this course was an ad hoc effort. In response to the events of September 11,
UCLA asked professors to volunteer to teach one-unit seminars that would use
professors’ academic expertise to shed light on current events. Accordingly, the seminars met only one hour
per week, had no written assignments or exams, and were graded pass-fail. There was also an assumption that reading
would be light: one article a week or thereabouts. Finally, the current-events focus of the course meant that some
of the readings were chosen based on literally
current events—I asked the students to bring in articles from the previous week
on the effects of U.S. bombing, humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan, the
details of Taliban rule, and the like.
Those articles are not included below, as they would already be dated.
the below is a cross between what we actually did and what I would have liked
to do given more time: it is not intended as an actual syllabus, and I cannot
be held responsible for anyone who uses it as such.
UCLA quarters are only ten weeks long.
Most universities would want to include more topics than I had time
for. This is reflected below: I’ve
listed more topics than I had time to teach
in the grey boxes are provided by the
I: Ethics and War: Four Stylized Approaches
II: Weapons of War
Inst of Peace, Teaching Guide on the Justification of War
Readings and other materials:
Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars. Basic Books (many editions). An indispensable book on this subject; the
reasoning is sharp, the case studies concise and well chosen, and the
particular judgments both plausible and controversial. The book may be read as a whole. But it’s probably more useful to read the
early, theoretical sections first and then use the later chapters on specific
topics (Terrorism, Guerilla War, Sieges and Blockades, etc.) on a one-per-week
basis to introduce each subject and lead in to other readings.
Decosse, ed. But Was it Just? Reflections on the Persian Gulf War
1992). Contains excellent and
provocative essays by Jean B. Elshtain and Stanley Hauerwas, as well as an
essay by Walzer that’s also included in later editions of Just and Unjust Wars.
S. Nye Jr. , Nuclear Ethics
MacMillan, 1986). Not a deep book, but
a useful policy-style summary of the issues with some useful typologies and
insights. Good references.
Catholic Bishops' Pastoral Letter on War and Peace, 1983. (see also The Church's Teaching on War and Peace,
J. Bass, Stay the Hand of Vengeance: The
Politics of War Crimes Tribunals
(Princeton University Press, 2000).
History of the Peloponnesian War:
especially the Mytilenean Debate and the Melian Dialogue. The Rex Warner translation (Penguin) is
accessible. If time permits, Pericles’
Funeral Oration may also be assigned as setting the democratic-imperialism
context for Athens’ ethical reasoning on these subjects.
von Clausewitz, On War.
Nagel, “War and Massacre,” in Mortal
Questions (Cambridge University Press, 1979).
are based on my experience and are not meant to be definitive. Use as helpful.
Ethical discussion on this topic means teaching facts, as well as discussing
lack historical knowledge and command of current events. However, good discussion requires that the
professor avoid an expert, “fount of knowledge” role.
Assign the factual content (i.e.,
give case studies along with the ethical concepts) or require that students
research their own cases and present them.
The latter obviously has pedagogical advantages.
“case” method is excellent but must be supplemented by Deweyan/Socratic
tricks. It’s better to tease out the
general from the specific than the other way around.
2. Students find statements of abstract
principle hard to evaluate.
cause: except for a few student activists and political junkies, they have
little experience with vigorous political or ideological debate.
Remedy: Don’t assume that students have strong
prejudices to be overcome, nor that they fit on an ideological spectrum. (As political science has long known, most
people’s opinions are inchoate and/or inconsistent.) Students have opinions in particular cases—especially extreme
cases involving genocide, carpet bombing, and similar instances. But they must be provoked and prodded into
seeing that these opinions rest on more general moral and political positions
that they should articulate and defend.
is related to:
Students are reluctant to make ethical judgments.
is the unintended consequence of a diverse society and education in tolerance.
From constant (and justified) admonitions to be open-minded and non-prejudiced
students often draw the conclusion that they should avoid justified moral
judgments as well as unjustified ones.
