We do not accord a policeman and a criminal equal status: the criminal is committing an injustice, and so forfeits his right not to be handled forcibly by the policeman; the policeman on the other hand has done nothing to forfeit his right not to be attacked. Their rights are not equal.
In contrast, one of the bedrocks of the laws of war is the principle of the moral equality of combatants. Assuming that one can objectively decide that a given war has a ‘just’ and an ‘unjust’ side, those fighting on the ‘just’ side are still bound by the same rules as those on the ‘unjust’ side. Unjust soldiers are entitled to shoot at the just ones, and they have the same protection under the laws of war. Just and unjust warriors are morally equal, and should treat each other as such.
Not everybody thinks that this is how…
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dan demetriou said:
Wow great post, Paul, and I couldn’t agree more. Argued this in “Honor War Theory.” This story will go in my bag of examples of fair fighting, which is so distinctive of honor psychology. It’s particularly surprising, since most people wouldn’t call antagonists in that part of the world particularly “romantic,” the favorite backhanded compliment for those who argue for honorable combat.
This quote, too, is priceless: “Even if they’re shitty they are our enemy and they ought to be respected.” Not “…they’re *people* and ought to be respected…” or “…they’re poor grunts being used by the system…” but “…they’re *our enemy*…” How revealing. I’ve said that on (agonistic) honor, respect is based upon seeing someone as a competitor, real or hypothetical, just as how on liberal/contractarian justice ethics, the basis of respect is seeing someone as a real/hypothetical cooperator. So much so Hobbes or Hume couldn’t imagine someone bound by justice unless they were a potential cooperator. So this commander is really channeling honor psychology when he thinks this. I’d love to hear your insight, Paul, into how atypical these thoughts are or aren’t in that area of the world.
Thanks, Dan. That’s an interesting question that you raise at the end. It’s hard to say how typical this is. On the one hand, the fact that 60 Ukrainian soldiers signed a petition calling for Kupol to be punished suggests that a lot of people disagree with this behaviour. On the other hand, there is this video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52xlwIQcmDg – which shows a skype conversation on 20 October between a rebel commander, Aleksei Mozgovoi, and several officers on the Ukrainian government side. It’s in Russian, but you don’t have to speak the language to see that they get on fairly well with each other. In fact, by the end they agree on a lot. In particular, they agree that they despise the politicians on both sides. At about the 55 minute point, Mozgovoi says that he opposed the ceasefire agreed on 5 September at Minsk because it was signed by people who weren’t doing the fighting. One of the Ukrainians agrees, saying ‘The dialogue should not be between the politicians but between us’ ‘Correct’ says Mozgovoi. ‘… it should be those people who are face to face, those people who are shooting at each other, it is us who should be sitting behind the negotiating table talking.’ So, at least among some, there is a feeling of mutual solidarity between soldiers on both sides.