War, Morality, and the Military Profession

By Malham M. Wakin | Go to book overview
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to kill for reasons of state; it does not countenance the infliction of suffering for its own sake or for revenge.

Unless troops are trained and required to draw the distinction between military and nonmilitary killings, and to retain such respect for the value of life that unnecessary death and destruction will continue to repel them, they may lose the sense for that distinction for the rest of their lives. The consequence would be that many returning soldiers would be potential murderers.

As Francis Lieber put the matter in his 1863 army regulations: "Men who take up arms against one another in public war do not cease on this account to be moral beings, responsible to one another and to God."


Notes
1.
The history of American military practice with respect to the laws of war is covered in Colby, "War Crimes", 23 Michigan Law Review482, 606 ( 1925).
2.
Department of the Army Field Manual FM 27-10, The Law of Land Warfare ( 1956). The 1940 edition was in effect during the Second World War.
3.
It is interesting to note that while most violations of the laws of war consist of homicidal or other acts involving moral obloquy, this is not universally true, even with respect to conduct capitally punishable. A good example is spying. Of course, if one spies against one's country, then traitorous or even treasonable elements are present. But spying for one's country, though punishable by death under the laws of war (explicitly recognized in Article 68 of the 1949 Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians), is not regarded as ignoble. We think of Major Andre as a blameless, luckless victim of Benedict Arnold's perfidy, and Nathan Hale is honored with a statue on the old campus at Yale and a plaque on the outside wall of the Yale Club in New York City, near where he was hanged by the British in 1776. That spying is not intrinsically criminal is interestingly recognized in Article 31 of the 1907 Hague Convention, which provides that a spy "who, after rejoining the army to which he belongs, is subsequently captured by the enemy, is treated as a prisoner of war and incurs no responsibility for his previous acts of espionage." Thus deterrence of others, not retribution or condemnation, is the object of capital punishment for spies caught in the act.
4.
G. Lowes Dickinson, War. Its Nature, Cause, and Curse ( 1923); p. 16.
5.
Rules of Land Warfare, War Department Doctrine No. 467, Office of the Chief of Staff, approved April 25, 1914 ( U.S. Government Printing Office, 1917), par. 9.
6.
Law of Land Warfare, par. 3.

-378-

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