Duties and Responsibilities in Matter of War and Peace

Sergey Kapitza

Probably, in no matters as those of war and peace do the issues of duties and responsibilities be of such of prominence. In the first place, in the case of war we have to face some of the fundamental duties of a citizen towards society.

On the other hand, the interdependent, complex nature of these issues during war shows that the responsibilities have to be executed in very different and critical circumstances compared with the time of peace, determined both by society and the citizen. In fact, the duality, the connection of the concepts of duties and responsibilities are best seen in duties regarding war and the responsibility in matters of peace. (With reference to SDGS Goal 16)

In the case of war, a person is obliged, in many occasions compelled by customs, even forced by the authority in power, to fulfil his duties. But in matters of peace the responsibility is usually motivated by an internal sense of duty, of the consciousness and moral imperatives of an individual.

Finally, in the modern world, with its growing diversity and rapid changes, and the ever growing magnitude of the issues at stake, the points indicated become even more complex and involved than ever before. In the following, the problems of war, rather than peace will be examined in some detail. The past with its long history, the present in the pressing issues of our time and the expected future developments can only be outlined in very general terms. More emphasis shall be given to bringing up problems, recognizing the issues, rather than suggesting, not to say imposing a solution. Not only because such prescriptions are difficult to make, but mainly because most of them are open to discussion. They could be seen as an object of study, rather than in any degree normative and final. Only on one issue – that of the unacceptability of total nuclear war as a global, worldwide disaster – a marked change of attitudes has developed over the past years and seems now to be universally acceptable.

1. Duties regarding war

War as a social institution is as old as human society itself. As such, wars were recognized by anthropologists, historians and moral philosophers. All through the ages war accompanied the growth of tribes, the formation of countries, the building of empires. The very identity of a member of a tribe, a group of people connected by a common heritage, language and territory, later by culture and religion, determined the duties of a native, of a tribesman, a citizen towards his society. In this sense of belonging, of allegiance we are dealing with very old attitudes deeply ingrained in human nature imprinted into our mind, probably as powerful as the basic instinct of humankind. Psychologists and anthropologists can indicate as to how strong can be the patterns of behaviour when the duty to protect, to fight for thy kin can supersede the instinct of self-protection and culminate in the altruism of self-sacrifice. With the development of civilization, the emergence of more complex structures and institutions, this primordial attitudes and patterns of conduct evolved in the course of history, but much of the fundamental attitudes, those that go far back into our history and even prehistory survived. All major religions developed and pronounced themselves on matters of war and peace but rarely questioned the morality of war and challenged its objects and methods. Probably the best known examples from the past when this happened where the Rock Edict of Asoka, the emperor of India. After the great battle of Kalinga, when reportedly 100,000 warriors perished, he denounced war in remarkable set of principles. A statement that reads today as powerfully as when it was first pronounced in the III century BC, at the time of emergence of Buddhism. However wise were these words and profound were Asoka’s thoughts, not much changed in the course of history in the way wars were conducted and the military duties imposed and demanded. This really shows what military institutions are to human nature and how difficult it is to challenge them today and change them in the future. The institutionalization of war was best expressed in “On war” by Clausewitz [i], when war was seen as the continuation of politics by the other means. Only by the end of XIX century, when universal conscription to the huge armies ceased to be in any way voluntary and became a forcefully imposed duty, things started to change. Since then and also due to the scientific and industrial input in making modern armaments and developing methods of war, a new attitude began to develop.  It became more pronounced especially after the World wars of our century, with the recognition of their utterly inhuman dimensions. Here it should be mentioned, that the total losses due to WWI and WWII and all conflicts since 1914 to 1945 amounted to 150 million. Since then, with the Charter of the United Nations, the principles of war in conflicts of nations began to be renounced and new settings for human duties in matters of war came to be gradually recognized.

In those wars the direct Iosses in military action were only 15-20% of the total. This was due to the disruption of society in most of the dimensions of civilized life. Today, from the experience of the so-called local conflicts, the civilian losses are now at least 10 times greater than losses in direct military action. The indirect losses are even larger, if the babies unborn and the shortening lifespan are accounted for. To this should be added the psychological losses of the soldiers and officers permanently maimed in the aftermath of modern warfare, that does not leave even the victors unscathed. These are the fundamental differences of modern conflicts from all wars of the past, however disastrous and bloody they were. It is in these conditions that we now have to consider the duties and responsibilities on matters of war and peace. The high rate of deserters, of draft dodgers and the rising number of conscientious objectors show how unacceptable, both for society and an individual, modern war has become and the significant changes it now demands. To begin with, let us first discuss the issues raised by modern weapons of mass destruction – nuclear bombs, and chemical and biological weapons-as instruments of mass indiscriminate murder. The legal problems are dealt with by international agreements outlawing the use of such weapons. But can it still be considered to be the duty of an officer to give orders to operate them? Today it is generally becoming recognized by international law that such orders cannot be given and should not be carried out. Finally, nuclear war was formally denounced as a war that should not be fought and cannot be won. Not all countries subscribe to these principles, and what’s more not all societies and cultures have yet fully absorbed these ideas. In the setting of a conflict, under the pressure of circumstances, there still is a possibility of use of weapons of mass destruction. In fact, the whole concept of mutual deterrence is based on such reasoning, implying the ultimate use of these weapons. The huge arsenals accumulated over the last decades indicate that this as a possibility is still with us. Once the bombs are yet around, they can be used. So these problems raise questions, that are more than an exercise in morals and norms, issues much discussed in international meetings and subject to lengthily negotiations of diplomats.

