Symposium: “The ‘Dangerous Concept of the Just War’ ”

A black and white photograph showing several older men and one woman seated at a conference table.

Diplomatic Conference on the Reaffirmation and Development of International Humanitarian Law Applicable in Armed Conflicts. Geneva June, 1977 © ICRC/KURZ Jean-Jacques. V-P-CER-N-00017-01.

This symposium brings together five scholars to discuss Jessica Whyte’s important essay “The ‘Dangerous Concept of the Just War’: Decolonization, Wars of National Liberation, and the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions,” originally published in the Winter 2018 issue of Humanity. It also includes a response to commentary by Whyte. Whyte’s essay argues that during the International Committee of the Red Cross’s “Diplomatic Conference on the Laws of War” (1974-77) it was the Third World and Soviet states that used the language of the “just war” to distinguish wars of national liberation from wars of “imperialist aggression”—particularly the US War in Vietnam. In stark contrast, the Western states, including the United States, attacked the language of just war as a medieval licence to cruelty.

Content

Refractions of Humanity in Warfare

This post is part of a symposium on Jessica Whyte’s essay “The ‘Dangerous Concept of the Just War.’” All contributions to the symposium can be found here. In her essay Jessica Whyte makes a fascinating intervention in the age-old debate on the origins of international humanitarian law (IHL) and its relationship with just war theory. In challenging Western-centered explanations, Whyte’s essay offers an intriguing perspective on the role of anti-colonial actors in IHL’s making, which is the focus of this review of her work. Unlike Read More »

On the Language of Just War: A Reply to Whyte

This post is part of a symposium on Jessica Whyte’s essay “The ‘Dangerous Concept of the Just War.’” All contributions to the symposium can be found here. In her essay, Jessica Whyte persuasively refutes what she takes to be a hegemonic narrative of the development, and triumph, of ideas of just war. Reading together Walzer, O’Brien, and the 2015 United States Law of War Manual, she shows what a revisionist story they collectively offer, in part because of their reliance on a narrative in which Read More »

The Passive Civilian and the Ethics of Violence

This post is part of a symposium on Jessica Whyte’s essay “The ‘Dangerous Concept of the Just War.’” All contributions to the symposium can be found here. While Jessica Whyte’s brilliant essay focuses on a particular historical moment, it also addresses a longstanding puzzle. She ponders why, in their effort to frame violence as ethical, some actors invoke the just war tradition and others the laws of war. She also asks why an actor who in the past has appealed to the laws of war Read More »

Radicalizing the Critique of Just War Thinking

This post is part of a symposium on Jessica Whyte’s essay “The ‘Dangerous Concept of the Just War.’” All contributions to the symposium can be found here. Jessica Whyte’s essay sets itself the timely and ambitious goal of revealing the hidden history of just war thinking in the late 20th Century.[1] While several scholars have been pursuing the broader project of revisiting the dominant historiography, Whyte’s approach is highly original due to its detailed analysis of the concrete circumstances in which the Additional Protocols to Read More »

The U.S. Military and Just War Theory: A Response to Jessica Whyte

This post is part of a symposium on Jessica Whyte’s essay “The ‘Dangerous Concept of the Just War.’” All contributions to the symposium can be found here. Jessica Whyte has written a compelling and erudite critique of claim in the 2015 United States Law of War manual that the laws of war are “rooted in the Just War tradition” (314). She convincingly demonstrates that this seemingly innocuous statement is completely at odds with those made by U.S. officials during the negotiations of the Additional Protocols Read More »

Just War, History and Conflict: A Response

This post is part of a symposium on Jessica Whyte’s essay “The ‘Dangerous Concept of the Just War.’” All contributions to the symposium can be found here. It is wonderful to have the opportunity to engage with the questions posed by these astute and thoughtful responses to my work. Those questions are as numerous as they are provocative, and here I focus on several themes that allow me to bring into sharper focus and extend the claims of my original essay. That essay challenges moralizing Read More »

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