think about like self defense, right is a classic case we you know, and there's lots of different views about self defense, obviously, but the general idea is that look, if someone is attacking me and they're attacking me unjustly, then if I use lethal force against Because I have to, I haven't violated their rights or treated them with a lack of respect because they through their behavior sort of last standing to object to my use of defensive force. So you know, so and again, obviously, if you hold a pacifist view, you're going to say even in that case, killing is wrong. But, you know, the standard view tends to be something like Yeah, not not all cases of killing, showing an inappropriate or objectionable lack of moral guard for the person who killed so it's not just purely from the perspective of the person who is suffering here. It's it's more about the kind of whether there's a sort of agreement about whether we, you know, whether we agree that these kinds of behaviors or lack of moral regard, and we recognize that that is itself raises a lot of questions. That's why we kind of focus on cases where we feel like there's pretty good consensus for example, that rape as a weapon of war is an objectionable form of treatment, like we deliberately choose cases we feel that we are confident in saying that there is agreement here.
So we have, we have like the concentric circles right in the larger question is the the just war theory, we had an episode of just war, I think in season three with Michael Walter. And so that answers the question of when, when war is is morally justifiable within that as the distinction between combatants and non combatants, who you're allowed to target and why you're allowed to target within that of the combatants you have, how you can treat combatants and when, and you are looking at the cases where everyone agrees that that this was wrong, why is it wrong? Who is held responsible? And how do we stop it in the future? So then let's go to that last question, which is, what can we do to prevent people from engaging in war crimes in the future?
Well, we we sort of, at the end of the book, we kind of float some suggestions with the understanding that you know, this is something that would itself require a lot more research, but I mean, in our view, I mean, there's a couple of things that we think our account shows. One is that strategy strategies for preventing war crimes that just focus on heated battle crimes are not going to be at all useful and preventing the institutionalized war crimes like genocide and torture programs, right? If you're just focusing about, well, let's make soldiers more resilient to combat stress, then maybe that is going to help soldiers hold up better under very stressful combat conditions. But that's a tiny fraction of war crimes. So we do think that approaches to prevention that focus just on kind of soldier resilience are going to miss a mark. Instead, we think it's really important that military training actually acknowledges and understands the ways in which these sort of broader justifications can come to distort moral thinking in a military context leading to the justification of torture. So that I think and I think basically it means that military forces have to be willing to confront the fact that you know, so called good people can do war crimes, you know, that the American military can come commit war crimes. And use case studies and discuss that as part of military training. But secondly, I think one of the crucial things is there has to be legal accountability. And you know, it's a, it's a, it's a shameful fact that very few perpetrators of war crimes are ever held legally accountable. So again, the US torture program, the only people who serve any jail time were a couple of people who were in a couple of the Abu Ghraib guards, despite the, you know, significant evidence of this, the architecture of this torture program coming from, you know, very high up in the administration. So, you know, without a real commitment to accountability, I do think that it's going to be difficult to prevent, to continue to prevent more crimes.
Another thing that we mentioned is the
law. So to play up something Jessica was saying.
Occasionally, you hear that what we need to do to prevent war crimes is to instill virtues in soldiers that may be the stoic virtues and virtues. of self control, in particular. But as we point out in the book, that's problematic because it's self control that can precisely enable somebody to carry out a war crime. They can think about pilgrims, subjects, again, the ones who didn't want to do the thing, but they did it anyway. If you can get somebody to if somebody has a great deal of self control, then they what they may be doing is fighting against their own moral impulses. And they had those moral impulses held sway, they might have avoided doing the wrong thing, but through the exercise of a kind of self control, they've actually been led to do something wrong. And also it would be helpful and it's problematic because what I'm going to say is orthogonal to military discipline, but it'd be helpful if war colleges were places where disagreement was, was celebrated. Yeah, but that seemed Some unlikely but yeah, another point that Jessica was making the idea that getting people to see that people like them can do these crimes people on their side can do that can do them.
That seems important.
It's it's interesting because the argument against virtues is is Kant's argument, right? That that the the virtuous evil villain is that much more evil? Yeah
the the coolness of the scoundrels made
more abominable and our
enemies in torture training manuals from say the Khmer Rouge self control and discipline of Platt prized as virtues of good tortures. Right. So, yeah, there's no guarantee that self control discipline will prevent torture when they're praised, especially as a good torture is
that that would lead to an entirely other episode. And and actually the virtues of war. William James is the moral equivalent of war. This is a tremendous discussion that I'm sure Your perspective would offer incredible insights. Unfortunately, we are out of time and so we have to stop with the question unanswered. Imagine that. Jessica. Matt, thank you so much for joining us on why.
Thank you for having us.
You've been listening to Jessica wolf Adele and Matt Talbert and jack Russell Weinstein on why philosophical discussions about everyday life we'll be back with a few thoughts right after this.
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You're back with jack Russell Weinstein and we philosophical discussions about everyday life. We were talking with Jessica Wolf and Dale and Matthew Tolbert about war crimes and their book war crimes causes excuses and blame. You know, there was a question at one point in history are their war crimes, but that's been settled. There are they're recognized internationally, they're recognized morally. And so then the question becomes, what do we do about them? How do we identify a war crime? When is it a war crime and when is it and who is responsible? The cliched answer I was just following orders is inadequate. Because, yes, you follow people's orders when you're in the military, but there are orders you shouldn't follow. There are circumstances in which you interpret the order. There are circumstances in which you have independence. Decision Making powers. All of these things are incredibly complicated because the environment of war, the environment of the military, pushes people to be and do certain things. But if that's all they were, if all a soldier was was a product of the environment, then we would give up all of their personhood. And we can't, we can't do that, because soldiers are people, and they do make mistakes, and they do have values. What Jessica and Matt wanted to point out was that soldiers act on their values, sometimes the value is preserved their own life over others, which is, of course understandable in many instances. Sometimes those values are these people are hateful, and I want to torture them, I want to hurt them. Sometimes those values are, I don't know what to do. So I'm just going to do what's in front of me, who knows what is going on in an individual's head to say in advance that they are not responsible for what they do is to take away The agency that makes them unique people. war crimes must be investigated on a case by case basis. And the best way to do that Jessica and Matt point out is to focus on those instances that are not controversial. those instances that we know people acted incorrectly, that we know that they violated the law and moral standards that they did not regard their victims with adequate moral regard. If we look at that, and then we investigate why and how, then perhaps we can figure out how to stop it in the future. And ultimately, that's the goal, right? We may never be able to stop war, maybe we will. Who knows? It doesn't look like it's gonna happen anytime soon. So instead, we have to regard the forces of war and figure out how to change and affect those. Do you tamp down on people's bigotry? Do you stop thinking of the enemy as a hateful animal? Do you treat your opponent honors with a certain kind of respect, these are the questions. These are the issues that come out of the discussion. And it is a deep and a good discussion, even though it is a dark discussion. When I finished my monologue I mentioned to my wife, this is a dark one. And she said, How could it be otherwise, any discussions of war, any discussions of war crime is going to be an unhappy discussion, but it leads to the optimistic possibility that somewhere down the line, these things will disappear. And if we take one step closer to that, we've done a good day's work. You've been listening to jack Russell Weinstein on why philosophical discussions about everyday life. Thank you for listening. As always, it's an honor to be with you.
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