From Antiwar Politics to Antitorture Politics

66 Pages Posted: 30 Nov 2011 Last revised: 12 Nov 2012

Date Written: November 29, 2011


This paper examines the political status and cultural salience in the United States of the law of war during the era of the Vietnam conflict, for the sake of comparison with the post-9/11 centrality of concerns about detention and torture. The main question is why, when the violations of the laws of war were so much worse in the earlier period, they were not the fulcrum of public debate around war. The answer proposed is that the presence of a powerful social movement agitating against the war itself -- which meant concern about aggressive warfare to the extent international law figured in public debate at all -- marginalized concerns about the conduct of war. Even once My Lai came to light, atrocity consciousness fed an antiwar movement. The main groups and figures covered are the Lawyers Committee Concerning American Policy in Vietnam, Richard Falk of Princeton University, and Telford Taylor of Columbia University.

Suggested Citation

Moyn, Samuel, From Antiwar Politics to Antitorture Politics (November 29, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Samuel Moyn (Contact Author)

Yale University ( email )

MA 02138
United States
2128543009 (Phone)


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