To this it should be added that in the case of the arms mentioned, the victims, the casualties implied are far removed from the politicians sanctioning the use of such weapons, the officers giving orders and those, who press the proverbial button. This remoteness, apartness, lack of direct personal involvement, and risk of retaliation for that matter, is a fundamental factor that has to be taken into account, a factor that lowers the moral taboo, making it of a lesser constraint, than it could have been otherwise. In any society the moral even legal constraints develop through practice and precedents. Through many, however unfortunate experiences of the past, humans accumulated and they codified their modes of behaviour. In the case of weapons of mass destruction this experience is in most cases lacking.

Although the memory of Hirosima and Nagasaki is still with us, of Hamburg, Tokyo and Dresden and now Groznii, as the last case of destruction of a modern town in a modern war, remind us of what can be done even by conventional weapons. And I well remember how, during the debate on the global consequences of nuclear war, very strange scenarios were propagated by some of the military. They not only (luckily!) lacked any experience of nuclear war, but did not even want to use the knowledge in other fields to understand the issues at stake, nor exercise their imagination in getting a picture, even a mental image of what can happen. It was, and unfortunately still is, a singular case where the duties of the military and the responsibilities of all involved are facing the ultimate problem in the destiny of humanity. These sets of problems are not to be forgotten, because in the case of a global disaster, even on a level of the virtual reality of a “Gedankenexperiment”[ii] we see how far technology has progressed and how slowly have our human patterns and social customs adapted to these recent developments. For it took more than fifty years to bring into being new international understanding and agreements, to recognize the real menace and ultimate potential of modern arms. In the context of these discussions it should be mentioned that the scientific community was to a certain extent split on these matters.

In the first place, the bombmakers went on with their work and delivered first the atom bomb and then developed the hydrogen bomb, the apocalyptic weapon of unlimited power. Many of those who so successfully developed nuclear weapons later had second thoughts and quit. But others carried on, finding ways of justifying their efforts, demanding the continuation of testing and keeping the nuclear monster alive, if not in good shape. Are these dedicated engineers and scientists really doing their duty, are they really responsible members of the human family? It is of some consolation that the great laboratories of nuclear weapons have a difficult time in attracting the best talents they usually got for the asking in the past, that the fiscal support they get is dwindling. The suicide of the director of the second largest nuclear weapons laboratory in Russia shows the strain, faced by these professionals, dedicated and highly committed. On the other hand, it was the forceful statement of doctors that to a great extent managed to charge the attitudes towards accepting nuclear weapons. The doctors have a well developed understanding of their duties and were better understood and trusted by the world, than by the pronouncements of other professionals, scientists in the first place. For the modern developing world, with an ever-changing level of technology, technology that is now shifting to the rapidly growing countries of the East, many of these issues of the recent past are now happening in a new setting. In this case both the numbers and factors of growth may lead to a precarious balance of power and, with a growing potential for violence and force, regional and even global stability may be at stake. At this point, it should be noted that in the East duties traditionally have precedence over rights. Can this provide for greater stability or does it place the individual at the mercy or authority? It can be assumed, that before the situation regarding war, modern war, is in any way resolved and formalized in terms of duties, it is our common responsibility towards global issues that have to first be recognized and developed. In fact, in the modern interconnected and interdependent world, the responsibilities and duties are now acquiring a global dimension not only in matters of war and security, but also in terms of our environmental conscientiousness.

These items are not independent, for modern war and even preparations to it have grave environmental consequences, as it happened with nuclear arms tests. Even the destruction of chemical weapons involves great environmental hazards. That is why the development of a global vision, a universal attitude towards the world as a whole has to become part of the modern “Weltanschaung” on all levels of society.

