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Can We Stop the Military from Killing by Remote Control?

Drone Warfare: Jus Ad Bellum?

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Benjamin shows considerable knowledge of her subject but displays little interest in teasing out the subtleties of its thorny issues. More nuanced arguments would help — a good advocate knows to take account of the opponent’s views, give credit where due, then state the counterargument. But this is not Benjamin’s style. In the end, she is less convincing for the full gallop at which she races to her conclusions. Whether one admires or opposes her conclusions, the reductive path Benjamin pursues is not always satisfying. Sic semper the polemic.

Questions about morality and legality in war have an oxymoronic quality — war by its nature involves the suspension of the most fundamental moral injunction, “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” But questions about the right to engage in war and the means to conduct it have concerned us throughout the ages. The early Romans worried over having just cause to wage war — casus belli was the Latin phrase. (A war unjustly started, they argued, would lack favor with the gods, and thus be doomed to defeat.) Later, Scholastic philosophers concerned themselves with issues of jus ad bellum — whether the means employed to engage in war are just — and in modern times nations have sought to bind themselves by treaty to refrain from the use of certain weaponry (such as chemical gas, to take an example in recent headlines). Benjamin is against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as her involvement with CODEPINK demonstrates, but her new book asks us not to judge the wisdom of our current international conflicts, but the justice of using silent killing machines to slay perceived opponents. Despite its strident tone and argumentative style, her book deserves to be given grave consideration. To quote our president, “these are tough issues, and the suggestion that we can gloss over them is wrong.”

Don Franzen is a lawyer in Beverly Hills specializing in entertainment and business law. He serves as law editor for Los Angeles Review of Books.