Browsing "Targeting Civilians"

Principles of International Justice Left in Ruins

In his 1944 book, Bombing Vindicated, former Principal Secretary of the Air Ministry J.M. Spaight, revealed that on May 11, 1940 the British government had commenced unrestricted bombing of German cities, known as “The Splendid Decision,” to which the Germans responded in kind. Spaight traces this decision to 1936 when Bomber Command was organized, with “the whole raison d’ etre of Bomber Command was to bomb Germany should she be our enemy.”  Visiting Germany as a military observer during the Franco-Prussian War, General Philip Sheridan, known for his brutal devastation of Americans in the Shenandoah Valley, was surprised that the Germans did not starve and torch their French enemies.  By 1940, they had learned Sheridan’s lesson.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Principles of International Justice Left in Ruins

“Nothing better illustrates how hell may be paved by good intentions which crumble than the war-crimes trials themselves. No doubt many who supported them were motivated by primitive Mongol demands for the massacre of defeated enemies, by “scientific” Marxian precepts which called for the liquidation of elements that could not be assimilated into a proletarian and totalitarian society, and by a purely vindictive desire for revenge.

On the other hand, many sincerely believed that the trial and punishment of men, many of whom had certainly been guilty of ordering or permitting unspeakable and boundless cruelties, would both reduce the prospect of future wars and make any that did take place more humane and restrained. During the Second World war, even Germany and Russia, despite their mass butcheries in the war in the East, refrained from using such lethal weapons, already in plentiful reserve, as poison gas and disease germs, for fear of possible retaliation.

The war-trials, by making it crystal clear that the losers will, henceforth, be subjected to such trials, regarded as aggressors whether they were or not (it was not emphasized at Nurnberg that England and France declared war on Germany), and be hanged or subjected to long prison terms, whether guilty as charged or not, made it inevitable that all the restraints that survived the Second world war would be thrown to the winds in the third – as even the limited war in Korea has demonstrated.

Since nothing worse can happen to a national war leader than to be disgraced, tortured and hanged, if defeated, there is no logical psychological reason for failing to throw in everything which may promise victory, however lethal and barbarous.

By 1952, the only belief of the early post-war years which still survived more or less unshaken was the belief that the Second World War had at least resulted in the establishment of new international standards of justice. As we have seen, as late as March 1951, the then British attorney-general, Sir Hartley Shawcross, was able, without making himself ridiculous, to put forward a moving appeal that what he called the principles of international justice established at Nurnberg should not be undermined for purposes of political expediency.

This comforting belief remained unshaken until it was reported in July 1952, that the Chinese Communists had indicated an intention to subject in due course certain of their prisoners of war captured in the Korean campaign to war-trials carried out “in accordance with the principles established by the international military tribunals of Nurnberg and Tokyo.”

In thousands of homes on both sides of the Atlantic the matter ceased to be an academic problem whether certain more or less worthy or unworthy foreigners had been unjustly condemned a few years before.

The anxious relatives of the British and American soldiers, sailors and airmen serving in Korea – and of those in the armed forces who might later be called upon to serve in Korea – had no difficulty in foreseeing what would be the result of war-trials carried out “in accordance with the Nurnberg principles.” All the illusions on this subject instantly vanished.

What may be regarded as the obituary notice of the Nurnberg war-trials was pronounced by Ex-Lord Chancellor Maugham in a letter to the London Times of July 25, 1952. “The Nurnberg Tribunal,” declared Lord Maugham, “never purported to lay down “principles” for all mankind.”

Perhaps it was always an unreasonable hope that the British Air Ministry’s “Splendid Decision” of May 11, 1940, would result in the establishment of any principles. The eighteen Whitley bombers which left England on that memorable spring night, in what now seems the remote past, did not set forth to establish principles.

The bombs which they dropped in the darkness on the countryside of Westphalia may, indeed, by chance have hit railway installations. Perhaps it is best to regard this historic air raid as a symbolic act, unconnected with corpses or debris, which left behind it in ruins nothing more substantial than the principles of civilized warfare that had been established in Europe for over two hundred years.

Similarly, the war-trials which were the outcome of that perhaps equally splendid decision taken at the Tehran Conference in 1943, did not, as we are now informed, lead to the establishment of any new principles of justice. Perhaps some day it may become generally agreed that, without establishing any new principles of justice, the war-trials actually left in ruins the principles of justice which had been accepted without question by all civilized peoples for many centuries.

