The Politics of Military Occupation

By Peter M. R. Stirk | Go to book overview

Introduction

Military occupation has been a recurrent feature of recent history and is recognised as a distinct phenomenon in international law, most notably in the Hague Regulations of 1907 which remain in force today. It is a phenomenon which excites great passion especially because of the savagery which often accompanies it. In this respect the paintings and drawings of Francisco de Goya symbolise the cruelties of military occupation in a way analogous to Picasso’s synthesis of the horrors of modern warfare in his depiction of the destruction of Guernica. Yet despite the relative legal continuity of definition and the passions excited by the experience of particular occupations reflection upon the phenomenon has been discontinuous and fragmentary. Each occupation has invoked its own outpouring of commentary and memoir, either lamenting the shortcomings of occupation policies and the unanticipated difficulties encountered by military occupiers or the suffering inflicted upon the inhabitants of occupied territory, or celebrating the real or supposed successes and restraint of the occupiers. Occupation, or the prospect of it, has sometimes induced reflection upon earlier occupations, usually in the hope of drawing useful lessons for the impending occupation.1 More recently, the opening of government archives or the desire to redress the victor’s image of military occupation and to recapture the experience of occupation from the viewpoint of the defeated populations subject to military occupation has induced further reflection.2 Much of this, however, has concerned itself with particular instances of occupation.

Systematic and comparative studies of military occupation remain however rare. This is true even in the field of international law where one might have expected more continuity.3 It may be that part at least of the reason for this curious neglect lies in the nature of military occupation. It is usually regarded as a product of warfare but is to varying degrees distinct from the conduct of hostilities. As such it has frequently been resented, disparaged, and even feared, by military officers for whom it has been an unwanted burden for which they

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