Identifying who is a noncombatant is a difficult task in modern warfare. The old way of doing it was to assume that anyone not either armed or wearing a military uniform, (save a few medics and clergymen), was a "noncombatant." This approach doesn't work anymore, and probably never reliably did work.

The reason one might want to make a distinction between a combatant and a noncombatant could result from a desire to comply with the Rules of War, or Jus in Bello. Ethicists have varying views on what should be done with this distinction once it is made, but it seems well-accepted that the distinction will come in handy at some point in the ethical analysis of warfare and the rules of combat.

The intentional killing of civilians is not condemned universally, and in fact, it seems that casualties are inevitable under some circumstances. Using a version of the doctrine of double effect, one might conclude that so long as a military action has the primary effect of destroying a military target, the collateral civilian deaths may be morally acceptable. Or maybe not. The subject is a difficult one to grapple with. But regardless of what we 'do' with the distinction between combatants and noncombatants, the task of distinguishing them remains important.

Seperating civilians from soldiers is obviously insufficient. A non-uniformed, civilian munitions factory worker, for example, is certainly assisting in military combat, and can rightly be viewed as a combatant. By working in the munitions plant, (s)he is engaged in military activity; engaged in some part of the 'combat'. Fair game for a military attack, according to jus in bello. And yet, (s)he is a 'civilian', and unarmed.

Other dichotomies considered by ethicists have included:

  • "Guilty vs. Innocent", dismissed because it implies that anyone involved in warfare is "guilty", even the 'good guys', and that all civilians are 'innocent', also untrue

  • threat vs. non-threat, dismissed because it merely renames, rather than defining, the term in question, (i.e., OK. So if we know that a combatant is someone who is a "threat" . . . then what's a "threat"?)

  • causally involved vs. non-causally involved (in war). This one is a little bit better, but we need clarity on what "causal" involvement is. Basically, involvement is causal when the activities of a person are expressly for the purpose of warfare, and not just incidental support of warfare. That is, feeding an enemy soldier doesn't make you 'causally involved' because you could prepare food during peacetime and it would be an innocuous activity. But repairing fighter jets is expressly for the purpose of warfare, and so a person engaged in repairing military planes, even if (s)he is a civilian, is a kind of 'combatant' of sorts.

The matter of who is a noncombatant is complicated indeed, and no perfect formula has been devised or universally accepted. But the progress ethicists have made reveals that any formula will need to take into account at some point the degree to which one is personally involved in the warfare in order to determine his combatant or noncombatant status.



She is not the problem  and

would also tell you she is 


not even close to being the cause of the conflict but,

she will admit there is a battle going on, and

has spoken to the authorities directly, more than twice,  

so she is aware that the sirens will be back next time, and the time after that.


Eventually she will be either an enemy or a victim because 

there are no innocent bystanders in this war.








thanks to mad girl's love song, for editing

Non*com"bat*ant (?), n. Mil.

Any person connected with an army, or within the lines of an army, who does not make it his business to fight, as any one of the medical officers and their assistants, chaplains, and others; also, any of the citizens of a place occupied by an army; also, any one holding a similar position with respect to the navy.


© Webster 1913.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.