10 years ago today, I taught my first class on Just War Theory…
I also decided, on September 12, 2010 that I would write my dissertation on the ethics of warfare. The other alternative was business ethics — and that suddenly became less sexy… (although, in retrospect business ethics is probably more marketable).
I was faced with a quandary, I had an ethics class to teach. We’d just seen the World Trade Center destroyed and we still didn’t know how many had died. Do I keep with my original lesson plan or not?
Since I think Ethics should be about current events as well as theory, I thought not… thus, I prepped a new lesson, read what I could find on the ethics of warfare and rolled into class mostly unprepared. It was probably the best teaching decision I could have made.
We had a frank discussion of WHY it seemed so wrong to crash airliners into the towers. We focused on non-combatant immunity and the reasons it’s important. We discussed why the terrorists might have done what they did and how they may not see folks working on the 96th floor of the WTC as non-combatants — mostly because their war was different from ours.
We discussed responses to the attacks — what should we do, how should we do it and what rules should we follow? Should we decline to follow ANY rules — and why that’s not such a great idea.
On the fly I realized something important, that the ethics of warfare aren’t just arcane rules for the military, rather they are an expression of the values of the people they represent. Because the military comes FROM our culture, they hold those values too. When the military goes into battle it’s the cast that they are fighting in our place and thus they should observe our values.
I also told the class that few people are less enthusiastic about going to war than the military. period. They train, they work hard and they’d rather go home to their families than to fight in some desert half-way around the world.
Finally, I decided then and there that my dissertation project should be accessible to members OF the military. This wasn’t an easy task, but I think I accomplished it.
You can see for yourself… here’s the link…