Paradoxically (or perhaps predictably—an effect of democracy à la
Tocqueville?) students are quite
willing to make judgments regarding “contemporary issues” or “politics.” A reluctance to make “moral” judgments does
not rule out having strong opinions on collectively binding decisions.
put “Ethics” in a course title. Tell them later that ethics is what they’re
doing; articulate the subject of the course in terms of politics. “Justice” is
always a better title than “Right and Wrong,” “Contemporary Issues” better than
“Contemporary Moral Issues.”
to students, with humor if possible, that they make moral judgments all the
time whether they know it or not. Their only choice is whether their judgments
will be intelligent and reflective or casual and indefensible.
1. Introduction: Is “ethics in
wartime” a contradiction in terms?
Chapter 1 (“Against Realism.”); Clausewitz,
typology of approaches to international ethics, adapted from Joseph Nye’s Nuclear Ethics
(or, if time permits, a
quick glance Nuclear Ethics itself.)
International humanitarian law
(IHL) in brief: International humanitarian law is a set of rules which seek, for humanitarian reasons, to limit the effects of armed conflict. It protects persons who are not or are no longer
participating in the hostilities and restricts the means and methods of warfare. International humanitarian law is also known as the law of war or the law of armed conflict.
2. Basic concepts: aggression, total
war, the rights of soldiers.
Chapters 2, 3, 7.
5. Massacre and Noncombatant
Chapter 9; Thomas
Nagel, “War and Massacre.” Gregory
L. Vistica, “What Happened in Thanh Phong?” New York Times Magazine 29
April 2001. (Article on former senator
Bob Kerrey’s activities as Navy SEAL.)
CIVILIAN DEATHS IN THE NATO AIR CAMPAIGN
- KOSOVO (Human Rights Watch report)
6. The Strong and the Weak
“The Mytilenean Debate” and “The Melian Dialogue.”
7. Weapons of War.
Scott Shuger, “Fire When Ready: Why we should consider using flamethrowers in
Afghanistan.” Slate, 31 October 2001. Attached
worksheet, “Weapons of War” (by Andrew Sabl).
8. Nuclear War.
Catholic Bishops' Pastoral Letter on Nuclear War and Peace, 1983. Nye,
Nuclear Ethics, excerpts. Walzer,
Chapter 17 (“Nuclear Deterrence”). Film: Fail-Safe. Directed by Sidney Lumet
(1964). 111 minutes. [see also The Church's Teaching on War and Peace,
9. War Crimes: State Action and
Chaps. 18-19. Bass, Stay the Hand of Vengeance—excerpts as time permits. Film:
Breaker Morant. Directed by Bruce Beresford (1979). 107 minutes.
10. Sieges and Blockades.
Walzer, Chapter 10. Topical
cases as appropriate: Sudan and other countries should (unfortunately) provide
excellent examples for some time to come.
11. Guerilla War and Terrorism
Chapters 11-12. Film:
Battle of Algiers. Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo (1965). 125
12. Lying in Wartime.
in progress. I would suggest several
readings on the Pentagon’s proposed Office of Strategic Intelligence (see New
York Times articles from about February 19-27, 2002), as well as excerpts from
Anthony Cave Brown, Bodyguard of Lies
(Harper and Row, 1975).]
13. Case study: The Gulf War.
of Walzer, Chapter 9. Essays
by Elshtain, Hauerwas, and Walzer in But
Was it Just?
Appendix I: Ethics and War: Four Stylized Approaches
1. Skeptic. Moral
principles are based on norms or conventions that exist within societies; all
moral obligations stem from agreements among members of a society. Therefore, we cannot speak of “morality” or
“ethics” when it comes to relations among different countries. Every state acts, and rightly acts, to
protect its own interests. A state may
justify making war if this promotes its own interests; any alliances it forms
are binding only as long as they serve its interests; any restraint it shows in
international conflicts is based on a calculation that restraint is in its own
2. Realist. The
skeptic is right that international relations are not governed by everyday
(domestic) morality. But the
international system has its own rules based on all countries’ overriding
interest in preserving peace. Given
that we lack an international arbiter or police force, the only thing that
preserves peace is a balance of power among states. A moral statesman therefore keeps an eye out for the balance of
power, and pursues his or her own state’s interests with an eye to creating and
preserving such a balance. Strong
states may protect their interests by dominating weak ones (“spheres of
influence”) as long as this is not likely to cause a wider war. (In fact, this tends to promote peace by
making the states most likely to start wars feel more secure.) Humanitarian goals are likely to upset the
peace, since countries can always find some reason to find one another’s
internal conduct unacceptable.
