The Elements of Politics

Henry Sidgwick

Chapter 16

The Regulation of War

§2. Let us consider, then, how the duties of a belligerent, fighting in the name of justice, and under the restraints of morality, are to be determined,---first, as regards his enemies, and, secondly, in relation to neutral States.

To begin with the mutual duties of belligerents. The general principle of such duties seems not difficult to state. It is clear that the aim of a moral combatant must be to disable his opponent, and force him to submission, but not to do him (1) any mischief which does not tend materially to this end, nor (2) any mischief of which the conduciveness to the end is slight in comparison with the amount-of the mischief. Unfortunately, this second limitation is inevitably so vague as to leave room for great differences of opinion as to its proper application; and, moreover, its application must continually vary with variations in the arts of war, and in the circumstances and prevailing sentiments of civilised men. Fortunately, on the other hand, the restraints that at any time ought clearly to be imposed on a belligerent, in the application of this principle, are usually sustained by strong sanctions, at least when the area of the war is restricted; from the danger that the belligerent who violates them runs of rousing public indignation against himself in neutral communities, as well as hardening the resistance of his enemy.

For the sake of illustration I proceed to sketch in outline the particular restraints to which a belligerent may now reasonably be expected to conform, in his treatment of his enemy, according to the general principles above laid down; drawing attention to any difficulties and to points in which opinion has recently changed or is changing.

To begin with the instruments and methods of war. A belligerent may be expected to abstain from using weapons that inflict decidedly more suffering than others, without crippling the enemy at all in proportion, and from devastation, that does not importantly facilitate military operations. And though, generally speaking, he must be allowed to deceive the enemy in any way he can, he may be restrained from using as means of deceit the flags of truce, and other symbols that are needed for carrying on the necessary intercourse of enemies.

Again, he may be expected to abstain from recruiting his army compulsorily out of the population of an invaded country; since the modern sense of nationality would not only excite a strong reprobation for such conduct, but would also make the forced recruits a bad element of the army. On both these points there has been a considerable change of opinion since the now prohibited practice was largely carried on by the Prussians in Saxony in 1756; owing to the general growth of national sentiment that has taken place in the interval. A more important rule is that which---we may confidently hope---will in future restrain civilised belligerents from inflicting personal injury on non-combatants, so far as they submit; and even from imprisoning them, unless they are of special political importance---as sovereigns and diplomatic agents,---or professionally employed in rendering services to combatants---as commissariat employes, messengers, etc. The effect of scaring the enemy into submission by harsh treatment of non-combatants is on the whole too uncertain and remote to outweigh (1) the danger of rousing the sympathetic indignation of neutrals, together with (2) the serious inconveniences to which an invading army is exposed in the midst of a population embittered by private injuries. Similarly, an invader may be restrained from interfering with the laws and customs and social life of any portion of the hostile country that he may temporarily occupy, so long as it submits: though it is difficult to put limits to the severity which he may legitimately use to crush resistance to his authority on the part of non-combatants.

Similarly, belligerents may be expected to abstain from inflicting personal injuries on combatants hors de combat: unless exceptionally by way of punishment for violating the usages of war.

On the other hand, in order that combatants and noncombatants may claim their respective privileges, the adversary has a manifest right to demand that a clear line shall be drawn between the two; so that no individual may avail himself of the advantages of both characters at once. The difficulty here arises solely or mainly in the case of resistance to an invading army: it would be out of the question to lay down that citizens hitherto unwarlike may not rush to arms to defend their country in its extremity; but the invader may fairly claim that if they thus join the ranks of combatants, it shall be in some manner both orderly and unmistakable:---that is, under some responsible authority who can keep their hostile acts within the usages of war, and with some distinctive marks, not easily removable, of their newly assumed profession.

For similar reasons merchant vessels should not be allowed to assume a warlike character unless attacked. It does not indeed follow that we ought to disallow ``privateers''---i.e. ships sailing under a commission of war, but fitted out by private persons for private gain, to be made by preying on the enemy's commerce: but, experience having shown the difficulty of maintaining proper control over such armaments, it has been agreed by most civilised States to abolish privateering.

In the treatment of combatants who have been taken prisoners, our general principle will require the captor to refrain from any rigour not necessary for safe detention while the war lasts, and to provide adequate food and clothing for the enemies kept in custody: and if, to recoup the expenses thus incurred, he must be allowed to make his captives work, it will prevent him imposing on them any work of a needlessly degrading or repulsive kind. A more onerous demand on the victor is that of succouring and tending the sick and wounded left behind by a flying enemy; but the common sentiment of the civilised world would now impose this as an imperative duty, which must be performed even at considerable inconvenience: and the same sentiment is probably now strong enough to secure neutrality not only for surgeons and medical attendants while employed in medical functions, but also for hospitals, ambulances, and hospital ships, with their surgical and medical stores.

To sum up; so far as personal injuries are concerned, there is, I think, no material difficulty in limiting the mischief caused by war to something like the minimum necessary to achieve the ends of war.

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