* translation: Louise and Alymer Maude (for page # references)
War is a big thing where I live. It happens way too often (2014, 2012, 2008, 2006, to name a few) and involves way too many people we all personally know (since Israel has mandatory conscription: three years for men, two for women). The obsession with the Holocaust, and its occurrence being the main reason for founding a Jewish state, has formed a violent, angry, and quite terrified society, that lashes out at everyone and anything without distinction, room for constructive criticism or rational thought. The religious concept of “the chosen people” has not helped much either.
There’s a big agreement here that every war that takes place is necessary, framed by a phrase that would roughly translate into “no choice war”. It’s never a choice. It’s never our fault. I had a friend who once said to me, “the problem is that between one ‘no choice war’ and another, there’s never any attempt to prevent the next one.” Hopefully, one day, that will change. Hopefully, one day, people will realize that in the end everyone just wants to live their life, and that dying is not the only way to achieve that.
I will never know what Tolstoy thinks of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but this week, in between tales of the rich and the famous, and philosophical musings on individuality and human will, someone finally stopped to consider for a moment what this is all for.
‘“Yes, yes,” answered Prince Andrew absently. “One thing I would do if I had the power,” he began again, “I would not take prisoners. Why take prisoners? It’s chivalry! The French have destroyed my home and are on their way to destroy Moscow, they have outraged and are outraging me every moment. They are my enemies.” […]’ [pg. 613]
‘“Not take prisoners,” Prince Andrew continued: “That by itself would quite change the whole war and make it less cruel. As it is we have played at war – that’s what’s vile! We play at magnanimity and all that stuff. Such magnanimity and sensibility are like the magnanimity and sensibility of a lady who faints when she sees a calf being killed: she is so kind-hearted that she can’t look at blood, but enjoys eating the calf served up with sauce. They talk to us of the rules of war, of chivalry, of flags of truce, of mercy to the unfortunate and so on. It’s all rubbish! I saw chivalry and flags of truce in 1805; they humbugged us and we humbugged them. They plunder other people’s houses, issue false paper money, and worst of all they kill my children and my father, and then talk of rules of war and magnanimity to foes! Take no prisoners, but kill and be killed!” […]’ [pg. 614]
As kids, we were told to “play fair”, and we never forgot that. We play fair in war as well. There’s an international court. There are treaties and regulations. There is a right way to kill and a wrong way to kill. It’s important to follow the rules.
‘“If there was none of this magnanimity in war, we should go to war only when it was worthwhile going to certain death, as now. Then there would not be war because Paul Ivanovich had offended Michael Ivanovich. And when there was a war, like this one, it would be war! And then the determination of the troops would be quite different. Then all these […] whom Napoleon is leading would not follow him into Russia, and we should not go to fight […] without knowing why.‘ [pg. 614]
War is not courtesy but the most horrible thing in life; and we ought to understand that and not play at war. We ought to accept this terrible necessity sternly and seriously. It all lies in that: get rid of falsehood and let war be war and not a game. As it is now, war is the favorite pastime of the idle and frivolous. The military calling is the most highly honored.” […]’ [pg. 614]
‘“But what is war? What is needed for success in warfare? What are the habits of the military? The aim of war is murder; the methods of war are spying, treachery, and their encouragement, the ruin of a country’s inhabitants, robbing them or stealing to provision the army, and fraud and falsehood termed military craft. The habits of the military class are the absence of freedom, that is, discipline, idleness, ignorance, cruelty, debauchery, and drunkenness. And in spite of all this it is the highest class, respected by everyone. All the kings, except the Chinese, wear military uniforms, and he who kills most people receives the highest rewards.” […]’ [pg. 614]
ICRC: The initiative for the first convention came from five citizens of Geneva. One of them, Henry Dunant, had, by chance, witnessed the battle of Solferino in 1859. He was appalled by the lack of help for the wounded and organized local residents to come to their aid. Out of this act came one of the key elements of the first convention – the humane treatment of those no longer part of the battle, regardless of which side they were on.
Protocols were added to the Geneva Conventions in 1977 and 2005, and a range of other international conventions and protocols covering specific areas such as conventional weapons, chemical weapons, landmines, laser weapons, cluster munitions and the protection of children in armed conflicts has developed the reach of IHL. So too has the codification of customary law.
The core, however, remains the Geneva Conventions and their additional Protocols. They combine clear legal obligations and enshrine basic humanitarian principles.
- Soldiers who surrender or who are hors de combat are entitled to respect for their lives and their moral and physical integrity. It is forbidden to kill or injure them.
- The wounded and sick must be collected and cared for by the party to the conflict which has them in its power. Protection also covers medical personnel, establishments, transports and equipment. The emblem of the red cross, red crescent or red crystal is the sign of such protection and must be respected.
- Captured combatants are entitled to respect for their lives, dignity, personal rights and convictions. They must be protected against all acts of violence and reprisals. They must have the right to correspond with their families and to receive relief.
- Civilians under the authority of a party to the conflict or an occupying power of which they are not nationals are entitled to respect for their lives, dignity, personal rights and convictions.
- Everyone must be entitled to benefit from fundamental judicial guarantees. No one must be sentenced without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court. No one must be held responsible for an act he has not committed. No one must be subjected to physical or mental torture, corporal punishment or cruel or degrading treatment.
- Parties to a conflict and members of their armed forces do not have an unlimited choice of methods and means of warfare. It is prohibited to employ weapons or methods of warfare of a nature to cause unnecessary losses or excessive suffering.
- Parties to a conflict must at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants in order to spare civilian population and property. Adequate precautions shall be taken in this regard before launching an attack.
No genocide. No chemicals. No children. If we must carry on, let’s at least be humane about it. How unfortunate that a uniformed adult shot by a conventional assault rifle is still a human being. Did anyone ask him if he even wanted to be there?
‘“They meet, as we shall meet tomorrow, to murder one another; they kill and maim tens of thousands, and then have thanksgiving services for having killed so many people (they even exaggerate the number), and they announce a victory, supposing that the more people they have killed the greater their achievement. How does God above look at them and hear them?” exclaimed Prince Andrew in a shrill, piercing voice. “Ah, my friend, it has of late become hard for me to live. I see that I have begun to understand too much. And it doesn’t do for man to taste of the tree of knowledge of good and evil…. Ah, well, it’s not for long!” he added.‘ [pg. 614]
At a Memorial Day event I was at a few years ago, someone wondered about the use of fighting for land that just ends up turning into a cemetery in the process. “I swear I will die for your land. I will lie down and hug it if that’s what it takes. My legs wrapped around the trunk of a tree and my fists clenching dirt. Not one single grain will slip between my fingers if that’s what you ask, I promise you. I will personally dig every single grave needed to make sure you don’t lose one inch of this land. I will bury your entire country in the ground if that ensures it will stay yours.” I wrote that in 2014, as part of a poem, a year before I was drafted. I finished my service last week, the day I started walking again.
Not every war is avoidable, but most are. Most are not necessary. Most are for something that, in the big scheme of things, is quite unimportant. All are caused by us. Not by some natural disaster. Not by some God. It’s easier for us to pick up a gun and shoot than to sit down and talk.
When I was in pre-K I licked some other girl’s popsicle. I ended up spending lunch time at a table on my own. I got so mad I stomped on my lunch bag. I had to eat my lunch anyway, even if it was now covered in yogurt. But that was still easier than just apologizing.
previous entry here