Civilian Immunity and Civilian Liability

Jeff McMahan

in Killing in War

Published in print April 2009 | ISBN: 9780199548668
Published online September 2009 | e-ISBN: 9780191721045 | DOI:

Series: Uehiro Series in Practical Ethics

Civilian Immunity and Civilian Liability

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This chapter criticizes the orthodox view that all civilians are morally immune from intentional attack simply by virtue of their status as civilians. Among other things, this view makes liability a matter of group membership, or collective identity, rather than of individual action. It notes that the criterion of liability defended in Chapter 4 implies that civilians can in principle be morally liable to certain forms of harm in war. They may, for example, be liable to pay reparations, to suffer certain effects of economic sanctions, or to suffer the burdens of military occupation. Less commonly, some civilians may be liable to suffer certain harmful side effects of military action taken against military targets. The chapter concludes, however, by arguing that in practice civilians are virtually never morally liable to intentional military attack and by explaining why the possibility of civilian liability does not imply the permissibility of terrorism.

Keywords: collateral damage; proportionality; military occupation; Hiroshima; terrorism

Chapter.  14716 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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