The Ethical War Blog

Expert discussion of the ethics of war, for all. Edited by Romy Eskens.

Public Distrust and COVID-19 Vaccines: Conspiracy Thinking or Reasonable Doubt?

By Katherine Hawley

Coronavirus vaccine bottleCoronavirus Vaccine Bottle” by Jernej Furman. Used under: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Quelling the COVID-19 pandemic will require governments and peoples to work together, motivated by more than mere fear of legal sanction. Whilst lockdown measures have been given legal force in many countries, these would be unenforceable in the face of widespread civil disobedience. Restrictions on shops and restaurants need the cooperation of business owners, and it’s impossible for the police to systematically monitor who we mingle with in our own homes, or indeed whether we’re really washing our hands for the full twenty seconds. Test-and-trace systems need individuals to come forward for testing when appropriate, and to be honest about their social contacts. And even as we wait anxiously for a vaccine to become available, we should not expect this to be imposed on any individual without their consent.

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Police Discretion and the Military Analogy

By Jake Monaghan

Couple CopsCouple Cops” by Thomas Hawk. Used under: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/.

Disclaimer from the author: With apologies to readers outside the U.S., this post will focus exclusively on American police. As a kind of consolation, note that your police officers don’t kill 1000 people every year.

Militarized policing has come under significant scrutiny. Aggressive SWAT teams conducting no-knock raids and shooting the family dog just to serve a warrant is all too common in American policing. When policing protests following Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin’s killing of George Floyd, local officers and federal agents behaved as occupying forces cosplaying as soldiers and shooting protestors with tear gas and rubber bullets. In discussions of police reform, it has become commonplace to object to this kind of militarized policing, and for good reason. Yet military influence on the organizational structure of police departments and how the police role is conceptualized poses its own problems for just and legitimate policing. For those who deny that the police should simply be abolished, reforming the structure of police agencies should be a long-term goal. To that end, thinking of police officers as specialized professionals who use discretionary judgement about how best to render their services improves normative theorizing about police work. It does so by highlighting the need for a theory of legitimate police discretion. To see this, we need to see the shortcomings of the military analogy.

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A Sackable Offence? Employers’ Responses to Public Shaming

By Paul Billingham and Tom Parr

The Ramble, Central ParkThe Ramble, Central Park” by Phil Whitehouse. Used under: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

On May 25th 2020, Christian Cooper was birdwatching in The Ramble, an area in Central Park, New York, where dogs must be leashed. He encountered Amy Cooper (no relation) and asked her to put her dog on a leash. She refused, and during the resulting confrontation she called 9-1-1 to say that she was being threatened by “an African American man”. This incident was recorded, the video was uploaded to social media, and it went viral within hours. Amy Cooper’s conduct was widely condemned as racist by very many viewers who reasonably interpreted her as falsely reporting a threat from a person of colour and, in doing so, perhaps endangering his life – something emphasized by the tragic killing of George Floyd by a police officer on the same day.

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Distributing the Costs of Justified Disobedience: Extinction Rebellion, and Beyond

By Ten-Herng LAI

Extinction Rebellion LondonExtinction Rebellion London” by Alexander Savin. Used under: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

On 21 June 2019, several hundred activists occupied some of the busiest intersections in Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, and Melbourne, causing enough disruption to gain the attention of the media. The Extinction Rebellion Australia spokeswoman Miriam Robinson stated: “We needed a climate declaration yesterday, but our governments are not listening, which is why we have to get out in the streets to make ourselves heard…This might be disruptive for some people and we apologise for that, but if the climate runs out of control this kind of disruption will be nothing to what will come.” She further added that we have “run out of time to wait for the existing political process to work.” Since the initiation of Extinction Rebellion in the UK in 2018, similarly nonviolent protests and organizations with comparable goals have sprouted, according to Extinction Rebellion Global, in 67 countries.

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Covid-19 ‘Tracing Apps’, Quarantine, and Innocent Threats

By Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen

data security privacyData security privacy” by “Book Catalog“. Used under: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.

Worldwide there are more than three billion smartphone users and more than three million confirmed cases of covid-19. These two figures seem unrelated, but the development of tracing apps could turn smartphone use into a powerful weapon against the spread of covid-19. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing?

