by John Hawkins | November 22, 2004 12:05 am
There are different reasons for having “rules of war”. Some of them include:
1) The Golden Rule: What you do to the enemy, they will do to you. For example, if you torture prisoners, you can expect the enemy to do the same to your men.
2) Protection of your civilians: By wearing uniforms for example, you distinguish your men from your civilians, ostensibly in order to keep them out of the fighting.
3) Making it easier for the enemy to surrender: If being captured by your forces means torture at worst and a quick death at best for the enemy, then they will be much less likely to surrender. However, if they know they’ll receive decent treatment, they’ll be less likely to fight to the finish.
4) Your own moral values: William Tecumseh Sherman was right…
“War is cruelty. There’s no use trying to reform it, the crueler it is the sooner it will be over.”
…but there are certain things that are almost impossible to stomach for civilized people. For example, I don’t want our men interrogating terrorists by smashing their toes with a ball-peen hammer because that’s just not something American soldiers should be doing under any circumstances.
All of this begs a question: what happens when you’re fighting opponents that recognize no “rules of war”? The terrorists and “insurgents” we’re fighting have made it clear our captured soldiers can expect no mercy, our civilians are targets, and there is no depth that they will not sink to.
This produces real world dilemmas that most people don’t give proper consideration.
Take ambulances in the Palestinian territories. Ideally, you’d let them go where they please, as quickly as possible so they can tend to the wounded. However, terrorists have been caught using them to transport men and weaponry. So aren’t you a fool if you don’t stop and search them?
In Iraq, terrorists/”insurgents” have waved white flags and then continued fighting. They’ve also booby trapped bodies and used suicide bombers. Given that, should we not be asking if it’s worth it to allow the enemy to surrender? Since there’s certainly no ethical problem with killing the “insurgents” whether they try to surrender or not given their behavior, the only question is which will save more American, Coalition, and innocent Iraqi lives: taking Iraqi prisoners or killing them all?
What it comes down to is that nobody, absolutely nobody we’re going to be fighting, is going to be treating our troops in accordance with the Geneva Convention, which was designed for “gentlemen’s wars” between European nations. Since that’s the case, I think it’s time to set aside the Geneva Convention, which was outdated the moment it was written down, and set up our own rules based on the real world situations we face.
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