International lawyers and ethicists have long judged wars from the perspective of the state and its actions, developing international humanitarian law by asking such questions as "Are the belligerents justified in entering the conflict?" and "How should they conduct themselves during the war's execution?" and "When civilian noncombatants are harmed, who is responsible for their suffering?" Human Rights and War Through Civilian Eyes reimagines the ethics of war from the standpoint of its collateral victims, focusing on the effects of war on individuals—on those who are terrorized, or killed, or whose lives are violently disrupted. Upholding a human rights analysis of war, Thomas W. Smith conveys vividly the depth of human loss and the narrowing of everyday life brought about by armed conflict.
Through riveting case studies of the Iraq War and the recent Gaza conflicts, Smith shows how even combatants who profess to follow the laws of war often engage in appalling violence and brutality, cutting short civilian lives, ruining economies, rending social fabrics, and collapsing public infrastructure. A focus on the human dimension of warfare makes clear the limits of international humanitarian law, and underscores how human rights perspectives increase its efficacy. At a moment when liberal states are rethinking the ethics of war as they seek to extricate themselves from unjust or unwise conflicts and taking on the responsibility to intervene to protect vulnerable people from slaughter, Human Rights and War helps us see with bracing clarity the devastating impact of war on innocent people.
Thomas W. Smith is Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Honors Program at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
"Human Rights and War represents a major advance in the study of civilian devastation in modern warfare. Thomas W. Smith builds a compelling case for adopting a human rights perspective for understanding and advancing the humanitarian needs of civilian noncombatants, a case that centers on the viewing of warfare from the civilian's perspective."—Daniel Rothbart, George Mason University
Finalist for the 2017 International Studies Association Human Rights Section Book Award