The War on Terror and the Ethics of Exceptionalism

Authored by: Fritz Allhoff

Routledge Handbook of Ethics and War

Print publication date:  July  2013
Online publication date:  June  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415539340
eBook ISBN: 9780203107164
Adobe ISBN: 9781136261008


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Since 9/11, we have been told that the nature of war has changed and that our approaches to it must be updated lest we be unable to defend ourselves. 2 Traditional wars, including ones as recent as the United States' first incursion in Iraq, have tended to be fought on battlefields. The distinction between combatants and noncombatants has been clear, not least because combatants wore uniforms whereas noncombatants did not. Civilians have been largely exonerated from risk during these conflicts: while collateral damage has always been a part of warfare, the risk to civilians was unintended but foreseen. The non-involvement of civilians was effected not just by clear identification thereof, but also by the abovementioned separation between them and the conflict. Wars were fought between state actors with transparent chains of command, a high degree of centralization, and obvious diplomatic and political outlets. To be sure, there are numerous exceptions to these features of conflicts, though it is uncontroversial that they have, historically, been largely instantiated in those conflicts. Not only have we been able to characterize conflicts in these ways, we have adopted norms that explicitly require many of them to be characterized in this way; these have been codified both legally and in the just war tradition. 3

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