Killing Civilians- Chapter 1

The first chapter of Killing Civilians by Hugo Slim focuses on the different philosophies regarding the role of war and the treatment of civilians during a war. The claim that any efforts made to limit war’s brutality must arise out of sympathy for others was one major theme of this chapter that I agreed with. Yet, I could not agree with the author’s idea that all humans feel compassion. Beyond the physical ability to feel compassion, I thought that compassion is an emotion that is able to be cast aside depending on the circumstance. Overall, the author enforced that civilians should always be viewed with empathy and should not be considered as nameless or unimportant.

Slim explained different philosophies surrounding war’s limitations, which was done best by also including the limitations to each idea. In the section titled “A Philosophy with Fuzzy Limits”, the author brought up a good point that war is not a simple matter; many factors can alter how we view violence against civilians. I agreed with the claim that limited war is all about trying to save as many lives as possible, but not everyone will be saved. No viewpoint about war will ever be perfect so long as killing is a part of it.

When discussing the philosophy of limitless war, the author compared two different extremes of the political spectrum to show that the killing of civilians has been tolerated by both sides of the political spectrum. Slim also compared two opposite viewpoints of human nature; while some groups think that humans are naturally good and others think they are naturally bad, I connected most with de Maistre’s point that humans are naturally brutal. The author then effectively explained that, regardless of human nature, the only way that limited war will become a majority viewpoint is for more people to actively support it. This chapter provided a well-written discussion comparing different philosophies about civilian protection during war, but ultimately proved that civilians should not be seen as weak or as irrelevant, but like anyone else. Slim provided good advice: “how we think of people determines how we treat them” (Slim, pg. 35).

1. Which is a greater hindrance to the support of the limited war theory: lack of empathy for civilians or the idea of military necessity?
2. Is Slim’s statement that “compassion is a universal part of our nature” true?
3. Why was there a shift during the 19th century that put more focus on protecting soldiers instead of protecting civilians?

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