Friday, December 2, 2022

Moderately pacifist war

I’ve been wondering whether it is possible for a country to count as pacifist and yet wage a defensive war. I think the answer is positive, as long as one has a moderate pacifism that is opposed to lethal violence but not to all violence. I think that a prohibition of all violence is untenable. It seems obvious that if you see someone about to shoot an innocent person, and you can give the shooter a shove to make them miss, you presumptively should.

Here’s what could be done by a moderately pacifist country.

First, we have “officially” non-lethal weapons: tasers, gas, etc. Some of these might violate current international law, but it seems that a pacifist country could modify its commitment to some accords.

Second, “lethal” weapons can be used less than lethally. For instance, with modern medicine, abdominal gunshot wounds are only 10% fatal, yet they are no doubt very effective at stopping an attacker. While it may seem weird to imagine a pacifist shooting someone in the stomach, when the chance of survival is 90%, it does not seem unreasonable to say that the pacifist could be aiming to stop the attacker non-lethally. After all, tasers sometimes kill, too. They do so less than 0.25% of the time, but that’s a difference of degree rather than of principle.

Third, we might subdivide moderate pacifists based on whether they prohibit all violence that foreseeably leads to death or just violence that intentionally leads to death. If it is only intentionally lethal violence that is forbidden, then quite a bit of modern warfare can stand. If the enemy is attacking with tanks or planes, one can intentionally destroy the tank or plane as a weapon, while only foreseeing, without intending, the death of the crew. (I don’t know how far one can take this line without sophistry. Can one drop a bomb on an infantry unit intending to smash up their rifles without intending to kill the soldiers?) Similarly, one can bomb enemy weapons factories.

Whether such a limited way of waging war could be successful probably depends on the case. If one combined the non-lethal (or not intentionally lethal) means with technological and numerical superiority, it wouldn’t be surprising to me if one could win.

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