The promise World War I couldn’t keep


Story highlights

Samuel Moyn: WWI launched debate: can laws of war impose limits how war carried out?

After WWI, aim was to end war, but in 100 years, aim shifted to making it more 'humane,' he says

Moyn: Focus now not to end nations' aggression, but to stop atrocity. Vietnam a low point

Since 9/11, our wars much cleaner, lawful; but WWI idea of 'war to end wars' failed, he says

Editor’s Note: This is the eighth in a series on the legacies of World War I appearing on in the weeks leading up to the 100-year anniversary of the war’s outbreak. Ruth Ben-Ghiat is guest editor for the series. Samuel Moyn is professor of law and history at Harvard University. His new book is “Human Rights and the Uses of History.”

CNN —  

The guns of August 1914 unleashed a debate that is still with us: Can the laws of war actually impose limits on how war is carried out?

Germany invaded Belgium, violating that nation’s neutrality – which was guaranteed by treaties stretching back to the 19th century. This act horrified the world – as would the civilian occup