By CourtesyOctober 24, 2019
Story by Class of 2020 Cadet Jacob Wells
West Point held its sixth annual Ethics of War and Peace Conference Oct. 11 and 12 at Jefferson Library.
The conference was hosted by the Department of English and Philosophy and focused on the ethical questions that war prompts, biological warfare to the decision to use non-lethal or lethal weapons. This year, the conference challenged participants to look at the question of 'how to end a war: peace, justice and repair.'
The theme of how to ethically end a war was chosen in honor of the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919, officially ending World War I.
While Woodrow Wilson advocated for a just peace under the 14 points, the Treaty of Versailles focused on reparations for the Allied Powers and harsh treatment of Germany. Many historians view the Treaty of Versailles as one of the factors that led to the rise of the Nazi party and eventually World War II.
By failing to establish a just peace, world leaders set some of the building blocks for future conflict.
To look at the issue of ending wars justly, West Point invited speakers to come and explain their research. They looked at a variety of topics from "Principled Compromises at War's End" to the idea of proportionality in an open-ended war.
The conference began with Dr. Colleen Murphy, a professor in the College of Law at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She argued that principled compromise is required to end conflict in societies plagued with legacies of violence.
While compromise is necessary for democratic politics, it must be principled in values to ensure that the power structure being established is not the same as the one causing the conflicts, and that the desires of the victims are not being ignored in the search for peace.
Dr. Daniel Philpott from the University of Notre Dame spoke on "Reconciliation is Justice-and a Strategy for Military Victory." Dr. Catherine Lu of McGill University discussed "Ending Wars, Ending Structural Injustice." Dr. Nancy Sherman from Georgetown University and Dr. Lisa Tessman of Binghamton University conducted a panel discussion about moral injury, a psychological wound that can affect Soldiers if a war does not end well.
Dr. Nir Eisikovits, University of Massachusetts, Boston, discussed the role of humiliation is political philosophy and as a ISIS recruitment propaganda.
Dr. David Rodin, Oxford University, addressed the moral evaluation of open-ended wars. Dr. Linda Radzik, Texas A&M University, analyzed the justice of removing or preventing certain individuals from filling government roles (like de-Nazification or de-Baathification).
Lt. Col. Daniel Maurer, assistant professor in the Department of Law, argued that we need a practical guide for the decisions required when ending a war, like the original Lieber Code that guided Soldiers in conducting a war well.
Along with the plenary speakers, the conference included undergraduate students presenting their work on the ethics of war and peace.
Cadet presenters included Class of 2020 Cadet Jared Cochrane and Class of 2021 Cadet Karen Kim. The Department of English and Philosophy also recruited two midshipmen from the U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 2021 Midshipmen Lillian Baker and Preston Rhodes, to present.
Cadets will likely have to face the question of how to repair a society after war as they lead their units in environments in which they will be expected to act in both military and policing roles.
"This conference was incredibly important because it made us think about an essential part of war that often goes undiscussed-its end," said Class of 2021 Cadet Langdon Ogburn, a cadet who attended the conference.
By encouraging cadets to think about these difficult ethical questions in the academic environment of the academy, the conference is preparing us to make the right decisions in the future.
It is important for cadets, like myself, to know how best to establish a just peace. The difference between a just and unjust peace can be the difference between ending a cycle of political violence and establishing unending conflict in a region.