Combatant Responsibility for Fighting in Unjust Wars: A Defense of a Limited Moral Equality of Soldiers

Social Philosophy Today 26:93-106 (2010)

Abstract

Just war theory has traditionally presupposed what Michael Walzer calls the moral equality of soldiers: that combatants on all sides have an equal right to kill, such that the soldier is not blameworthy for fighting for an unjust cause. The theory of moral equality has come under increasing attack by Jeff McMahan and others who argue that soldiers are responsible for killing for an unjust cause. I agree with McMahan that soldiers cannot be justified in serving injustice, such that there is no full moral equality. Moreover, the common excuses of ignorance and duress cannot exculpate many soldiers. However, I argue that when one considers the force of legal authority and the bonds of patriotism, combined with ignorance and duress, most soldiers are excused. Because of the rarity of exceptions and the consequences of holding soldiers accountable, I conclude that we should presuppose the equal blamelessness of combatants

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