Indiscriminate bombing invincibly linked warfare with barbaric military practices and ghastly mortality. All this would be intensified by the extensive use of guided missiles in later wars. The war-crimes trials at Nurnberg, Tokyo and elsewhere linked postwar procedures with juristic barbarism and made mandatory the utilization of the most savage methods of warfare in order to avert defeat and judicial lynching.”

(Advance to Barbarism, F.J.P. Veale, C.C. Nelson Publishing Company, 1953, pp. 293-297)

Sherman's Civilian Enemies

Sherman personalized American civilians in the South as his enemy — he branded their acts of self-defense as “cowardly” and deserving of swift retaliation — in effect denying that the South had the right to resist an invasion of its own country. While Sherman’s mental health is held in question by many, he was in truth only carrying out the orders of his master, Lincoln.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Sherman’s Civilian Enemies

“Article 44 [of US Army General Orders No. 100] . . . specified that “All wanton violence committed against persons in the invaded country, all destruction of property not commanded by the authorized officer, all robbery, all pillage or sacking, even after taking a place by main force, all rape, wounding, maiming, or killing of such inhabitants, are prohibited under penalty of death, or other such severe punishment as may seem adequate for the gravity of the offense.”

Paradoxically, it was . . . Union general, William Tecumseh Sherman, [who] gradually evolved his own personal philosophy of war along line which were clearly at variance with the official pronouncements, and in his practical application of that philosophy became one of the first of the modern generals to revert to the idea of the use of force against the civilian population of the enemy.

On the eve of the Civil War, Sherman could look back upon a career of dependence, frustrations, and failures. “I am doomed to be a vagabond, and shall no longer struggle against my fate,” he wrote his wife from Kansas in 1859. As he travelled northward in late February, 1861, to face once more the prospect of renewed dependence upon his father-in-law, his brooding over the ghosts of his own failures became mingled with gloomy forebodings concerning the future of the nation itself.

Passing from the South, where it seemed to him that the people showed a unanimity of purpose and a fierce, earnest determination in their hurried organization for action, into Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, where he found no apparent signs of preparation . . . he began to develop the deep conviction that he was one of the few people who understood the real state of affairs. It was only a short step from there to resentment against those who seemed unwilling to heed his warning or advice.

Convinced that Washington’s failure to act promptly on his requests [as a brigadier in Kentucky] was due either to indifference to the situation or to a willingness to sacrifice him, he developed a state of nervous tension in which his irritability and his unreasonable treatment of those about him antagonized the newspaper correspondents and led some . . . to publish stories questioning his sanity.

[He was relieved of command and] It was during this period of inactivity that the full import of these charges of insanity began to bear in upon him and to create in his mind an agonizing sense of humiliation. [He wrote his brother John] “that I do think I should have committed suicide were it not for my children. I do not think I can ever again be entrusted with a command.”

Two months later . . . he wrote to his brother that the civilian population of the South would have to be reckoned with in the months of war ahead . . . “the country is full of Secessionists, and it takes all [of a Northern] command to watch them.” Having become convinced that [telegraph] destruction was being accomplished by civilians rather than military personnel, he found it easy to judge the whole South on the basis of what he saw . . . Here was a manifestation of his tendency to arrive at generalizations by leaping over wide gaps of fact and reason and to proceed on the basis of his inspirations and convictions with the utmost faith in the soundness of his conclusions.

In this case his generalization led him to visualize the people themselves as a significant factor in the conduct of the war and to think in terms of a campaign against them as well as against their armies. [Writing to the Secretary of the Treasury], “When one nation is at war with another,” he said, “all the people of the one are enemies of the other: then the rules are plain and easy of understanding.”

[He continued]: “The Government of the United States may now safely proceed on the proper rule that all in the South are enemies of all in the North; and not only are they unfriendly, but all who can procure arms now bear them as organized regiments or as guerrillas.”

Sherman’s disposition to consider all resistance as treacherous acts of the civilian population prepared the way for the next steps in the development of his attitude on the conduct of the war.”

(General William T. Sherman and Total War, John Bennett Walters, Journal of Southern History, Volume XIV, No. 4, November, 1948, pp. 448-450, 454-455, 457-460,

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