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Wars with and for humanity

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Craig JonesORCiD


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What does it mean for wars to be ‘humane’? How does humanity give acts that kill, injure, and maim a novel sense of moral legitimacy? This essay reviews Samuel Moyn’s answers to these questions in Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War. An incisive study of the legacy of the fraught development of humanitarian laws of war, its assessment of humane war falls short in two ways: first, it takes for granted the meaning of humanity as a general principle, and second, it too narrowly interprets the scope of humanity in war. The consequence is a failure, on the one hand, to justify the novelty of humanity in war, and, on the other, to fully appreciate how humanity has enabled war. Pointing to two critical moments overlooked in the book – developments in the rules of combat and the rise of novel ‘humanitarian wars’ – we cast suspicion on humanity as a category of violence. A question of means and ends, the advent of humane war, we argue, is not only how war has become manifestly a practice that is more humane, but of a larger endeavour of promoting humanity by bringing more war. Overall, we share Moyn’s sense of tragedy about the humanization of war and the abandonment of peace. However, where he retains an optimism that more humanity could do some good to recover peace, we argue that once brought into the realm of war, it is humanity that needs to be questioned, perhaps even abandoned.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Jones Craig, Shah Nisha

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Yearbook of International Humanitarian Law

Year: 2023

Volume: 24

Pages: 143–164

Print publication date: 02/01/2023

Online publication date: 01/01/2023

Acceptance date: 02/04/2022

ISSN (print): 1389-1359

ISSN (electronic): 1574-096X

Publisher: T.M.C. Asser Press


DOI: 10.1007/978-94-6265-559-1_5


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