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Intent in war is found in three different contexts: as a psychological or social-psychological speculation, as a critical component of a “mission order” at the operational or tactical level, and as a moral and legal criterion. This entry emphasizes the last of these three contexts.

Intent as Psychological or Social-Psychological Speculation

Much journalism and many informal conversations speculate repetitively on the “intentions” of each side in war. For example, to use a familiar meme, any American military activity in the Middle East will immediately result in numerous opinion pieces and conversations declaring with certainty that “oil” is the “real” intention for or purpose of the military activity. Either the president as an individual or America as a society has sent the troops in to protect the flow ...

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