The History of International Law: The Law of War as Case Study


Fall 2007

JGH 546/Tuesday, 4-6pm


Samuel Moyn                                                             John Fabian Witt

Professor of History                                                   Professor of Law and History

Fayerweather 616                                                       Jerome Greene 514

4-3009                                                                         4-0076                                     


Administrative contact / logistics: Margaret Symuleski, 854-0653 /


            This seminar takes up the history of the branch of international law known as the law of war, including international humanitarian law (IHL).  It is principally concerned with the law governing the conduct of belligerents in war, known to specialists as the ius in bello, as opposed to the law governing the legality of wars themselves, known as the ius ad bellum.  The seminar is principally concerned with the laws of war in the modern period, from the Napoleonic Wars to the present, though it begins deep in the history of western warfare in the medieval period. The goal is to integrate the evolution of law with historical study of the evolution of warfare itself.


            Note: for an “official” view of the law of war and its history, you may wish to consult over the semester Marco Sassėli et al., eds., How Does Law Protect in War? (Geneva: ICRC, 1999)


Course Requirements


            Class attendance and participation.  Students must attend class and are expected to be prepared and to contribute to the conversation.


            Reading Responses.  Each week, one or more students will post a 2 page response to the reading for the week.  Responses must be emailed by Monday morning at 10:00 a.m. the day before the class to Margaret Symuleski ( and to the instructors for posting to the course website.  Sign-up preferences will be gathered via email by Margaret the day after the first seminar meeting. 


             Final Papers.  Each student must hand in a final paper, due Monday after the last day of classes, December 17, on a topic to be selected with the consultation and approval of one or both of the instructors.  Papers should be 15-20 pages in length.


            Books:  A list of books available at Labyrinth is on the last page of this syllabus.  All books at Labyrinth are also on reserve at the Law School library.  All other readings are available on the Law School courseweb page, available at


1. Sept. 4: Introduction

Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars (1977), pp. xxv-xxxi (preface)

Geoffrey Best, Humanity in Warfare (Columbia University Press, 1980), pp. 1-29

Paul W. Kahn, The Cultural Study of Law (University of Chicago Press, 1998), 1-6, 36-            40, 91-117

Lawrence Weschler, “International Humanitarian Law: An Overview,” in Crimes of War             (Norton, 1997), available at            overview.html

Deuteronomy, ch. 20, available at:   

James D. Morrow, “When Do States Follow the Laws of War?,” 101 Am. Pol. Sci. Rev.             559 (2007)



2. Sept. 11: Deep Background 1: The Modern History of Warfare

Statistics of War in Human History – An Introduction

Max Boot, War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History, 1500 to             Today (Gotham Books, 2006), pp. 1-351


3. Sept. 18: Deep Background 2: From Humanism to Enlightenment Philosophy

Richard Tuck, The Rights of War and Peace: Political Thought and the International             Order from Grotius to Kant (OUP, 1999)

Best, Humanity in Warfare, 31-74 (“The Later Enlightenment Consensus”)



4. Sept. 25: Total War

David Bell, The First Total War: Napoleon and the Birth of Warfare as We Know It             (Houghton Mifflin, 2007), chapters1, 2, 5 & 8

Carl von Clausewitz, On War (Howard & Paret eds., 1976), ch. 1

Gunther Rothenberg, “The Age of Napoleon,” in The Laws of War: Constraints on             Warfare in the Modern World (Andreopolous, Howard, & Shulman eds., 1994),             pp. 86-97



5. Oct. 2: Legalizing Total War
Francis Lieber, Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the             Field (New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1863)

Francis Lieber, Manual of Political Ethics (Boston: Little, Brown, 1839), pp. 629- 668             (“War”) (vol. 2, book 7)

James F. Childress, “Francis Lieber’s Interpretation of the Laws of War: General Orders             No. 100 in the Context of His Life and Thought,” 21 American Journal of             Jurisprudence 34-70 (1976)

Theodor Meron, “Francis Lieber’s Code and Principles of Humanity,” in Meron, War             Crimes Law Comes of Age (Oxford)



6. Oct. 9: Mid-century Warfare and the Origins of Humanitarian Protection

Henri Dunant, A Memory of Solferino
Geneva Convention of 1864

Best, Humanity in Warfare, pp. 128-215

Caroline Moorehead, Dunant’s Dream: War, Switzerland and the History of the Red             Cross, pp. 132-48 (Russo-Turkish War of 1877 and Boer War)



7. Oct. 16: The Hague Regulations in Context
Calvin DeArmond Davis, “The Czar’s Rescript,” in The United States and the First Hague Peace Conference
(Cornell, 1962), pp. 36-53

Hague Regulations 1899/1907

Peter Holquist , “The Russian Imperial Origins of the Law of War” (ms.)

