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Bastards, brothers, and unjust warriors: Enmity and ethics in Just War Cinema

Finlay, Christopher J.

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How do members of the general public come to regard some uses of violence as legitimate and others as illegitimate? And how do they learn to use widely recognised normative principles in doing so such as those encapsulated in the laws of war and debated by just war theorists? This article argues that popular cinema is likely to be a major source of influence especially through a subgenre that I call ‘Just War Cinema’. Since the 1950s, many films have addressed the moral drama at the centre of contemporary Just War Theory through the figure of the enemy in the Second World War, offering often explicit and sophisticated treatments of the relationship between the jus ad bellum and the jus in bello that anticipate or echo the arguments of philosophers. But whereas Cold War-era films may have supported Just War Theory’s ambitions to shape public understanding, a strongly revisionary tendency in Just War Cinema since the late 1990s is just as likely to thwart them. The potential of Just War Cinema to vitiate efforts to shape wider attitudes is a matter that both moral philosophers and those concerned with disseminating the law of war ought to pay close attention to.


Finlay, C. J. (2017). Bastards, brothers, and unjust warriors: Enmity and ethics in Just War Cinema. Review of International Studies, 43(01), 73-94.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 17, 2016
Online Publication Date Sep 13, 2016
Publication Date Jan 1, 2017
Deposit Date Sep 26, 2017
Publicly Available Date Nov 30, 2017
Journal Review of International Studies
Print ISSN 0260-2105
Electronic ISSN 1469-9044
Publisher Cambridge University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 43
Issue 01
Pages 73-94
Related Public URLs


Accepted Journal Article (425 Kb)

Copyright Statement
This article has been published in a revised form in Review of International Studies This version is free to view and download for private research and study only. Not for re-distribution, re-sale or use in derivative works. © British International Studies Association 2016.

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