Publication Date

November 2007


Helms School of Government


Government: Pre-Law

Primary Subject Area



In the Western tradition, wars were typically fought between uniformed armies on a public battlefield. Even in the Twentieth Century, wars were largely fought between state-sponsored armies, who wore uniforms that made them legitimate targets by distinguishing them from the surrounding civilian population. Civilians, so long as they refrained from military-type actions, were generally considered to be unlawful targets. Though there were borderline cases, and certainly abuses of the system, for the most part the exceptions only reinforced the accepted standard. Spies, for example, as soldiers in civilian clothing, forfeited the protection of the laws of war and were subject to prompt and inglorious death. The war on terror, fought against a non-national enemy in the shadows and dark corners of the world, poses a new problem: How are we to determine the identity of our enemies? Determining the identity of those who hate us is not difficult; deciding which individuals among those who hate us are legitimate targets for the use of deadly force will prove more so.