Martti Koskenniemi, The Gentle Civilizer of Nations (Cambridge, 2002), pp. 11-97



8.  Oct. 23: “Small Wars” and Colonial Warfare

Carl Schmitt, Theory of the Partisan,

Isabel Hull, Absolute Destruction: Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial             Germany (Ithaca: Cornell, 2004), intro., ch’s 1-3, 6, & 10

Sven Lindqvist, A History of Bombing, thread on the law of war

Quincy Wright, “The Bombardment of Damascus,” American Journal of International             Law 20 (April 1926): 263-80

Elbridge Colby, “How to Fight a Savage Tribe,” American Journal of International Law             21 (1927): 279-88



9.  Oct. 30: Collapse: World Wars

Stéphane Audouin-Rouzeau and Annette Becker, 14-18: Understanding the Great War,             pp. 135-42

Best, Humanity in Warfare, pp. 216-85

Jeffrey W. Legro, Cooperation Under Fire: Anglo-German Restraint During World War             II (Cornell University Press, 1995), pp. 144-216

Boot, War Made New, pp. 268-94 (“Superfortresses and Firebombs”) (re-read from             week 2)



10.  Nov. 6: Reconstruction: Nuremberg

Michael R. Marrus ed., The Nuremberg War Crimes Trial, 1945-46: A Documentary             History ( Bedford Books / St. Martin’s, 1997)

Sassoli & Bouvier eds., How Does Law Protect in War? (1999), pp. 649-88

Elizabeth Borgwardt, “Ideology and International Law: The Dissent of the Indian Justice             at the Tokyo War Crimes Trial,” War and Crimes Law, vol. 2, pp. 373, 426-31,             438-41, Winter 1991 (also printed in NYU J. Int’l Law & Politics, vol. 23)

Richard H. Minear, Victor’s Justice: The Tokyo War Crimes Trial (1971, 2001 reprint             ed.), ch’s 2 & 3 (pp. 20-73)

Koskenniemi, Gentle Civilizers, 424-45, 465-80



11. Nov. 13: Geneva
Geoffrey Best, War and Law Since 1945
(OUP, 1994)

Pieter Lagrou, “1945-55: The Age of War” (ms.)



12. Nov. 20: The Law of War and the Cold War I

Philip C. Jessup, “Political and Humanitarian Approaches to the Limitation of Warfare,”             American Journal of International Law 51, 4 (October 1957): 757-61

Sassoli & Bouvier, How Does Law Protect in War?, pp. 556-70 (ICJ Nuclear Weapons             Opinion)

Max Boot, Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Making of American Power, 99-            128, 182-205, 281-6 (Basic Books, 2003)

George J. Andreopoulos, “The Age of National Liberation Movements,” in Howard,             Andreopoulos, & Shulman eds., The Laws of War, pp. 191-213

Additional Protocols (1977) to the Geneva Conventions of 1949

George H. Aldrich, “New Life for the Laws of War,” American Journal of International             Law 75, 4 (October 1981): 764-83

W. Hays Parks, “Air War and the Law of War,” Air Force Law Review, vol. 32, pp. 1,             70-111 (1990)



13. Nov. 27: The Law of War and the Cold War II

Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, 309-11 (My Lai massacre)

Rules and Training, in James S. Olson & Randy Roberts, My Lai: A Brief History With             Documents 35-42 (Bedford Books, 1998)

Howard S. Levie, “Maltreatment of Prisoners of War in Vietnam,” in Richard Falk ed.,             The Vietnam War and International Law (vol. 2, 1969), pp. 361-97

Lawrence C. Petrowski, “Law and the Conduct of the Vietnam War,” in Falk, The             Vietnam War and International Law (vol. 2, 1969), pp. 439, 481-507

Tom J. Farer, Gen. Robert G. Gard, Jr., & Telford Taylor, “Vietnam and the Nuremberg             Principles: A Colloquy on War Crimes, in Falk ed., The Vietnam War and             International Law (vol. 4, 1976), pp. 363-420

Neil Sheehan, “Should We Have War Crimes Trials?,” New York Times, March 28, 1971,

Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, 176-96



14. Dec. 4: Iraq and the Age of Terror

David Kennedy, Of War and Law (Princeton University Press, 2006), pp. 13-45

The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib (Greenberg & Dratel eds., 2005) (excerpts)

Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. ___ (2006)

Public Committee against Torture in Israel v. Israel (Israeli High Court of Justice, 2006)



Labyrinth Books

Required Reading




absolute destruction by hull, isabel
Published by cornell, ISBN: 9780801472930, ISBN-10: 0801472938, Paper





first total war by bell, david
Published by , ISBN: 9780618349654, ISBN-10: 0618349650, Cloth





history of bombing by lindqvist
Published by , ISBN: 9781565848160, ISBN-10: 1565848160, Paper





just and unjust wars by walzer, michael
Published by , ISBN: 9780465037056, ISBN-10: 0465037054, Paper





nuremberg war crimes tribunal by marrus
Published by bedford, ISBN: 9780312136918, ISBN-10: 0312136919, Paper





rights of war and peace by tuck
Published by oxford, ISBN: 9780199248148, ISBN-10: 0199248141, Paper





war and law since 1945 by best, geoffrey
Published by oxford, ISBN: 9780198206996, ISBN-10: 0198206992, Paper





War Made New by Boot, Max
Published 2007 by Gotham, ISBN: 9781592403158, ISBN-10: 1592403158, Paper












Suggested Reading




gentle civilizer by koskenniemi
Published by , ISBN: 9780521548090, ISBN-10: 0521548098, Paper





on war by clausewitz
Published by princeton, ISBN: 9789780691011, ISBN-10: 9780691014, Paper