Traditions of War: Occupation, Resistance, and the Law

By Karma Nabulsi | Go to book overview

2
Occupying Armies and Civilian Populations in Nineteenth-Century Europe

The events of the Second World War have traditionally been seen as a landmark in the history of conflict. The introduction of dangerous new features in warfare (from ideologies to weapons of mass destruction) is conventionally seen to justify the creation of an entirely new military paradigm: 'total war'. This view has many adherents, from political and legal historians to authorities on war.1 In particular, its hold upon the literature of the laws of war is powerful. This literature establishes that the catastrophic results of 'total war' were the primary factor behind the introduction of the new civilians' convention in 1949, which was designed to protect civilians the better in wartime. The character of war, it was argued, had radically changed from the 'traditional' conflict between two professional armies in the field. It was thus claimed that, as a new set of norms had been created between 1939 and 1945, a new set of laws were needed to reflect them. The British delegate at Geneva, Joyce Gutteridge, cited five new factors which 'blur the distinction between combatant and non-combatant', and provided the impetus for the 1949 civilians convention.2 The jurist W. Ford expressed this representative view:

Hardly a century ago war was a matter involving but small numbers of people. The situation changed when national consciousness and democracy began to develop. Since then the number of people affected by war has constantly increased so the important dividing line between combatants and non- combatants laid down in the law of war has gradually become blurred . . . Wars are developing into struggles between the masses. Sir Winston Churchill said

____________________
1
See P. Calvocoressi, and G. Wint, Total War: The Causes and Courses of the Second World War ( London: Penguin Press, 1972). On the concept of total war, see P. Masson , Une guerre totale 1939-1945: strategies, moyens, controverses ( Paris: Pluriel, 1990), 13; H. Michel, La Seconde Guerre mondiale ( Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1972), 5.
2
J. Gutteridge, "'The Geneva Conventions of 1949'", British Yearbook of International Law, 26 ( 1949), 294-325.

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