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The moral equality of combatants
The moral equality of combatants

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Can unjust wars be fought justly?

Activity 1

Now read Reading 1 ‘Walzer on the moral equality of soldiers’ at the end of this free course. This is an extract from Walzer’s book Just and Unjust Wars .

Link to Reading 1

What, in brief, is Walzer’s view of the moral status of Erwin Rommel?


Walzer thinks of Rommel as someone who fought justly but in an unjust cause. In particular, he cites Rommel’s burning of the ‘commando order’.

The ‘commando order’ was sent directly from Hitler and decreed that Allied commandos who were captured should be killed. Clearly, this order required that Rommel violate the rules of war concerning the treatment of prisoners (and the rules of war concerning the treatment of prisoners derive from the JiB condition of discrimination between those liable and those not liable to be killed in war). Walzer commends Rommel, then, for acting in accordance with the principles of JiB , even while he fought in a cause that Walzer takes to be wholly unjust. He uses this example to illustrate a claim about the moral equality of combatants.

Activity 2

Now listen to the audio recording ‘McMahan on Erwin Rommel’.

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‘McMahan on Erwin Rommel’
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What analogy does the philosopher Jeff McMahan use to explain his own analysis of Rommel?


For McMahan, Rommel is like a burglar who refrains from torturing your pets. It is better that they do not torture your pets, but not really the point. Whether or not they torture your pets, they should not be burgling your house. Their actions are still impermissible – wrong. They act wrongly, not honourably.