Prosecuting war crimes is not the answer

Tolstoy's critique of humane war

As Russia’s war against Ukraine continues, much of the focus has been on the apparent war crimes being committed. This line of thinking can be seen to suggest that the problem here is excessive violence, not the war itself. In his famous War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy put forward the argument that humane war is as absurd an idea as humane slavery, and that believing in it could distract us from what the real moral goals should be: the end of slavery and the end of war. But even if Tolstoy was wrong, we should also consider what the world would be like where the policing of war was a lot stricter. Who would be doing the policing, and could we be sure that the relationships of domination we find in local policing would not be replicated at the global scale, asks Samuel Moyn.


In my recent book Humane, I outline a modest and narrow argument that making objectionable practices less objection

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