Events & exhibitions

Under What Conditions Is War Legal and Moral? A New History of the US Military in Afghanistan

Portrait of Matthieu Aikins
Photo by Tony Rinaldo

According to international law, civilians should never be deliberately targeted in battle. This basic principle is how the West has historically distinguished between good and bad actors in conflicts like those in Afghanistan, Ukraine, and the Middle East—between “lawful” violence and that of terrorists. In this talk, Matthieu Aikins will share his research, experience, and reporting to ask when, or whether, warfare is legal and moral.

Aikins has been reporting from Afghanistan since 2008 and received the Pulitzer Prize in 2021 as part of a New York Times team investigating civilian casualties from US airstrikes. At Radcliffe, he is writing a book about America's longest war. Drawing on new sources and access since the end of the war, as well as revisionist literature on counterinsurgency and civil war, his reporting shows that violence against non-combatants was an integral and necessary part of the US campaign, posing a fundamental challenge to the military's vision of lawful warfare.


Jacqueline L. Hazelton, executive editor, International Security, International Security Program, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

The Julia S. Phelps Annual Lecture in the Arts and Humanities was established to honor the late Julia S. Phelps, a longtime instructor in the Radcliffe Seminars, and is supported by the generous contributions of her family, friends, and colleagues.

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