In this episode I speak with Samuel Moyn, who is a Professor of Jurisprudence at Yale Law School and Professor of History at Yale University. Sam has written a number of books on issues at the intersection of history and international human rights, but we here discuss his most recent book, Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War. Taking off from an insight of Leo Tolstoy’s, the book provocatively explores how an increasing focus on the humanization of war may have made us more accepting of armed conflict, and thereby undermined the movement to constrain the resort to war. In our discussion we explore some of the historical accounts that form the premises of this argument, including the claim that IHL did little to make war more humane until after the Vietnam war, particularly in the history of Western conflicts with non-white peoples; how armed conflict become far more humanized in the so-called “global war on terror;” and how this increasing focus on humanizing war has resulted in a corresponding decline in efforts to constrain the resort to war. We dig into the nature and implications of this claimed inverse relationship, and what forces and actors he thinks help to explain the phenomenon, and end with the question of what might might be done, and by whom, to address the problem of this declining focus on preventing war – an urgent question in the circumstances.
– Amanda Alexander, “A Short History of International Humanitarian Law,” 26 European Journal of International Law 109 (2015).
– Boyd van Dijk, Preparing for War: The Making of the Geneva Conventions (Oxford Univ. Press, 2022).
– Giovanni Mantilla, Lawmaking Under Pressure: International Humanitarian Law and Internal Armed Conflict (Cornell Univ. Press, 2020).