Setting out the Reconstruction Principle

To recapitulate, I have argued that if A is at fault for or benefits from B’s predicament, he owes her reparations. As we have seen throughout, however, epistemic and resource constraints bedevil the implementation of the Reparative Principle to post-conflict cases. In this section, I defend a so-called Reconstruction Principle, to the effect that members of communities destroyed by war in general are owed help with their reconstruction. Some of this help will be owed as reparation, some of it as simply assistance.

Let me restate what those constraints are. As we have just seen, epistemically, we are not in a position to know exactly whether and how this or that person was wronged by the war and thus has a reparative claim, and/or whether they themselves committed or benefited from war wrongdoings and thus are under reparative obligations. What we do know, however, is that the overwhelming majority of individuals caught in war experience enormous suffering and deprivation.

Resource constraints arise as a result of the two-pronged fact that there are likely to be too many war victims for full compensation to be possible and that not all desperately needy individuals are war victims. Accordingly, we have no choice but to forsake the Reparative Principle. For at the bar of fundamental equality, and other things equal, there is no reason to hold that any given war victim has a stronger claim than other war victims. Moreover, there are good reasons to think that in some cases, a war victim lacks a claim to be given priority over the non-war needy. Let us assume for the sake of argument that belligerentA owes reparation to war victimsB, and let us suppose that A cannot compensate those victims fully for the wrongs they suffered and at the same time contribute to secure prospects for a flourishing life to individuals who were not part of this or indeed any other conflict—call them C. Assume that A is under the latter, distributive obligation. B is not always justified in insisting that A give citizensB precedence over citizensC when providing material assistance. Let us suppose that fully compensating citizensB for the harms they wrongfully suffered at the hands of combatantsA would enable them to enjoy a maximally flourishing life. The fact that there are members in C who are in such desperate need of help as to warrant holding third parties under an obligation of assistance suggests that citizensB, at the time at which the treaty is concluded, are under aprima facie obligation to help C. If the only way for them to help C is by giving them part of that which A took from them, or the equivalent thereof, then they are not in fact entitled to get back all that they lost during the war, even if they were entitled to those resources when the war started.

Thus, inability to garner the requisite knowledge and resource scarcity operate as, respectively, hard and soft as well as practical and moral constraints on the implementation of the reparative principle. In the light of those difficulties, a just peace cannot be achieved and a compromise in favour of a justifiedATC peace is morally required. Remember: this might issue in some of those victims not being given that to which they are prima facie entitled by way of reparations; but to meet their claim in full would count as a reparative injustice to other war victims and a distributive injustice to non-war needy persons. A justifiedATC peace, I suggest, is one where we partly replace the Reparative Principle with a Reconstruction Principle, to the effect that members of communities destroyed by war in general are owed help with their reconstruction. I say ‘partly replace’, rather than ‘replace’ tout court, for as we shall see throughout this section, there still is room for reparative considerations in setting out reconstruction duties.

The claim that those who have suffered rights violations or justified rights infringements during war are owed post-war help is uncontroversial. More controversial is the claim that agents who are sufficiently responsible for those wrongdoings as to be held under some reparative duties are also owed some help. Yet they too retain claims to have their basic needs met: analogously, even criminals rightfully convicted for the most heinous crimes ought to be treated with minimal concern and respect, and thus have rights to the basic necessities of life. Noncombatants who share responsibility for heinous war crimes (such as the directors of the Nazi-era industrial group IG Farben) by implication have such rights, as a fortiori do non-combatants who are only marginally responsible for such crimes or who are significantly responsible for lesser crimes. This is not to say that they have rights to as much, by way of post-war assistance, as war victims; nor is it to say that, if resources are simply not available to meet the basic needs of wrongdoers and comply with the demands of cosmopolitan sufficientist justice vis-a-vis non-war victims, the latter and the former ought to be regarded as exactly on a par. Rather, my point is that those in a position to help rebuild ought to ensure as far as possible that resources are available to both.

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