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On Reciprocity, Revenge, and Replication: A Rejoinder to Walzer, McMahan, and Keohane

  • Scott D. Sagan and Benjamin A. Valentino

Abstract

In their contributions to the symposium “Just War and Unjust Soldiers,” Michael Walzer, Jeff McMahan, and Robert O. Keohane add greatly to our understanding of how best to study and apply just war doctrine to real-world conflicts. We argue, however, that they underestimate both the degree to which the American public seeks revenge, rather than just reciprocity, and the extent of popular acceptance of violations of noncombatant immunity by soldiers perceived to be fighting for a just cause. We call on empirical political scientists, lawyers, psychologists, and historians to engage with moral philosophers and political theorists in debates about the influence of just war theory and the laws of armed conflict.

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References

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NOTES

1 All quotes and page numbers attributed to Robert O. Keohane, Jeff McMahan, Michael Walzer, and our own primary article, “Just War and Unjust Solidiers: American Public Opinion on the Moral Equality of Combatants,” refer to the respective contributions in the symposium appearing in Ethics & International Affairs 33, no. 4 unless otherwise noted.

2 Walzer, Michael, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations (New York: Basic Books, 2015), pp. 127, 38.

3 McMahan, Jeff, Killing in War (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 6.

4 Ibid., p. 223.

5 McMahan, Jeff, “The Sources and Status of Just War Principles,” Journal of Military Ethics 6, no. 2 (June 2007), pp. 102–3.

6 Frowe, Helen, Defensive Killing (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), p. 186.

7 See, for example, Sagan, Scott D. and Valentino, Benjamin A., “Not Just a War Theory: American Public Opinion on Ethics in Combat,” International Studies Quarterly 62, no. 3 (September 2018), pp. 548–61; and Alida R. Haworth, Scott Sagan, and Benjamin A. Valentino, “What Do Americans Really Think about Conflict with Nuclear North Korea? The Answer Is Both Reassuring and Disturbing,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July 2, 2019, thebulletin.org/2019/07/what-do-americans-really-think-about-conflict-with-nuclear-north-korea-the-answer-is-both-reassuring-and-disturbing/; and Press, Daryl G., Sagan, Scott D., and Valentino, Benjamin A., “Atomic Aversion: Experimental Evidence on Taboos, Traditions, and the Non-Use of Nuclear Weapons,” American Political Science Review 107, no. 1 (February 2013), pp. 188206. The “Atomic Aversion” research finding is replicated in Aronow, Peter M., Baron, Jonathon, and Pinson, Lauren, “A Note on Dropping Experimental Subjects Who Fail a Manipulation Check,” Political Analysis (May 2019), pp. 118, www.cambridge.org/core/journals/political-analysis/article/note-on-dropping-experimental-subjects-who-fail-a-manipulation-check/E92D1CFA434028679E0C156AE58D5EAB.

8 Sagan, Scott D. and Valentino, Benjamin A., “Revisiting Hiroshima in Iran: What Americans Really Think about Using Nuclear Weapons and Killing Noncombatants,” International Security 42, no. 1 (Summer 2017), p. 58.

9 Sagan and Valentino, “Revisiting Hiroshima in Iran,” p. 66.

10 A pioneering effort on this subject is Chu, Jonathan A., “A Clash of Norms? How Reciprocity and International Humanitarian Law Affect American Opinion on the Treatment of POWs,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 63, no. 5 (May 2019), pp. 1140–64.

11 Converse, Philip E., “The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics (1964),” Critical Review 18, no. 1 (2006), pp. 174.

12 McDermott, Rose, Lopez, Anthony C., and Hatemi, Peter K., “‘Blunt Not the Heart, Enrage It’: The Psychology of Revenge and Deterrence,” Texas National Security Review 1, no. 1 (November 2017), pp. 6889.

13 Winston Churchill, “Do Your Worst; We'll Do Our Best” (speech, London County Council, July 14, 1941), National Churchill Museum, www.nationalchurchillmuseum.org/do-your-worst-well-do-our-best.html.

14 Laura Blumenfeld and Marcus Luttrell quoted in Laura Blumenfeld, “The Sole Survivor,” Washington Post, June 11, 2007, www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/10/AR2007061001492.html. After the prisoners were released, Taliban fighters arrived and killed most of the soldiers. Luttrell believes he made the wrong decision and should have killed the prisoners. We disagree; he should have instead called off the mission. See Luttrell, Marcus with Robinson, Patrick, Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10 (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2007).

15 See International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), People on War: Perspectives from 16 Countries (Geneva: International Committee of the Red Cross, 2016); Stein, Rachel M., Vengeful Citizens, Violent States: A Theory of War and Revenge (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019); Downes, Alexander B., Targeting Civilians in War (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2008); and Traven, David, “Moral Cognition and the Law and Ethics of Armed Conflict,” International Studies Review 17, no. 4 (December 2015), pp. 556–87.

16 Mikhaila Fogel, “When Presidents Intervene on Behalf of War Criminals,” Lawfare, May 27, 2019, www.lawfareblog.com/when-presidents-intervene-behalf-war-criminals.

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On Reciprocity, Revenge, and Replication: A Rejoinder to Walzer, McMahan, and Keohane

  • Scott D. Sagan and Benjamin A. Valentino

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