Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Samuel Moyn's "Humane"

Samuel Moyn is the Henry R. Luce Professor of Jurisprudence at Yale Law School and a professor of history at Yale University. His books include The Last Utopia and Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World.

Moyn applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Humane is part of a section on the Boer War (1899-1902). It narrates how W.T. Stead, the most famous British journalist of his age (who later died on the Titanic in 1912), condemned his country’s conduct in the conflict — including violations of the then-new Hague Regulations of Land Warfare. Opponents of such “pro-Boers” as Stead included Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, who insisted that the British were fighting in morally and legally appropriate ways.

The page helps get at the before-and-after story my book tells. What the two sides in the standoff of the two sides in debating the Boer War is that they completely ignored Black victims of the conflict—including the more than 100,000 herded into much worse concentration camps than the better-known ones British used to intern whites. And my point is that, to the extent they were heeded at all, the constraints the laws of war were supposed to provide applied for a long time mostly to warfare among whites. For all his outrage around violations of the laws of war, Stead was drawn (like Scotch-American magnate Andrew Carnegie) to the ideal of “white peace,” while Doyle — offering apologetics for British military conduct in the field — explicitly stated that otherwise necessary and noble restraints on vile conduct did not cover non-whites.

The rest of Humane narrates how, in a series of stages, Americans late in the Cold War and since adopted a different mode of warmaking, in which constraints in fighting were taken more seriously than before. I do not at all mean to claim that race dropped out of American war, but factors like the civil rights movements global decolonization, the integration of the armed services, and the rise of people of color to high political leadership — including the U.S. presidency — meant that racial exclusion could not work through the laws of war in the same way. Before our time, they often simply did not apply to enemies regarded as distinctive in race or religion.

But the universalization of the laws of war, I argue in the book, came with its drawbacks. War could become endless on condition of being humane. Global hierarchy organized along racial lines has hardly disappeared—but when it involves north-south violence it is often exercised more humanely, in part for it to earn a dubious legitimation.
Visit Samuel Moyn's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History.

The Page 99 Test: Christian Human Rights.

--Marshal Zeringue