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Old January 2nd, 2018, 12:28 PM   #41

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Originally Posted by MasPuster View Post
The system of laws - while it strifes to be clear - often cannot be so. If you put out a binary system of in/out, it will always lead to bizarre situations at that line.

In a strict sense, eg, not taking prisoners if you CAN do so is a warcrime, even when that puts you in danger. Once your opponents makes clear he is willing to surrender by putting down his arms, "not accepting" that is a warcrime. Whenever a history reads: "they went out to battle and took no prisoners that day", you know that you just read about a bunch of war criminals - and not something to be proudly declared.

Practice is different, and sometimes doing it right makes things go wrong.

The attempt of Commandos on Sark to adhere to these rules led to the Germans being shot/knifed after being bound (for taken POWs), which made Hitler believe they were just bound to be shot, and thus issued his infamous "Commando order".
Question: Is obeying to that order a crime or not?

In regards to civilians they were only included after WW2. For the era before, the difference between crime and military necessity is probably wether its "reasonable" or not - a subjective category that naturally differs from the viewpoint. The general consense is that "if you could know it is a crime, it probably is one" - where you can replace "could" through "should have" when you are on the losing side.

So "reasonable" as a category means you need a payoff.
Was the shelling of Copenhagen by Nelson a warcrime?
Was the shelling of Paris by the German army in 1871 a war crime?

When do become bomber raids a war crime? When they target factories, even when these are near civilian quarters? Or when you target civilian quarters to kill off the workforce (with just the kids and family as collateral damage)?
If there is a military gain in relation to the civilian casualties, you usually get away with "act of war". The ratio is, however, not fixed. An absolute protection of civilians will lead to "human shield" policy, used by autocrats and islamists in the previous years - so will in effect endanger the very persons it intends to protect. There is no easy clear answer that will work for "general" cases. You can discuss a specific case, like Hiroshima, My Lai, Dresden or Rotterdam. The taking of hostages or the expulsion of a whole people. Often those perpetrating the act will see it as necessary, those on the receiving end will see it as crime.

Sorry for bubbling...
I understand the grey nature of these topics, but the thing I am really after is an explanation for why people find things like the atomic bombing of Japan acceptable, but find it unacceptable when something occurs which is basically the same but on a smaller scale. Both target civilians, both seek military advantage, so why aren't both acceptable or both unacceptable?
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Old January 2nd, 2018, 07:15 PM   #42

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Originally Posted by Wallach View Post
I understand the grey nature of these topics, but the thing I am really after is an explanation for why people find things like the atomic bombing of Japan acceptable, but find it unacceptable when something occurs which is basically the same but on a smaller scale. Both target civilians, both seek military advantage, so why aren't both acceptable or both unacceptable?
What is a smaller scale version of Hiroshima?
Mai Lai.
Not the same. No actual resistance or enemy or military value in a peasant village.

And in any bombing if the target has military value, such as a factory or army barracks then civilians while not the target are an unpleasant side effect.
Shooting a baby in the head is of no military advantage.

Last edited by Edric Streona; January 2nd, 2018 at 07:19 PM.
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Old January 2nd, 2018, 07:21 PM   #43
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A war crime is an act which breaks the internationally agreed rules of war, nothing more.
Or one that does break said international law(s) BUT the perpetrator(s) are on the winning side.
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Old January 3rd, 2018, 01:16 AM   #44
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Originally Posted by Edric Streona View Post
What is a smaller scale version of Hiroshima?
Mai Lai.
Not the same. No actual resistance or enemy or military value in a peasant village.

And in any bombing if the target has military value, such as a factory or army barracks then civilians while not the target are an unpleasant side effect.
Shooting a baby in the head is of no military advantage.
The argument pro Hiroshima/Nagasaki is NOT that they were targets of military relevance. The argument is demonstrating the existence and efficiency of such weapons helped shorten the war. If an end of the war had been set, and THEN the weapons be used (before the actual end of the conflict), it would still have been a warcrime as the relation between military necessity and collateral damage would have been out of all proportions.
The differing border between those who think the atomic bombs were warcrimes, and those who think otherwise, is usually drawn along the line wether you think the war was practially over, or wether an invasion would become necessary. To judge wether it was a warcrime, we would have to consider the knowledge and expectations of those giving the orders AND (a new aspect of Nuremberg) those who were perpetrating the act.
Afaik evidence points out that all believed that it helped to save a substantial number of Allied lives.

