Michael Walzer Responds

Michael Walzer Responds

I am only one of the just war theorists whose work Laurie Calhoun criticizes, but because I am the local one, it seems right that I respond in Dissent. She and I have an old disagreement, and I am not sure that she adds much to the argument, or that I can; but the argument is worth rehearsing, as it will never be definitively resolved. I will respond on three points, leaving the most familiar, and still the most important, point for last.

1. Just war rhetoric Calhoun insists again and again that the language of just war theory can be used to justify or rationalize all sorts of behavior that we ought to condemn. She is right, of course, but this is true of all moral language, including her own. We don’t have to give up on compassion because George W. Bush calls his conservatism “compassionate”—even though it’s clearly true that the word can be used as he has used it. Language is like that. The fact that talk of friendship is often a mask for betrayal doesn’t mean that friendship isn’t a meaningful moral category. The case is the same for just war. I was surprised to see Calhoun quoting with approval Paul Christopher’s critique of American bombing policy in the Gulf War. The critique is made explicitly in just war terms. (I made a similar critique in the introduction to the second edition of Just and Unjust Wars.) Indeed, it’s hard to see how the bombing of infrastructural targets could be criticized without invoking the idea of noncombatant immunity. At the same time, Saddam Hussein’s propagandists also invoked that idea, as they could obviously invoke Calhoun’s ideas, to defend the regime against attack, indeed, against any coercive response at all to its invasion of Kuwait. The bad guys use the same theoretical language as the good guys. That’s an argument for critical use, not for no use.

2. The domestic analogy Another theme of Calhoun’s piece is that there is essentially no difference between international and domestic society. She seems to believe that we can and should apply the legal standards of a liberal democracy across all political boundaries. Before a soldier can shoot his gun, he has to read all possible victims their Miranda rights. It isn’t an entirely crazy idea: if soldiers don’t do that, how can they avoid killing or injuring or frightening innocent people? In fact, of course, they can’t avoid doing that—sometimes. Just war theory is an effort to set limits on the injuries inflicted on innocent people; no just war theorist that I know of even pretends to overcome the injustices that are an intimate part of warfare itself. In my own book, I write first about “the crime of war,” and only after that do I argue for the relevance of justice to the decision to go to war, and then to all the further decisions about how to fight. Words like justice and innocence do not have the same meaning in international society as they have in domestic law. Th...


Duggan | University of California Press Gardels