Sunday, 30 April 2017

War Rules

In the entry "Just War" two types of just war topics were mentioned. The kind that talks about justification for war, and the kind that talks about ethical practices during war.

During this entry I will just sketch out a few points about that second kind of Just War discussion.

One of the thirty or so Republican candidates made a very interesting comment, which was repeated during several rallies, that went something like this: Torturing and killing POWs is a very good idea.

I think the point he was trying to make was that America was perceived as soft because it didn't kill and torture captured enemies.

POWs vs Combatants

Now, this is where I run into my first puzzled question about the comments made.

Did the candidate understand the difference between POWs and non uniformed combatants? Whether he did or didn't leads to somewhat different conclusions about what he was trying to say about military issues in general.

First of all, POWs are uniformed soldiers. Their uniforms are to clearly identify themselves as participants in the war. According to the rules, when captured they are to be put aside until the end of the war when they will be released to continue life as usual.

Combatants, on the other hand, are involved in the fighting despite the fact they did not identify themselves with a uniform. Because they are rule breakers, they can be executed without trial.

Some western countries will still hold a tribunal to decide the fate of the non uniformed combatant; but, now this is the legal process of the country that's determining things, not the Geneva Conventions.

The United States currently has rules trying to bring parity in its treatment of POWs and combatants. That is, it basically tries to treat combatants under all the same guidelines it treats POWs.

This is easier said than done though. And, I'm not just talking about emotions on the battlefield. Combatants, by playing outside the rules, put everything in a much more complicated place. When should they be released for example?

There is no official cease fire or peace treaty, when those being fought are indistinguishable from common criminals. Their leader often isnt some head of state who can even sign such treaties.

So when does the endpoint of the fighting come? Should they be released, as POWs might have been, in a parallel universe, where all the fighting took place between uniformed soldiers?

Thoughts on our candidates pronouncements

With this bit of preamble out of the way, let's consider our candidate again. My instinct is to assume a person has the most intelligence, and is taking the strongest version of the position that can be interpreted from his words.

Given that, I'd assume he knows what POWs are, and he has thoughtfully come to the conclusion, that torturing them with pigs blood, and then executing them, exactly as he described it at the many rallies he spoke about it, is indeed a great idea.

This means, he wants to torture uniformed soldiers, who clearly identified themselves during the fighting and then have them executed.

Ill stand by something Sun Tzu said, since he has clearly shown himself to be the most respected military theorist throughout history. I will try to explain his reasoning as well.

Treat captured soldiers with dignity and respect.

Sun Tzu understood that every moment you are fighting for something during the conflict, you are doing things that hurts or helps your ultimate goal, to win, in both big and small ways.

To get people to support you. To get the enemy to lose its confidence against you. These all flow from the nuances of the leaders decisions.

What better way to get the enemy to lose his fighting spirit against you, then to make it easy for him to give up.

Because, as Sun Tzu said several times, the way to control your enemies behavior is by constantly offering them a way out.

For the sake of this posting, it doesn't matter who that republican candidate was. But, it's very clear they were very unwise, and unthoughtful about issues of war and prisoners.

However, the rules of war, and applying ethical standards during war only seem like BS to the most ignorant about war. Because once they dismiss these options, they have removed tools from their tool kit, right when they needed to have the most strategic possibilities open to them.

And, as we all know, whoever takes over the leadership of the US will be facing war and combat decisions, every single day of their presidency.

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