People’s smartphones (could be made to) contain and disseminate a lot of information about them, which is potentially useful for reducing the spread of covid-19. This could be done in various ways. Given traditional liberal-democratic concerns regarding privacy, abuse of state powers, and voluntariness, probably the most benign model is that people are offered the opportunity to freely download a covid-19 tracing app. If they chose not to, they will suffer no state-imposed sanctions. If they choose to, they will receive an auto-generated text message if they have been physically close to another app user (not revealing this user’s identity), who entered the information that he or she is infected into his or her app.[1] The user can now, say, (again: freely choose to) self-isolate. If everyone chose to download the app etc., there would be no need for costly lockdowns, and the state would not be involved in monitoring people’s private lives.

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Terrorism and Pandemics: Re-Assessing the Bush Doctrine

By Quassim Cassam

Embed from Getty Images

In a recent tweet, the Guardian journalist Jonathan Freedland wrote that ‘one of Donald Trump’s achievements is that he can even make George W. Bush look like a genius’.[i] What prompted this observation was footage of a speech by President Bush in 2005 on the threat of pandemic flu.[ii] Reports suggest that he had recently read a book on the 1918 flu epidemic and was exercised by the need to prepare for a similar event in the future. In outlining a national strategy for dealing with a flu pandemic President Bush said in his speech that ‘if we wait for a pandemic to appear it will be too late to prepare. And one day many lives could be needlessly lost because we failed to prepare today’.[iii]

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Flouting Quarantine

By Tom Douglas[1]

Boris Johnson Covid-19 Press Conference 20/03Boris Johnson Covid-19 Press Conference” by Number 10. Used under: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/.

As I write this, COVID-19, an illness caused by the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, is sweeping the globe. Over 15,000 people have died, and it is likely that at least one hundred times this many have been infected with the virus.[2]

The outbreak has brought the ethics of quarantine, isolation and enforced social distancing to public attention. Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and China have been praised in the press for their rigorous deployment of quarantine and other liberty-restricting measures. By contrast, the US and UK have been widely criticised for their relatively lax approach.

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Democracy and War

By Victor Tadros

IMG_9078IMG_9078 by Ale. Used under: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

The Iraq war that the UK fought in 2003, alongside the US and other countries, was met with a great deal of scepticism by many members of the public and by politicians. Many people were not convinced that an adequate basis for the war had been established by the government; there was concern that the case for war had been deceitfully cooked up, and that Tony Blair, the then UK Prime Minister, was playing poodle to a hawkish and ill-informed US president in George W Bush. Yet, when ordered to go, the troops went.

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Published 27th February 2020

Victor Tadros

Professor of Criminal Law and Legal Theory at the University of Warwick. Affiliated researcher at the Stockholm Centre for the Ethics of War and Peace.

Climate Change, Refugees, and Other Displaced Persons

By Matthew Lister

General Photos: Mongolia “General Photos: Mongolia” by Asian Development Bank. Used under: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/. 

  1. The Situation: Increased Urgency and Despair about Addressing Climate Change

Although the urgent need to take significant action to slow, and ideally stop, climate change is clear to all serious observers, there is currently little reason for optimism about achieving these goals. The U.S. has pulled out of the Paris Agreement, and seems determined to make climate policy worse, reducing emission standards for cars, supporting coal, and so on. China, perhaps motivated by a need to keep domestic growth high for local political reasons, is increasing, rather than decreasing, its coal consumption. The Liberal government in Australia, in turn, seems determined to mine and sell every bit of coal in Australia before taking any significant steps towards addressing climate change. If these developments are not reversed quickly, millions of people will face danger resulting directly or indirectly from climate change. Some significant percentage of these people will be forced to leave their homes – sometimes in abrupt flows, and sometimes in a slow but steady flow. Understanding how this displacement is similar to or different from other forms of non-voluntary migration can help us, both in terms of crafting politically feasible strategies for reducing resultant harm and in terms of deciding what responses are most likely to be effective.

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Remembrance and Poppy Enforcement

By Alfred Archer and Benjamin Matheson

Remembrance Sunday 2012 - image 30Remembrance Sunday 2012 – Image 30” by Hammersmith & Fulham Council. Used under: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/.

In the United Kingdom, the red poppy is worn to remember those who have died fighting for the British Army. In 2018, over 50 million pounds was raised from sales of the red poppy. According to the Royal British Legion, the makers of the red poppies, wearing the poppy is not compulsory. Despite this, many people in the public eye have been criticized for not wearing one. So much so that in 2006, the news presenter Jon Snow wrote that: “There is rather unpleasant breed of poppy fascism out there – ‘he damned well must wear a poppy!’”. Snow is referring to the phenomenon of pressuring others to wear the red poppy – that is, pressuring others to engage in a commemorative practice.

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