3. State moralist. The basic
moral units of international affairs are sovereign states. The preservation of state sovereignty is
both a good in itself and the basis for other goods such as national economic
development and self-determination.
This is why international law and international bodies (such as the UN)
represent states, not individuals. The biggest international crimes are
aggressive war and unprovoked intervention, and imperial powers have always
been prone to engage in these crimes.
Even when one country objects strongly to what goes on in another,
sovereignty should be respected and states should not intervene in one
another’s internal affairs. Weak states
need protection, and a doctrine of intervention unjustly benefits the strong.
4. Cosmopolitan. The basic
moral units in international affairs, as in domestic politics, are
individuals. Individuals have rights—to
life and liberty, as well as other goods such as education and basic
sustenance. Artificial divisions among
states only cement inequality and injustice.
Excessive regard for sovereignty allows states to oppress their own
people, through murder and torture, or through other violations of political,
economic, and cultural rights. The
international system should promote human rights and should license
intervention when necessary to enforce
rights. Those fortunate enough to live
in rich and powerful countries have an
obligation to help their fellow human beings in poor and weak countries lead
--the above is a summary of the conceptual scheme presented by Joseph Nye in Nuclear Ethics (New York: Free Press, 1986), Chapter 3, who in turn credits Charles Beitz, "Bounded Morality," International Organization 33 (Summer 1979): 405-24. The author asserts the originality not of the underlying ideas but of the above summary, which is Copyright © 2001 by Andrew Sabl. Permission granted to reproduce for teaching purposes only; sale for profit prohibited.
of the following should a civilized army refrain from using as a matter of
principle? Why or why not--what is the principle?
1. Laser blinding weapon: reliably blinds for life a large percentage of
the soldiers looking in a general direction when it goes off. Completely nonlethal: too weak to burn skin.
(This doesn’t exist but is theoretically possible and was under consideration a
few years ago.)
2. Targeted biological weapon: anthrax, botulism etc. distributed over the camps
of enemy soldiers. Assume that the
weapon is (like anthrax) not contagious: it won’t spread to one’s own army or
3. First-generation chemical weapon
(e.g. mustard gas): those who
inhale a lot die from lung destruction; those who inhale a little may be
permanently disabled (breathing becomes difficult and painful). Gas masks provide protection.
4. Deadly chemical weapon (sarin,
other nerve agents): Droplet on exposed skin kills unless washed
away immediately. Gas masks provide no
protection; full protective gear is necessary.
5. Land mine: likely to cripple when it does not kill. Lasts a long time.
6. Self-destroying land mine: renders itself useless after a few weeks or
7. Fuel weapon: causes permanent burns and disfigurement when it
does not kill. Varying delivery systems
with varying accuracy (flame-thrower, napalm drop, fuel bomb.)
8. Incendiary bomb: Designed to cause raging fires among buildings.
9. Explosive bomb or artillery: Intended as lethal. Often cripples when it doesn’t kill, through destroyed limbs or
internal injuries. Harder to target
than a gun. Efficient at destroying
10. Gun: Intended
as lethal. Often cripples when it
doesn’t kill, through destroyed limbs or spinal injuries. Easy to target very accurately.
11. Knife: Can kill
when used skillfully. Rarely
cripples. Extremely accurate to
target. Not very efficient.
© 2001 by Andrew Sabl. Permission
granted to make reproductions for teaching purposes. Sale for profit or without attribution to author absolutely
Sabl is the author of Ruling Passions:
Political Offices and Democratic Ethics, the first chapter of which is available
at Princeton University Press