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William F. Felice

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Moral Responsibility in a Time of War

When a nation goes to war, the government calls on its citizens to accept its moral reasoning for violence and to “rally around the flag.” Too often during war many individuals sacrifice their ethical autonomy and simply accept the decisions of our leaders. Loyalty to the president and the country become a higher virtue than other ethical norms. Many citizens, in particular those in the Foreign Service, turn inward during a time of war, focus on their private lives, and no longer feel any moral responsibility for the destruction carried out in their name. What is a Foreign Service Officer’s moral duty in a time of war? What ethical responsibilities do these government employees have to speak up and publicly oppose war policies they find morally dubious? How does an individual in this situation maintain his or her ethical autonomy in a time of war? These questions are examined here through some of the leading ethical theories, including the broad frameworks of realism, consequentialism, and deontology. This article is an exploration of why this occurs. Included is an interview with Peter Singer, one of the world’s leading utilitarian philosophers.

ethical-moral dilemmas of war, neoconservative foreign policy

Citation: Social Justice Vol. 35, No. 3 (2008-09): 28-48