The Elements of Politics

Henry Sidgwick

Chapter 16

The Regulation of War

§3. Restraint is more difficult as regards seizure of property. The heavy pecuniary burdens that the conditions of modern warfare impose on a belligerent render most kinds of wealth---public or private---undeniably useful to him: property has no inconvenient patriotic sentiments that will be violated if it is made to serve the needs of the enemy, and common humanity is not offended by spoliation if mild and regular, as it is by the harsh treatment of innocent persons.

Still, certain limitations may be established: An invader must be allowed to seize the movable public property of the invaded country, and freely to use immovables for his own purposes: but he may be restrained from appropriating such things as archives or State papers, which are specially important to the country in which they are found, but not available for warlike uses on either side. Probably, too, the appropriation of collections of pictures or books may, be prevented in future civilised warfare; since they could only be made available for warlike purposes by being sold and so most probably dispersed: and the loss thus entailed, not only to the spoliated country but to mankind at large, would generally be quite disproportionate to the belligerent's gain. On somewhat similar grounds a temporary conqueror may be restrained from diverting public revenues set permanently apart for such social purposes as healing, education, art, and science,---for which the government of the invaded country is practically only a trustee.

The most serious difficulty arises when we attempt, on our general principle, to fix the limit of an invader's right to take private property. The indiscriminate pillage that was considered legitimate until the eighteenth century, has gradually died out, ``partly from an increase of humane feeling, partly from the selfish advantage of belligerents, who saw that the efficiency of their soldiers was diminished by the looseness of discipline inseparable from marauding habits, and their military operations embarrassed in countries of which the resources were destroyed'';---in fact, ``the suffering attending it was out of all proportion to the advantages gained by the belligerent employing it''. But this would not be true of the orderly and regulated levying of supplies from private persons through ``contributions'' of money beyond ordinary taxes, and ``requisitions'' of special commodities needed by the army,---food and fodder, horses, waggons, boats, and certain kinds of labour. Such ``requisitions'' differ from regulated pillage mainly in the receipts which it is customary to give for them, which facilitate the recovery of compensation from their own government by the private persons. If such receipts are given, both ``contributions'' and ``requisitions'' may be regarded as payments on account, compulsorily made by private members of the invaded community, of a portion of the pecuniary compensation for the mischief of the war which the invader holds himself justified in asking from the community as a whole. So regarded, these contributions in money and kind conduce to the invader's main end in three ways: (1) they give him supplies of which he stands in need; (2) they diminish the power of his non-combative enemies to assist in the war against him in the one way in which, as non-combatants, they naturally would assist---by furnishing the ``sinews of war'';---and (3) at the same time, if imposed over a considerable district, they apply a strong pressure tending to indispose the enemy to continue hostilities: while yet, unless the contributions are excessive in amount, so great as to cause severe distress, the pressure can hardly be called cruel.

I therefore think that, on our general principles, the belligerent cannot reasonably be restrained from enforcing such contributions; and in fact they were enforced, with the full severity that can be regarded as admissible, by the invaders in the last European war.

If, then, an invader who gets a portion of his enemy's territory under his control may exact contributions from his enemy in money and kind, it would surely be unreasonable to require a maritime power to abstain altogether from attacking the private property of enemies at sea: though it may reasonably be required to abstain from such attacks where they would inflict hardships out of proportion to their utility to the belligerent. The seizure of coast fishing-boats is a case of this latter kind, except where such boats are specially useful for military purposes.

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