International Relations in the Ancient Near East, 1600-1100 B.C.

By Mario Liverani | Go to book overview
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16
The Rules of War

The gap between the theological view of war as trial by ordeal and the practical conduct of military operations is filled by an ideological but secular view of war. Like any social activity, war has to follow accepted rules in order to be a constitutive rather than disruptive feature of the overall socio-political order. The unavoidable destruction of war affects single elements in the system, not the system itself. If the rules are followed, the stability of the civilized world is not prejudiced; people who do not follow the rules are disqualified from membership they are barbarians.

The rules of war are rules of speech as well as rules of action: what to say is as important as how to act. These rules are linked both to the theological evaluation of war (trial by ordeal) and to its tactical/material practice. Their purpose is twofold: to demonstrate that we are right, and to win. The model war must be righteous (according to the theological norm), correct (conducted according to the rules) and, of course, victorious. The system is coherent: no victory is possible in the absence of proper conduct and a just cause. The defeated peoples are either barbarians, unaware of rules and justice; or they are nominally members of civilized society but in fact in the actual circumstances of this war sinful or unwilling to observe the rules.

War is a legal procedure and not a mere search for material advantages. As a result, the rules tend to put the contenders on the same level, to provide both of them with the same chances of victory this being determined by righteousness, courage and personal valour. Ruse and fraud are not a constitutive element of the paradigm of war among civilized peoples. As with any game or other form of contest, 1 a fair war, and its climax in the pitched field-battle, has to take place in a delimited space, at a fixed time, according to equivalent if not identical moves and balanced

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