Legitimacy and Commitment in the Military

By Reuven Gal; Thomas C. Wyatt | Go to book overview

5
The Legitimation of Combat for the Soldier

Frederick J. Manning and David H. Marlowe

The issue of the legitimacy of war and killing has been a significant human concern for millenia. Human groups have not generally regarded the taking of life as an issue to be dealt with lightly. All societies have well-defined boundaries outside of which acts of both social and individual violence are formally prohibited. For almost all there is also a body of law, custom, or belief that redefines the fundamental prohibitions against ingroup violence in such ways as to approve the violence of combat. Through much of human history and within almost all human societies, the question of the legitimacy of war and combat has been a matter of cultural consensus. Legitimacy for the soldier (i.e., the conviction that he is acting correctly in killing others of his kind) was attained by behaving according to the rules and expectations laid down by his culture and society.

The thesis of this chapter is that soldiers' acts of violence are legitimized by rules and expectations from three powerful sources: society as a whole, the soldier/warrior ethic, and the small fighting group. That is, soldiers are allowed, encouraged, even obligated to kill because of their duties as citizens, duties as soldiers, and duties as comrades. These duties provide the soldier with his reasons for both killing and risking his own life. They provide his conviction that he is right to fight. These three

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