The Role of Civilians in American War Ideology

Book Chapter
Richard Rubenstein
Richard Rubenstein
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The Role of Civilians in American War Ideology
Published Date: March 26, 2012
Publisher: Routledge
Topics of Interest: Conflict Resolution, Violence

In Chapter 2 “The role of civilians in American war ideology,” Richard Rubenstein examines the reasons why Americans go to war in the past two centuries. He shows how past American military campaigns have been shaped by normative beliefs regarding why “we” fight, such as the scared right and duty for self-defense, the need to suppress an evil enemy, national honor, among others. And for all of these beliefs, the responsibil­ities and possible sacrifices of civilian citizen (both at home and living in the enemy land) are critical. He examines the following episodes: (a) US wars against Native Americans; (b) the revolutionary origins of the American state; (c) wars of continental and colonial expansion; (d) domestic and global military crusades; and (e) wars to maintain global hegemony. Rubenstein then explores the mechanisms for defining the category of the civilian-soldier, the role of racism in characterizing the US enemies, the ideology of American exceptionalism, and the normative dichotomy between protecting civilians at home and readiness to sacrifice civilians living with the enemy. Rubenstein argues that the blurring of combatant–civilian distinction contributed to the development of anti-war movements in the US (public response to the My Lai massacre in Vietnam is examined as a case in point). He examines implications of this contradiction for public policy formation in an age of professional military forces.


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.

A full list of chapter Abstracts is available here

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