When we were kids, like most siblings, we would get into disagreements about almost anything. We would punch, wrestle, and even throw things at each other.
However, regardless of how heated the arguments were, there was an unwritten rule between us that we didn’t hit each other in the head. I don’t know why, and I don’t know that we ever talked about it.
When it comes to war, there are also rules, both written and unwritten. Considering that war, which has existed since the beginning of humanity, is the perfect failure of humanity, it’s interesting that rules exist.
In the American Civil War, much was made about prisoner camps and exchanges. In a recent CNN report, an ISIS convert complained about the way the United States tortured and humiliated prisoners. Germany held and killed prisoners in deplorable concentration camps. Syria is not the first country to use chemical weapons and, of course, the United States is the only country to use the granddaddy of them all — the nuclear bomb.
So what are the rules of war? What should be the rules, or is an oxymoron to even have rules of war?
Obviously, we would like to think that war should be left to the professionals. Civilians, particularly children, should be not be military targets. However, terrorism and mass shootings specifically target civilians, successfully creating fear. And large-scale destruction, like nuclear bombs, probably cannot escape killing civilians.
There are “central principles” to war itself. Wikipedia notes several, such as, “Wars should be limited to achieving the political goals that started the war (e.g., territorial control) and should not include unnecessary destruction. Wars should be brought to an end as quickly as possible. People and property that do not contribute to the war effort should be protected against unnecessary destruction and hardship.”
And within those central principles, humanitarian rules of warfare exist. Here are a couple examples under the Geneva and Hague conventions:
• Parties to a conflict must at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants in order to spare civilian population and property. Adequate precautions shall be taken in this regard before launching an attack.
• Captured combatants are entitled to respect for their lives, dignity, personal rights, and convictions. They must be protected against all acts of violence and reprisals. They must have the right to correspond with their families and to receive relief.
• Parties to a conflict and members of their armed forces do not have an unlimited choice of methods and means of warfare. It is prohibited to employ weapons or methods of warfare of a nature to cause unnecessary losses or excessive suffering.
Clearly, war is a messy subject and let’s be honest, when push comes to shove, and a country and its military has its back against the wall, you can throw the rules out the window. And what is the punishment for breaking the rules of engagement — more war?
If the world is so interested in protecting humanity, why not outlaw war altogether? Regardless of the rules of warfare, the act of war means that for often many years, precious resources will be wasted, families will be ruined, lives will end needlessly, and generations of hate will be created. And it is interesting, again oxymoronic, that in the tragedy of war, where soldiers and civilians are intentionally killed over economic resources, strategic military territories and religious reasons, that we don’t want to inflict unnecessary suffering.
Some of these conflicts are based on events that happened thousands of years ago. Grievances and prejudices that are taught rather than experienced. Passion ignites ideological differences as the fight surrounds the absurdity of which god reigns supreme. And, unfortunately, war and violence are the only things some ideologies understand.
There are times when war seems unavoidable, even justifiable, to protect the innocent from the brutality of radical groups or dictators. But war should always be a last resort, when reasonableness and diplomacy completely fail. It should never be the result of ego or ignorance. Too many lives and too many resources, which could be better used for real humanitarian issues, are at stake.
Here is a simple decree regarding the rules of engagement: No more war.