The Politics of Civilian Identity

Book Chapter
Daniel Rothbart
Daniel Rothbart
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The Politics of Civilian Identity
Published Date: March 26, 2012
Publisher: Routledge

In Chapter 6 “The politics of civilian identity” Daniel Rothbart exam­ines how the category of civilians in war is subject to various institutional influences from three domains of modern warfare—international law, mil­itary strategies, and the soldiers’ lived experiences. Such influences are interlinked with the legal rights and obligations of civilian noncombatants in times of war. First, in the legal arena, civilians are defined by what they are not—not combatants, and not members of a viable political order—creating a conceptual vacuum that is filled by militaristic framing of war, including assumptions regarding who civilians are and what they can and cannot do. Second, in the militaristic framing of warfare, with its polariz­ing rhetoric (“us against them” and “their gain is our loss”) civilians are often objectified as impediments, obstacles, and frictions that interfere with the operations of military machines. The chapter includes a critical reflection on the rules of engagement (ROE) for US military forces that were operative in Gulf War II, with applications to the treatment of civilians around troop convoys, military checkpoints, and surveillance operations. Third, the chapter examines soldiers’ narratives of military operations, illustrating how civilians can be characterized as victims and reduced to mere elemental existence within the forces of war. 

This book explores the issue of civilian devastation in modern warfare, focusing on the complex processes that effectively establish civilians’ identity in times of war.

Underpinning the physicality of war’s tumult are structural forces that create landscapes of civilian vulnerability. Such forces operate in four sectors of modern warfare: nationalistic ideology, state-sponsored militaries, global media, and international institutions. Each sector promotes its own constructions of civilian identity in relation to militant combatants: constructions that prove lethal to the civilian noncombatant who lacks political power and decision-making capacity with regards to their own survival.

Civilians and Modern War provides a critical overview of the plight of civilians in war, examining the political and normative underpinnings of the decisions, actions, policies, and practices of major sectors of war. The contributors seek to undermine the ‘tunnelling effect’ of the militaristic framework regarding the experiences of noncombatants.

This book will be of much interest to students of war and conflict studies, ethics, conflict resolution, and IR/Security Studies.

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