Virtue ethics in the military

Authored by: Peter Olsthoorn

The Handbook of Virtue Ethics

Print publication date:  November  2013
Online publication date:  September  2014

Print ISBN: 9781844656394
eBook ISBN: 9781315729053
Adobe ISBN: 9781317544777


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After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, for most militaries in the West the core tasks shifted from national defence to the handling of international crises, ranging from humanitarian missions to regular warfare. These new operations often require a great deal of self-control on the side of Western military personnel, as there is not only an asymmetry regarding the amount of military might of the respective parties, but also in the number of restraints imposed. Most of the civilian casualties in today’s conflicts are caused by insurgent forces – around 77 per cent in 2011 in Afghanistan (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan 2012: 1) – yet these seem to draw considerably less media attention, and to produce much less moral outrage, than those caused by Western soldiers. Although the blind eye turned to atrocities committed by the other side might seems unwarranted, one could also argue that it is partly natural since Western militaries profess to bring good – and sometimes even to be “a force for good”.

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