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Social Philosophy Today

Volume 20, 2004

War and Terrorism

Richard M. Buck
Pages 67-80
DOI: 10.5840/socphiltoday20042010

Beyond Retribution
Reasonable Responses to Terrorism

The very nature of terrorism and the context in which it typically occurs make responding to it much more complicated, morally speaking, than responding to conventional military attacks. Two points are particularly important here: (1) terrorism often arises in the midst of conflicts that can only be resolved at the negotiating table; (2) responses to terrorist acts almost always present significant risks to the lives and well-being of noncombatants. The history of the Israel-Palestinian conflict suggests that its resolution will only come through negotiation. However, Israel has an obligation to secure the safety of its citizens. In this context, responses to terrorism must be judged, morally speaking, by how well they balance the following competing aims: (1) protecting the lives of potential victims of terror; (2) protecting the lives of noncombatants living among the terrorists; and (3) preserving the possibility for negotiating the end of the conflict. My aim in this paper is to show that responses against terrorists need not be retributive in aim, and can therefore satisfy these competing demands.

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