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A Moral Military

Sidney Axinn

Publication Year: 2009

In this new edition of the classic book on the moral conduct of war, Sidney Axinn provides a full-length treatment of the military conventions from a philosophical point of view. Axinn considers these basic ethical questions within the context of the laws of warfare: Should a good soldier ever disobey a direct military order? Are there restrictions on how we fight a war? What is meant by “military honor,” and does it really affect the contemporary soldier? Is human dignity possible under battlefield conditions?

Axinn answers “yes” to these questions. His objective in A Moral Military is to establish a basic framework for moral military action and to assist in analyzing military professional ethics. He argues for the seriousness of the concept of military honor but limits honorable military activity by a strict interpretation of the notion of war crime.

With revisions and expansions throughout, including a new chapter on torture, A Moral Military is an essential guide on the nature of war during a time when the limits of acceptable behavior are being stretched in new directions.

Published by: Temple University Press

Title Page

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Preface to the Revised and Expanded Edition

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pp. ix-x

Since the first edition, the subject of torture has received a lot of attention. Many books, editorials, and congressional discussions have been devoted to the matter. Therefore I have added a chapter, Chapter 10, to consider recent arguments about when, if ever, it is permissible or prudent or moral to use torture. There are also various smaller additions to increase accuracy and relevance to the present. ...

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Preface to the First Edition

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pp. xi-xiv

I have many reasons for wanting to write a book on the scope and limits of moral military activity. My father served in the first World War, and my childhood memories include his telling stories and my looking at the pictures of Camp Upton and France that he kept in an old shoebox. My brother and I served in World War II, he in the Pacific and I in North ...

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1. Introduction: The Kind of Question Involved in Moral Military Action

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pp. 1-10

Should a soldier ever disobey a direct military order? Are there restrictions on how we fight a war? What is "military honor," and does it really affect the contemporary soldier? These questions lead to a number of ethical problems, including the odd but basic one: Is human dignity possible under battlefield conditions? This book considers views on several sides of ...

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2. Morality: Why Sacrifice Myself?

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pp. 11-39

Moral questions concern choices between the alternative paths of satisfying either one's personal, individual goals or the goals of some entity outside of and different from one's self. Such questions arise on almost every page of this book. During a war, should one risk one's life as a soldier or flee the country? Should one follow the Geneva Conventions on ...

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3. Military Honor and the Laws of Warfare: When Can I Lie to the Enemy?

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pp. 40-64

In ideal terms, military honor is military persons' display of what Thomas Hobbes called the relish of justice: 'That which gives to human actions the relish of justice, is a certain nobleness or gallantness of courage, rarely found, by which a man scorns to be beholden for the contentment of his life, to fraud, or breach of promise." 1 In other words, ...

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4. Hostilities: All Is Not Fair

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pp. 65-86

The laws of war will allow the enemy's water supply to be bombed, or the enemy to be drowned in it, but they will not allow putting poison into that water. The enemy can be made to die of thirst or drowned but cannot be killed by an undetectable poison. Odd though it may seem, there is a reasonable basis for this distinction. ...

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5. Prisoners of War

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pp. 87-96

Earlier chapters made regular reference to the modern conception of prisoner of war (POW) and used the concept in various ways. However, the subject is so important that it calls for special consideration. In the Army's FM 27–10, the chapter on POWs is by far the longest. Here, we will give merely an outline of a few of the many ...

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6. Spies: Defining a Spy

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pp. 97-106

According to the Hague Rules, "a person can only be considered a spy when, acting clandestinely or on false pretences, he obtains or endeavors to obtain information in the zone of operations of a belligerent, with the intention of communicating it to the hostile party." 1 Suppose the two countries involved are at peace. Does this definition ...

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7. Nonhostile Relations with the Enemy

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pp. 107-112

What dealings, other than hostilities, does a military unit have with its enemy? In addition to the responsibility for POWs, several kinds are to be expected. An armistice period, a period in which fighting ceases, may have to be arranged and carefully monitored. A surrender may be agreed upon and carried out. These activities, ...

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8. War Crimes, Remedies, and Retaliation (Dirty Warfare)

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pp. 113-139

The concept of a war crime is at the center of military ethics. What is a war crime, who is responsible for it, and what reprisals are justified against it? The business of this chapter is to respond directly to these questions. In addition, due to the events of the past few decades, we must pay new attention to the term terrorism. How is terrorism ...

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9. The Dirty-Hands Theory of Command

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pp. 140-152

If we take our subject seriously, the theory of leadership known as "dirty hands" must be considered. Without this theory, a discussion of military morality would seem unreal. Briefly, the theory holds that in order to govern an institution, one must sometimes do things that are immoral. To act properly as a mayor of a city, a chief of a ...

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10. Torture

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pp. 153-162

Tony Lagouranis, who spent a year in Iraq as a U.S. Army military interrogator in Abu Ghraib and other prisons, says that he "noticed something very disturbing. People are absolutely fascinated by torture. As soon as someone learns that I was an interrogator, I can see him formulate the next question. . . . `Did you torture anyone?' ...

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11. Nuclear Devices and Low-intensity Conflicts

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pp. 163-177

Are nuclear weapons acceptable or forbidden as a means of waging war? Two responses will be offered to this question. The first is based on a reading of the Conventions and the second comes from an analysis by an eminent contemporary philosopher, Richard Wasserstrom. ...

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12. Conclusions: The War Conventions as a Moral Code

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pp. 178-196

Chapter 2 considered the range of moral styles. The rest of this book maybe thought of as a discussion of various aspects of the war conventions. Now we have this question: What is the moral status of the style that follows the conventions and the moral status of the styles that do not? Specific and narrower questions about morality appeared in each chapter, but ...

Appendix 1. Are the Hague and Geneva Conventions Obsolete?

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pp. 197-202

Appendix 2. Topics Not Considered in the Text

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pp. 203-206

Appendix 3. Test on the Laws of Land Warfare

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pp. 207-212


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pp. 213-232

Brief Bibliography

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pp. 233-236


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pp. 237-240

E-ISBN-13: 9781592139590
Print-ISBN-13: 9781592139583

Publication Year: 2009