The Enemy in Our Hands: America's Treatment of Enemy Prisoners of War, from the Revolution to the War on Terror

By Robert C. Doyle | Go to book overview

SIXTEEN
The Evolution of New Paradigms
Reflections on the Past, Present, and Future

Remember those in prison as if you were there with them.

—Hebrews 13:3

One always has to ask, does the end justify the means? Nicoló Machiavelli stated as much in The Prince, published in 1532, but it is a difficult question to pose, especially in terms of the treatment of EPWs. The temptation is to oppose Machiavelli and assert that the end never justifies the means. But the devil lies in the details. Civilized peoples and nations claim that there are ethics germane to war—the Geneva Convention, for example—as well as other treaties and conventions dealing with the treatment of war prisoners. W. L. La Croix reminds us in War and International Ethics that there must be certain values and standards that act as moral bases for actions. Likewise, there must be an appeal to virtuous motives, even if some acts seem heinous on the surface. He asserts correctly that values of prudence and contributive justice are at stake and notes that a virtuous person must always be a moral realist who chooses the principle of the double effect—that is, one must choose the lesser of two evils to achieve a contributively just effect.1 By so doing, one must ascertain that the good one achieves far outweighs the evil one commits.

This simple dichotomy has both defined and muddled the nature of the moral high ground relative to EPWs in American hands. There exists a perpetual philosophical problem: do ethics have a role in international politics or not? Can the art of diplomacy or, for that matter, military science be thought of as existing without ethical boundaries? If international politics consists of a constant forum for intersocietal competition, can one take a realist’s position and assert that the end justifies any means that are expedient?2 Do goals alone function as the ethical standards in international relations? If so, expediency becomes the sole measure for the actions that become the means to those goals. There are no easy answers here; thus it is necessary to look at each American war’s

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