2. Local wars and conflicts. terrorism

In the case of global issues we often really deal with an extension and uncontrolled explosion of local events. The greatest disaster the world ever faced was triggered off by an act of terrorism in Sarajevo, of all places. The brinkmanship of politicians and generals has time and again brought countries and even the world to, and even beyond, the limits of stability. It is here that the duties of statesmen, the military and citizens meet and have to be recognized in their full extent. In the modern world, of special concern are the duties and responsibilities of the mass media. By their very nature these powerful instruments for handling information, especially the electronic media, have an enormous persuasive power. The recognized duty of reporting the news for one party, may seem to be an impartial observation of current events, but to many others it may be a matter of life and death, of importance well beyond the imagination or understanding of the unconcerned. Now, with global networks it is all the more difficult to be knowingly, or unknowingly, noncommitted and really objective, however strongly the principles of freedom of information are pronounced. In fact, it seems that totally uncommitted information will be so unemotional and bland, so as to be of no news value. And just because of the sensitivities and criticalities of emotionally charged news we so often see how, in the pursuit of sensational items, the channels of information are time and again used by extremists and criminals, terrorists and even people deranged. For those in the West, living in the relative security of the modern democratic world to raise such issues may seem improper and even fundamentally wrong, but for many in the turbulent, less stable regions these problems are of great concern. Responsibility, if not control and self-control has to take place. In fact, the motto of “The New York Times” -All the news that is fit to print – does simply such a sense of duty. Often these issues may be seen better in a historical perspective. Once, taken around the memorabilia of the War of Independence in New England I caustically remarked that for the British your minuteman and freedom fighters were terrorists . This exercise in historical relativity was quite unexpected, to say the least, for my American hosts. In our world, in places of local conflicts, of critical importance are the attitudes and pronouncements of those who are type cultural, clerical and scientific elite of the respective communities. Recently, in Tbilisi, on the initiative of the Director General of UNESCO Professor Federico Mayor and President Edvard Shevardnadze of Georgia, an international seminar was held, where these problems were examined. They had a direct meaning for the Caucasian republics, that had just attained independence. It was an instructive discussion, showing how easy it is to destabilize a country, where, after the loss of law and order, conditions rapidly degenerate into a state well beyond the promises of reformers and the aspirations of those, who fought for their freedom. This is all the more so in a modern society, societies efficient and because of that inherently at the limits of stability. Systems with so little redundancy, that with the collapse of a civilized life style they rapidly degenerate into a state of chaos. The extreme vulnerability of modern civilized life makes us all an easy target for terrorists. The origins of modern terrorism are beyond the agenda of these notes, but on many, if not all occasions the brains backing the terrorists are often those of intellectuals, who have lost or never developed, due to a number of reasons, the sense of responsibility, that their education should provide for. Probably the first, if not the best study of this mindset was made by Dostoyevsky in “The possessed”. Written more than a hundred years ago this remarkable book is still of significance in examining the mind and behaviour of the extremist. These facts and experiences should be known and recognized. I am sure it is both the duty of those concerned and the ultimate responsibility of both statesmen and the educated elite both in handling the destiny of their countries in critical circumstances, of the media and the way it reports and presents the events of the world. For in an interconnected system its stability is not independent of the impact of an observer, another lesson of modern science, that is not unknown in sociology. The aspirations for independence are in most cases based on the concept of self- determination, where the main arguments are usually historic, ethnic, religious or cultural. This lets open a host of problems, a Pandora’s box of hot issues. But how are these sacred cows to be reconciled with the realities of the modern interconnected world? How are we to face the issues of trade and technology in countries, propagating their native language in a world of global communications and science, transcending all borders and penetrating all barriers?

How and how far are we to protect native cultures and indigenous traditions? The duty of educating the next generation becomes a politically loaded issue with dire consequences in the not so distant future. Today the experience of United Europe is an all important and instructive example in overcoming the divisions of the past. A continent, where less than a century ago, in the span of memory of many of those still alive, great changes have happened.

The lessons of statesmanship show both the responsibilities faced and demonstrate the duties of the builders of modern Europe. But this experience also shows, that it takes decades of consistent efforts to carry through the original and imaginative plans, to develop the software of the new Union.

3. Conclusions

In summing up this discussion, once again we see the strains and vulnerability of the modern world, where the actions of even a single individual may have far reaching, even disastrous consequences. We see the disparity between the hard-ware of geography and economies, and the slow development of social software. As with modern computers the software takes more time and human effort to build up and develop than to produce the machinery of economics. Perhaps, the relationship between duties and responsibilities as concepts are complimentary much in the way it was suggested and discussed by Bohr[iii]. Could it be said that duties, by their prescriptive and normative nature, often expressed by their direct connection to institutions and customs, represent the hardware, the instruments of social intercourse; and responsibilities -the inner motives of human conduct, the software, the message and meaning of our behavior. Today, in a rapidly changing world, when the time scale of changes has become shorter than the human lifespan, it is all the more important to recognize the origins and meaning of duties and responsibilities they correspond to. When in the past world changed at a lesser rate, when people lived in conditions of more or less permanent values, human rights were part of establishing the proper relationship between the individual and society. But now, in a rapidly changing world we have no time for evolution to work, and can we afford to demand and grant the individual all the independence, without taking into account the feedback of duties towards society. That is why, in the critical transition happening now we have to consider both rights and responsibilities simply because the dynamics of change and the instability they may incur.

The issues or war provide for the greater limits, where the duties of a citizen, a person and individual have to be performed in the extreme. We can only hope that in a stabilized and sustainable world of the future, there will be no place for martial duties, that the responsibilities and duties will in a happy harmony be balanced by rights, that society will no longer exert its power beyond the freedom of an individual, who in peace will with due consciousness voluntary perform his duties. Before this asymptotic state is reached, a state of bliss perhaps never attainable, we shall have to find ways to reconcile these basic concepts in resolving the predicament of humankind.

Sergey Kapitza, in: The MAGNA CARTA of HUMAN DUTIES, International Council of Human Duties Ed., Trieste University Press (1997), 194-209.
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