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2+McMahan+liability+copy - Philosophia(2006 34:1317 DOI...

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Liability and Collective Identity: A Response to Walzer Jeff McMahan Published online: 4 August 2006 # Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2006 There is much to admire in Michael Walzer s discussion of terrorism and just war. I particularly applaud his insistence that liability to attack is a matter of action rather than membership or collective identity. It is, he writes, the extension of violence or the threat of violence from individuals to groups that is the special feature of terrorism: Men and women are targeted because of their membership... It is who you are, not what you are doing, that makes you vulnerable; identity is liability. And that s a connection that we are morally bound to resist (Walzer, 2006 ). This seems to me an important insight about the distinctive wrongness of terrorism that its harming of the innocent is not only intended as a means of influencing the deliberation and action of others but is also a psychological assault against and a devaluing of an entire group, membership in which by the immediate victims is the sole basis of their selection as targets of attack. Walzer s insight also has significant implications for the requirement of discrimination in war. Despite the article s great merits, I have two major reservations about its arguments. Both concern claims advanced in section 1. I also have doubts about the sharp distinction Walzer draws in section 3 between war and police action. I think that just war is police action of a sort while unjust war is criminal action of a sort. This is a significant dis- agreement but I will not pursue it here. My most serious concern about Walzer s argument derives from his failure consistently to adhere to the rejection of group membership as a basis of liability to attack. Consider soldiers. Walzer embraces the accepted view that it is entirely legitimate to kill soldiers at random, as they come within range, so to speak, and it is legitimate to try to terrorize the ones who never come within range (Walzer, 2006 ). What is it about soldiers, once war has begun, that makes them rightly subject to attack, all of them, all the time (unless they have surrendered or been taken prisoner) (Walzer, 2006 )? According to Walzer s view and here he speaks for the dominant tradition within just war theory it is because they are materially engaged in the war effort (Walzer, 2006 ). They actively pose a threat to others, thereby rendering themselves liable to defensive killing. Their liability is a function of their action their engagement in the business of war. Philosophia (2006) 34:13 17 DOI 10.1007/s11406-006-9005-0 J. McMahan ( * ) Department of Philosophy, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-1411, USA e-mail: [email protected]
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Yet he concedes that not all soldiers are combatants. So he asks how those who do not seem to be materially engaged in fighting a war can be morally liable to attack. The answer he gives is that, when a country is at war, membership in its military necessarily involves contributing to its war effort. All the members of an army
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2+McMahan+liability+copy - Philosophia(2006 34:1317 DOI...

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