War, Morality, and the Military Profession

By Malham M. Wakin | Go to book overview
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In untroubled times, progress toward an effective rule of law in the international community is slow indeed. Inertia rests more heavily upon the society of nations than upon any other society. Now we stand at one of those rare moments when the thought and institutions and habits of the world have been shaken by the impact of world war on the lives of countless millions. Such occasions rarely come and quickly pass. We are put under a heavy responsibility to see that our behavior. during this unsettled period will direct the world's thought toward a firmer enforcement of the laws of international conduct, so as to make war less attractive to those who have governments and the destinies of peoples in their power.

The quotations are from Eppstein, The Catholic Tradition of the Law of Nations ( London, 1935), p. 65. Other useful works on the relation between war and Christian doctrine include Nussbaum, "Just War—A legal Concept?" Michigan Law Review 42 ( 1943):453; Von Elbe, "The Evolution of the Concept of the Just War in International Law", American Journal of International Law 33 ( 1939):665; Regout, La Doctrine de Guerre Juste ( 1934).
Grotius, De Jure Belli ac Pacis (1625).
The course of events with respect to war crimes charges of all descriptions following the First World War is set forth comprehensively and clearly in History of the United Nations War Crimes Commission ( London, HMSO 1948).
This language was part of Article 227 of the Treaty of Versailles which provided that a "special tribunal" would be established to try "William II of Hohenzollern, formerly German Emperor." The government of the Netherlands, where the ex-Kaiser had sought refuge, refused to turn him over to the Allies, on the ground that the offense charged was unknown in Dutch law and appeared to be of a political rather than a criminal character.
There was, however, a significant gap in the procedure, in that the decision of the superior body (the Council of the League of Nations) had to be unanimous, except for the parties to the dispute themselves. If unanimity was unattainable, then all members were free "to take such action as they shall consider necessary for the maintenance of right and justice." The action might be war, thus legitimized by the League's inaction.
There were other agreements and international resolutions to which the United States was a party that renounced war. Perhaps the most important was the resolution of the Sixth Pan-American Conference at Havana in 1928, which characterized "war of aggression" as "an international crime against the human species" and declared it "illicit" and "prohibited."
The discussion in the United Nations War Crimes Commission and in its legal committee is set forth in the commission's "History," supra note 3.


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