In his article “Moral Judgment in Time of War” (DISSENT, May-June 1967) Michael Walzer has stated the case well for the need of a moral judgment applicable within the context of war. I think, though, that his argument is incomplete inasmuch as it concentrates on the standpoint of rule-ethics and does not explore the possibility of an approach closer to situational ethics or what I would prefer to call moral atomism. The one approach judges acts categorically by their conformity to categories or rules; the other individually, by their likely concrete consequences, creative and destructive.
I do not suggest that the general in the field be called upon to use his “moral discretion” on the spur of the moment to decide whether the defense of freedom justifies decimating another village. The general is understandably preoccupied with “military necessity” to the exclusion of moral considerations. That is why we need generalized prohibitions to check certain kinds of action. Atomistic analysis of moral situations is generally much more difficult than applying rules to them. On the field of battle we need rules; that, however, should not preclude the other approach for the armchair strategist-judge...
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