War Crimes, Genocide, and the Law: A Guide to the Issues

By Arnold Krammer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
War Crimes in History

“All is fair in love and war,” as the old adage goes. But, is that true? Is everything fair in war? What about the rape and murder of helpless women or children? What about the slaughter of wounded or the torture of innocents? Is it acceptable to murder disarmed prisoners of war or religious captives? What about the modern use of napalm, cluster bombs, and land mines, all of which kill and maim more civilians than enemy soldiers? What about soldiers who sneak up to their enemies under the protection of the Red Cross or a white flag? Nearly every nation in history has committed such heinous acts during wartime, even those that glory in their democratic ideals and seek to export them.

For example, at the end of the American Civil War, the North’s triumphant General Sherman led his army of 62,000 vengeful veterans to burn and loot a swath from 25 to 60 miles wide across the state of Georgia from Atlanta to the sea. “Forage liberally when in need of food or fuel,” Sherman authorized his units. To his men, the euphemism “foraging liberally” meant that the enemy’s property was at their disposal and that any discussion of “rules of war” would not be taken seriously. An Illinois sergeant recalled that “The men worked with a will, seeming to take savage delight in destroying everything that could by any possibility be made use of by their enemies.”1 Another veteran remembered that “We destroyed all we could not eat, stole their niggers, burned their cotton and gins, spilled their sorghum, burned and twisted their R. Roads [railroads] and raised Hell generally.”2

War crimes on a massive scale are certainly not restricted to any particular century. In a later war, in February 1945, with the end of World War II merely two and a half months away, the United States and Britain firebombed the

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