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HIST3255 A Short History of the Ethics of War

Module Overview

Wars have been fought throughout the history of mankind. Ethical concerns that they raised, or, in other words, the rights and wrongs of waging war, have been discussed from time immemorial. War has often been seen as an evil, a necessary evil, to be avoided when possible. On the other hand, there have always been circumstances in which the resort to war and violence was accepted or justified, and even, in particular instances, praised or celebrated. The ‘if’ and ‘why’ a war can be fought are at the heart of the ethics of war and the so-called ‘just war theory’. However, the legitimacy of a war is not the only concern, not at least, according to modern International Humanitarian Laws (IHL), according to which a just war has to be fought in a just way. The IHL rules over the conduct of war, defining the rights and status of both combatants and non-combatants alike. Historians often see a fundamental rupture between pre- and post- Geneva Conventions, rebuffing the legacy of the past. Yet the past may help to understand why the Conventions are not always successfully upheld in the modern world. This module will take a wide historical perspective on the ethics of war, looking at ancient, medieval and modern interpretation of why and how wars should be fought. By no means, however, will our reflection remain purely theoretical. In order to understand the context and evolution of the establishment of the norms or rules of war (and the societies that make them), it is fundamentally necessary to observe their historical applications: why and how wars were fought is at least as important as why and how wars should be fought.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • The evolution of the concept of just war and just war theory
  • The connections between law, politics and religion in different historical periods
  • The distant origins of International Humanitarian Laws
  • The status of the combatant and non-combatant throughout history
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Discuss the historical background of concepts and laws of war from antiquity to the modern world
  • Identify key factors that influence the justification for war and the conduct of war
  • Critically analyse foundational texts relating to the ethics of war and assess their relative impacts on behaviour during war
  • Evaluate critically the theoretical and methodological approaches used by scholars working on warfare in different historical periods
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Work independently and unsupervised on complex tasks
  • Display effective time management
  • Communicate a coherent and convincing argument
Subject Specific Practical Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Gather, assimilate, synthesise and interpret a range of primary and secondary material
  • Comment upon complex debates, citing relevant evidence in support of your own views

Syllabus

An indicative list of seminars: - What are the ethics of war? - The concept of just war in the ancient world - The status of the military in the ancient world - The status of the conquered in the ancient world - The concept of just war in the medieval world - The status of men-at-arms and prisoners of war in the medieval world - The status of non-combatants in the medieval world - The concept of just war in the modern world - The status of combatants in the modern world - The status of non-combatants in the modern world

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: - Lectures introducing key topics - Seminars to discuss primary sources and scholarship - Individual essay tutorials Learning methods include: - Close analysis of diverse primary sources - Preparatory reading and individual study - Individual participation in seminars and group work - Development of a learning journal to track progress on the module across the semester - Research for and production of an analytical essay

TypeHours
Tutorial1
Lecture12
Seminar12
Guided independent study125
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Campbell, B., and Tritle, L.A, (eds) (2013). The Oxford handbook of warfare in the Classical World. 

Ambühl, R. (2013). Prisoners of War in the Hundred Years War: Ransom Culture in the Late Middle Ages. 

Reichberg, G.M., Syse, H., and Begby, E. (eds) (2006). The Ethics of War: Classic and Contemporary Readings. 

Rich, J. and Shipley, G. (1993). War and Society in the Roman World . 

Solis, G. (2010). The Law of Armed Conflict: International Humanitarian Law in War . 

Walzer, M. (2015). Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations. 

Afflerbach H., and Strachan H., (eds) (2012). How Fighting Ends: A History of Surrender . 

Assessment

Summative

MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2500 words) 60%
Learning journal  (1500 words) 40%

Repeat

MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2500 words) 60%
Learning journal  (1500 words) 40%

Referral

MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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