A Contagion of Violence: The Ideal of Jus in Bello versus the Realities of Fighting on the New York Frontier during the Revolutionary War

Journal of Military Ethics 14 (1):57-73 (2015)


European Enlightenment thinkers like Emer de Vattel in his epic work The Laws of Nations argued that engaging in warfare should comply, as much as possible, with humane rules in the treatment of both combatants and noncombatants. Encapsulated by the phrase jus in bello, or justice in warfare, the question remains whether this idealist doctrine had application in military actions conducted during the Revolutionary War fought over the issue of American independence. This essay concludes that in such frontier regions as the Mohawk Valley of New York, the doctrine of jus in bello had virtually no impact in restraining wartime cruelties. What actually occurred in such areas was vicious partisan warfare, or a contagion of violence characterized by brutal retribution and retaliation among combatants, along with merciless actions directed against civilian noncombatants. The Revolutionary War, at least in regions like frontier New York where partisan fighting predominated, had more in common wit..

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