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"Laws of War: Founding Fathers" Topic

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420 hits since 26 Sep 2017
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Tango0126 Sep 2017 2:58 p.m. PST

"The idea that warfare should be regulated or restrained by a code of conduct of some kind is sometimes assumed to be fairly modern, but for thousands of years commentators have offered arguments for certain standards of behavior on the battlefield. What is relatively new is the creation of formal codifications of law that not only seek to impose standards of acceptable conduct on soldiers but also define what types of actions violate those standards.

The Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius is widely regarded as the intellectual father of modern laws of war. Grotius lived in the time of the Eighty Years' War in the Spanish Netherlands and the Thirty Years' War that ravaged Germany—wars of religion and politics that laid waste to northern Europe and killed as much as a third of the civilian populations of the affected countries. The scale of human suffering caused by such unrestrained warfare convinced Grotius that moderation was desperately needed in the conduct of war. "Throughout the Christian world I observed a lack of restraint in relation to war," he wrote. "I observed that men rush to arms for slight causes, or no cause at all, and that when arms have once been taken up there is no longer any respect for law, divine or human."

Grotius published De Jure Belli ac Pacis, or On the Law of War and Peace, in 1625. He based his treatise on a belief in the "rational intelligence" of man, which provided the foundation for his arguments of universal laws. In constructing his theory of lawful warfare, he first set out to define the concept of a just war and then presented his argument that universal laws, timeless and perpetual, "continue even during strife and constitute the laws of war….To disavow the imperative character of these perpetual laws is to revert to barbarism."

In support of his theories, Grotius marshaled the full weight of classical authorities—names that were instantly familiar to every well-educated 17th-century European reader. Homer, Cicero, Plato, Xenophon, Augustin, Tacitus, Polybius, Plutarch, and others—Grotius quoted them all with an enthusiastic frequency that has occasionally led modern commentators to criticize him for indulging in a bit of intellectual name-dropping. There was more to it than that, however; Grotius was reaching back into hallowed antiquity to demonstrate that his concepts of universal law were supported by millennia of human understanding.

De Jure Belli ac Pacis had an almost immediate impact on Europe's intellectual landscape. Within a decade of its publication, the governments of Denmark, England, Poland, Spain, and Sweden had all offered Grotius positions of importance in their service. He eventually accepted the Swedish offer. Sweden's great soldier-king, Gustavus Adolphus, had been an ardent student of Grotius's theories on lawful warfare, famously keeping a Bible and a copy of De Jure Belli with him on campaign before the Battle of Lützen, where he was killed in 1632…"
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RudyNelson26 Sep 2017 3:16 p.m. PST

In the portraits of several Napoleonic battles, you can see prisoners from the other side scattered around the scene. They are not being killed nor are they trying to kill at any costs the French Generals around them. So it is not a modern concept.
Sometimes you have to wonder about the treatment of prisoners during the American Revolution. Some were impressed or volunteered to fight for the British. Example are all of the South Carolina captives who were sent to invade South America as Loyalist troops.
Others died in the prison hulks located in New York harbor.
So many examples of humane and horrible treatment during the war and later wars like the American Civil War.

Ottoathome Inactive Member27 Sep 2017 7:48 a.m. PST

Grotius is the culmination, the end product of the idea of "Just War" which is entirely different from "Justice in War." The ideas of this go back to the ancients, but were only given form and codification in the Middle Ages with the Papal decretalists and the Scholastics who considered in thousands of examples how the divine and sublime ideas of the law of God was to be implemented and reconciled with the conditions on earth and how the latter were to be arranged.

One of the earliest examples is a Papal decree (sorry my Tierney is packed up for a move so I cannot give you the exact one) which says that Infidels (Muslims and Jews) cannot be despoiled of their property just because they are infidels. They must only risk forfeiture if they commit an act of treason against the lawfully constructed state. In this case obviously an Islamic state is not a legal state, but once the Infidels are under a Christian State (which might NOT be lawfully constructed (it being obvious that Christians can be tyrants) if they commit treason against that state (remembering again it must be lawfully constructed with a ruler who is not a tyrant) only then can they be despoiled of their property. This decree in no way protected Islam and Muslims could be persecuted as Muslims religiously, but they could not be despoiled of their property.

That is one example, but there are hundreds more from medieval political thought, notably in Dante, Marsilio of Padua and many others.

All of this of course goes back to Scripture with the Parable of the Tax Money, Romans 13, and the separation of mankind into several classes. It also goes into the theory of sin. Did you know there is a class of sin termed "Sins which cry out to God for vengeance." These are sins, that is, the very sinful act itself, protests and is supplicant to God for the wrongness of it's own vengeance. All sins are abhorrent to God but here it is not only victims of the sin who ask God for relief and vengeance, but the sin itself. These are specificall, willful murder, Depriving a man of his wages, and oppressing widows and orphans.

called the

Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member03 Oct 2017 5:31 a.m. PST

Sometimes you have to wonder about the treatment of prisoners during the American Revolution. Some were impressed or volunteered to fight for the British. Example are all of the South Carolina captives who were sent to invade South America as Loyalist troops.
Others died in the prison hulks located in New York harbor.

This needs to be placed in context: in the 18th Century, PoWs remained the responsibility of their own government, not that of the enemy as it is today; the only exception was a series of treaties between Great Britain and France, who fought each other so regularly that they agreed to look after each other's captives as if they were their own troops, and settle up any difference after the war was concluded.

Thus the "prison hulk martyrs" were the victims of neglect by Congress, not the British, who (as Congress rightly surmised) did at least make some effort to feed them (whilst COngress fed off the propaganda opportunities). Ironically, the move to the prison hulks was actually caused by the overcrowding in the sugar warehouse in the centre of NYC where they were originally held, and concerns for the health of the captives (who by that stage were mainly privateers which further complicated their position during prisoner exchanges).

It's also worth noting that the number of "martyrs" has been exaggerated because past American historians who tried to calculate the numbers from bodies found when the shallows around NYC were filled in in the 1920s, were either unaware of, or chose to ignore, the fact that thousands of Crown forces corpses, and those of Loyalist civilians, were also dumped into the tidal areas if they were too poor to afford a burial plot.

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