Assuming Risk: A Critical Analysis of a Soldier's Duty to Prevent Collateral Casualties

Journal of Military Ethics 13 (1):70-93 (2014)
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Recent discussions in the just war literature suggest that soldiers have a duty to assume certain risks in order to protect the lives of all innocent civilians. I challenge this principle of risk by arguing that it is justified neither as a principle that guides the conduct of combat soldiers, nor as a principle that guides commanders in the US military. I demonstrate that the principle of risk fails on the first account because it requires soldiers both to violate their strict duty of obedience and loyalty and to exceed their special obligations to protect their fellow comrades, the state, the state's constituents and other protected civilians. I then illustrate that the principle of risk fails on the second account since it conflicts with the commander's primary obligation to protect and promote the welfare and lives of his or her soldiers. I conclude by arguing that we cannot reasonably expect soldiers and commanders to adhere to the principle of risk until there is a radical, institutional-level transformation of militaristic goals, values, strategies, policies, warrior codes and expectations of service members in the US Armed Forces.



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Cheryl (C.E.) Abbate
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Citations of this work

Collateral Damage and the Principle of Due Care.Anne Schwenkenbecher - 2014 - Journal of Military Ethics 13 (1):94-105.

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References found in this work

The ethics of care: personal, political, and global.Virginia Held - 2006 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Self-defense.Judith Jarvis Thomson - 1991 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 20 (4):283-310.
Proportionality in the Morality of War.Thomas Hurka - 2004 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 33 (1):34-66.
The justification of national partiality.Thomas Hurka - 1997 - In Jeff McMahan & Robert McKim (eds.), The Morality of Nationalism. New York, USA: Oxford Unversity Press. pp. 139-57.

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