Friday, January 2, 2009

International law and civilians

This post is in reply to a comment placed in my last post. "What do you have to say about Kucinich in US saying Israeli attack is violation of section #33 of the Geneva Convention."
I had to do a little research to find out about what Kucinich said. My reply requires some background, please forgive me.

The U.S. Civil War is considered by many historians to be the first of the modern wars. When Sherman marched to the sea, his army not only ‘lived off the land’ but it destroyed anything that could be of value to the Confederacy. He waged war against civilians. The war lasted only a few months after he reached the Atlantic.

In World War I, German U-boat commanders were caught up in international law. The law said that merchant ships were to be approached, boarded and the crew cared for if the ship was carrying contraband and could legally be sunk. Submarines are ill suited for this type of work. They don’t have extra room and carried only a very small surface gun. They were vulnerable to ramming or "Q-ships", which sank a number of U-boats. The English were smart. They equipped a number of merchant ships with hidden guns. (‘Q-ships) When a U-boat approached them, they blew them out of the water. England carried out unrestricted submarine warfare but the issue never came up.

At the beginning of World War II, restrictions were initially placed upon the U-boats, but they were gradually lifted within the first few months. Italy, England, Japan and the U.S. carried out unrestricted submarine warfare throughout the war, and nothing was ever mentioned about this law again.

The trend of modern warfare is to attack civilian infrastructure. The military of today is far more dependent upon the civilian economy that supplies it than at any time in the past. If a world war broke out today, it would most likely involve WMD. These weapons would be targeting cities as the usefulness in using them on any given army or naval unit would not provide nearly the same results.

Section #33 of the Geneva Convention concerns civilians during wartime. It was written and signed in 1948, a few years after World War II. The idea was to hopefully prevent and regulate attacks upon civilians. This is a hope that can only be realized if BOTH sides in any given war actively followed the rules. It takes only one side to make a ‘dirty’ war. Some examples: The eastern front, 1941-1945 was a ‘dirty’ war. Atrocities occurred often, on both sides. The U.S. – Japanese war, 1941-1945 was also a ‘dirty’ war. Many times a rescued Japanese soldier would kill or attempt to kill his savior. The saying sprang up, "A good Jap is a dead Jap". This is why.
Yet the war on the western front with England and the U.S. against Germany, 1940-1945 was one of the cleanest of modern wars. White flags were observed, countless cease-fires were implemented to allow medics on both sides to tend to wounded. In other words, both sides wanted to fight a clean war, and they did.

Fast forward to Israel today. It is obvious that the enemies of Israel (And the ‘West) are not interested in following internationally sanctioned rules. They complain about Israel attacking civilians, yet their primary targets are not the Israeli military. In fact, Israel has shown marked restraint. They could cause far more damage and death throughout the areas under attack if they chose to. Yet they have not, time and again.

The overall point is that it takes both sides to want to follow the rules of warfare. In combat, your side is important. The other side far less so. Attempting to implement a legal framework may be disastrous. The Germans lost many well-trained submariners because they were attempting to follow a law that placed their lives in far more jeopardy than would otherwise have been the case. The folly of that ‘law’ was seen in the inter-war years and the issue just faded away.

In conclusion, I tend to give the Israelis the benefit of the doubt. They have shown restraint time and again even while their enemies have shown few reciprocal gestures. Not that I want to see them violate ANY law. You know the old saying, "All’s fair in love and war". This is true if both sides do not agree to follow the rules.

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