Why are soldiers allowed to kill in war? For philosophers who believe in what Seth Lazar calls the “new orthodoxy,” the answer is that soldiers can kill for the same reason anyone can kill: self-defense. War is just individual self-defense writ large. But self-defense, Lazar says, is a deeply problematic basis for something as important as the rules of war.
Seth Lazar is a research fellow at the School of Philosophy at the Australian National University. You can find many examples of his work on just war theory and other topics on his website.
Lazar ascribes the notion of a “reductive individualist” view of just war theory to the philosopher David Rodin. For more on that view, see Rodin’s War and Self-Defense (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).
Lazar cites a statistic on the percentage of people in modern economies who work in war-related in industries. The source, as Lazar notes, is Alexander Downes, Targeting Civilians in War (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008).
The discussion about the permissibility of killing executives from the United Fruit Company, in relation to the U.S. intervention in Guatemala, comes up in Jeff McMahan’s “The Ethics of Killing in War,” Ethics 114 (2004).