The Image before the Weapon: A Critical History of the Distinction between Combatant and Civilian (Paperback)
  • The Image before the Weapon: A Critical History of the Distinction between Combatant and Civilian (Paperback)
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The Image before the Weapon: A Critical History of the Distinction between Combatant and Civilian (Paperback)

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£18.99
Paperback 272 Pages / Published: 03/09/2015
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Since at least the Middle Ages, the laws of war have distinguished between combatants and civilians under an injunction now formally known as the principle of distinction. The principle of distinction is invoked in contemporary conflicts as if there were an unmistakable and sure distinction to be made between combatant and civilian. As is so brutally evident in armed conflicts, it is precisely the distinction between civilian and combatant, upon which the protection of civilians is founded, cannot be taken as self-evident or stable. Helen M. Kinsella documents that the history of international humanitarian law itself admits the difficulty of such a distinction.

In The Image Before the Weapon, Kinsella explores the evolution of the concept of the civilian and how it has been applied in warfare. A series of discourses-including gender, innocence, and civilization- have shaped the legal, military, and historical understandings of the civilian and she documents how these discourses converge at particular junctures to demarcate the difference between civilian and combatant. Engaging with works on the law of war from the earliest thinkers in the Western tradition, including St. Thomas Aquinas and Christine de Pisan, to contemporary figures such as James Turner Johnson and Michael Walzer, Kinsella identifies the foundational ambiguities and inconsistencies in the principle of distinction, as well as the significant role played by Christian concepts of mercy and charity.

She then turns to the definition and treatment of civilians in specific armed conflicts: the American Civil War and the U.S.-Indian Wars of the nineteenth century, and the civil wars of Guatemala and El Salvador in the 1980s. Finally, she analyzes the two modern treaties most influential for the principle of distinction: the 1949 IV Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Times of War and the 1977 Protocols Additional to the 1949 Conventions, which for the first time formally defined the civilian within international law. She shows how the experiences of the two world wars, but particularly World War II, and the Algerian war of independence affected these subsequent codifications of the laws of war.

As recognition grows that compliance with the principle of distinction to limit violence against civilians depends on a firmer grasp of its legal, political, and historical evolution, The Image before the Weapon is a timely intervention in debates about how best to protect civilian populations.

Publisher: Cornell University Press
ISBN: 9781501700675
Number of pages: 272
Weight: 425 g
Dimensions: 235 x 156 x 16 mm


MEDIA REVIEWS

"The Image before the Weapon is an authoritative critical history of the 'principle of distinction' that deeply informs our current political condition. Helen M. Kinsella's tour de force transcends disciplinary divisions and speaks to some of the thorniest ethical issues in contemporary warfare. What is a civilian? What is a combatant? Who is to judge and on what grounds? Epic in its ambition and scope yet tightly focused and accessibly argued, The Image before the Weapon is a significant achievement in critical theorizing that speaks as much to contemporary debates about counterinsurgency strategy and the political dynamics of civil wars as it does to current interpretations of medieval philosophy."

* Contemporary Political Theory *

"For centuries, philosophers and publicists have sought to formalize the distinction between combatants and civilians under what is known as the principle of distinction. Although this principle has long been viewed as stable and relatively straightforward, Helen M. Kinsella demonstrates in The Image before the Weapon that it is anything but."

* International Studies Review *

"Helen M. Kinsella fearlessly deconstructs the social origins and purposes of civilian identity in armed conflict. She reveals how political conceptions of civilization, innocence, and gender have shaped the rules of warfare and buttressed international orders. By exposing the contingent framing of legitimate targets in war, Kinsella's brilliant analysis transcends the past to illuminate future conundrums in fighting terrorism and waging modern war. The Image Before the Weapon is a fascinating historical tour and a challenge to all concerned with the conduct of war."

-- Sarah Sewall, Harvard Kennedy School

"The Image before the Weapon addresses an issue of central importance in international law, and Helen M. Kinsella's insight is so clearly correct that it's startling to realize that no one has systematically explored it before. It is typically assumed that there is a category of 'civilian' that, while its application might change somewhat over time, at its core is conceptually unproblematic. Kinsella shows that this is not true. By providing a 'geneaology' of this term, Kinsella takes the debate over civilian immunity in wartime in a significant new direction."

-- Ward Thomas, College of the Holy Cross

"Helen M. Kinsella has written an erudite, enticing and powerful book. Expertly weaving historical analysis, feminist theory and political theory, Kinsella offers an intricate genealogy of the principle of distinction and the related development of the categories of civilian and combatant. Moving analytically and historically across centuries, this meticulously researched book illustrates how discourses of gender, innocence and civilization both brace and undermine the principle of distinction upon which so many lives depend. The Image before the Weapon is an original book that sheds light on contemporary wars and conflicts."

-- Marysia Zalewski, Director, Centre for Gender Studies, University of Aberdeen, Scotland

"If in no age has it been more important to distinguish between civilians and combatants, it has also never been more difficult. The Image Before the Weapon takes us through every turn of this difficulty-historical, theoretical, anthropological, gendered, and theological-to reveal how the distinction brings into being the subjects, spaces and orders it claims only to regulate. The research is dazzling, the interdisciplinary moves are elegant, the politics are searing. Helen M. Kinsella's book also establishes, at last, the indisputable belonging together of international relations and political theory."

-- Wendy Brown, Class of 1936 Professor of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley, and author of Walled States, Waning Sovereignty

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