The Ethics of Modern War

Stipend: $7,500 ($3,000 for NYC-area residents)
Application Deadline: July 15, 2013
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War is an inescapable part of the human condition, with the course of history and the character of civilizations often shaped by the legacy of past conflicts and the possibility of future ones. Courage and cowardice, heroism and tragedy, love of country and hatred of enemies, loss, blood, death, and memory—the human drama plays out, in sharp relief, on both ancient and modern battlefields. To think seriously about war, we need to engage both morally and strategically; we need to think historically and philosophically; and we need to prepare for the future in full awareness of the old tensions and new realities—political and technological—that will challenge us as statesmen and citizens.

This course will focus on the great moral dilemmas of warfare—looking back at some of the classical thinkers and decisive moments in military history, and forward at some of the novel dilemmas posed by new weapons of war and new geopolitical clashes. Is war a moral activity? Are there rules of warfare? If so, how durable have they been over time? Do new technologies fundamentally alter the way we ought to prosecute wars? How do we deal with tough cases—including preemptive strikes, targeted killing, torture, drones, nuclear deterrence, and the use of civilian shields? Led by three of the world’s leading experts on war—classicist and commentator Victor Davis Hanson, strategist and historian Frederick Kagan, and political scientist Peter Feaver—our core text will be Michael Walzer’s classic work Just and Unjust Wars, read carefully and critically, in search of a true modern ethic of war.

Key Texts & Topics

  • Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars
  • Selections from Thucydides, Machiavelli, Clausewitz, General Sherman, Churchill, and Reinhold Niebuhr
  • Case studies on the American Civil War, WWI, WWII, the Six Day War, and current conflicts in the Middle East
  • Serious discussion of current issues—including preemptive strikes, targeted killing, torture, drones, nuclear deterrence, and the use of civilian shields

Seminar Schedule

The planned class schedule for this seminar is the following:


  • August 19, 2013:9:00-11:30 am
  • August 20, 2013: 9:00-11:30 am
  • August 21, 2013: 9:00-11:30 am
  • August 22, 2013: 9:00-11:30 am
  • August 26, 2013: 9:00-11:30 am
  • August 27, 2013: 9:00-11:30 am
  • August 28, 2013: 9:00-11:30 am
  • August 29, 2013: 9:00-11:30 am
  • September 3, 2013: 9:00-11:30 am
  • September 4, 2013, Eve of Rosh Hashanah: 8:00-10:00 am. Please note that classes end at an earlier hour in order to accommodate the holiday observance.


In addition, participants are expected to prepare carefully the daily readings—usually around 30 to 50 pages per day—which are distributed well in advance. We encourage—but we do not require—institute participants to be in residence with us full-time for the complete length of their respective seminar. For more information on seminar schedules and expectations of participants, please see our Overview page.

Who Should Apply?

Men and women of achievement in professional life who want to expand their intellectual range and influence. This course may be especially appropriate for:

  •  Individuals in the legal profession;
  • Members of the US or Israeli security establishments;
  • Think tank researchers and analysts of foreign policy or security affairs; and
  • Members of the media or academic communities.