The difference with bombing is that you can usually not see wether the victim is a danger to you or not - you dump it near something that is allegedly worth it. Of course you could argue that fire bombing residential areas in Tokyo or Germany with the main purpose of killing civilians and hurting morale is questionable. Again the decisive factor is wether those behind these attacks had reason to believe that it would help to win the war, and wether any gains would be in a reasonable relation to the civilian casualties. Personally I think that if these campaigns had been perpetrated by Japanese and Germans, they probably would have been classified as warcrimes after the war.
In this light you can debate on incidents like the bombing of Guernica, Warsaw, Rotterdam, Belgrad - or Hamburg, Caen or Dresden - or go back to similar events, like the shelling of Copenhagen by Nelson. Each one of these yields a different result if you look at it from an ethical viewpoint.

At My Lai the soldiers could see wether their victims were a danger or not. There was no real benefit to the war effort in killing someone who is clearly not a danger, and - also very important - many of these killings were not covered by orders. Thus, it is generally seen as a war crime.

On a similar note, you could investigate wether the taking and shooting of hostages is a warcrime - where was it covered by the "habits of warfare" (a civilian shooting at a soldier eg is commiting a warcrime) and where it starts to be definitely one.

Any case can be different. Many will be fairly easy to judge on both sides, but many will not. As to the original posters question: there is certainly no fixed value that parts war crimes from legit acts of war - like: killing one civilian to save a soldier is legit, killing a thousand to save one soldier is not, and the exact ratio is 23.4. You need to consider the circumstances.
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Old January 3rd, 2018, 01:55 AM   #45

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; but allowing a surrendered enemy soldier to live, ensuring the failure of your mission and the possible death of you and your comrades is another thing entirely.
It's a war crime. If you take an enemy soldier prisoner you cannot harm him if he offers no resistance. Under the rules of war you either take him with you or set him free. Killing him is not an option under the rules of war.
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Old January 3rd, 2018, 01:58 AM   #46

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Or one that does break said international law(s) BUT the perpetrator(s) are on the winning side.
No, it's still a war crime. It just means no action is taken against the war criminals
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Old January 3rd, 2018, 05:07 AM   #47
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It's a war crime. If you take an enemy soldier prisoner you cannot harm him if he offers no resistance.
Not just this. The moment a soldier "lays down his weapon" he must be taken prisoner - you are not allowed to "not accept" his surrender, even when he shot your mates just seconds before.

Not excatly compatible with human nature, but the law is pretty clear here.
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Old January 3rd, 2018, 05:44 AM   #48

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It's a war crime. If you take an enemy soldier prisoner you cannot harm him if he offers no resistance. Under the rules of war you either take him with you or set him free. Killing him is not an option under the rules of war.
It kind of is.

Theres a certain tacit understanding that you take prisoners as long as it is safe to do so.

theres also a certain understanding that you cant keep prisoners once doing so becomes hazardous to the military efficiency of your own unit.

How you get rid of those prisoners obviously depends on circumstances, if you just want to release them in their underwear, leave them locked up so their own people can release them or shoot them and get back to battle.

We're a lot more formal about the strict rules these days because we have a lot of lawyers and very few wars. We didnt used to be.
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Old January 3rd, 2018, 06:11 AM   #49
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It kind of is.

Theres a certain tacit understanding that you take prisoners as long as it is safe to do so.

theres also a certain understanding ...
That "certain understanding" means that soldiers not taking or shooting prisoners committed warcrimes. The "understanding" was probably more not to talk about it.

That part of the Geneva convention is in use since around 1929, so there is no "kind of", its pretty clear.
We might, however, understand the motivation of these soldiers.
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Old January 3rd, 2018, 11:55 AM   #50

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The only person executed for war crimes during the Civil War was Henry Wirz, a Swiss who was commandant of the infamous Andersonville, GA Confederate prison camp for Union POW's. He was hung on Nov. 10, 1865.

Conditions at Andersonville were really horrific, but the Union camps were no better.
However, the commanders of those camps (as well as the CSA Libby Prison in Richmond, VA) were never brought to trial.

I guess the winners make the rules.
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