The Corner

On Prisoners of War — And Blogging

This post elicited an enormous amount of churn in my email box last night and this morning, particularly in response to the second emailer who chastised me for posting an email containing a “morally rotten” argument from a military historian, and for not criticizing it myself. First some responses from folks who don’t like the cut of the second emailer’s jib.

The point missed by your contrarian is that the Arabs captured and interrogated by Wingate were not Prisoners of War. By any definition, they were at best unlawful combatants, and at worst brigands. Either of whom qualify as “hosti humani generalis” subject to being summarily shot. All quite moral. All quite legal.

From another military historian:

Mr. Goldberg,

The morally self-righteous commenter who snarkily, but ignorantly, upbraided

the military analyst either didn’t understand, or dishonestly chose to

ignore, a central distinction: who qualifies as a prisoner of war. A

century ago, the summary execution of spies and guerrillas would not have

been considered, a priori, an outrage. The outrage would have largely

depended on whether a person agreed, or not, with the aims of the spy or

guerilla being executed. The Convention relative to the Treatment of

Prisoners of War, Geneva July 27, 1929 created the framework for treatment

of PoWs. The original intent was to provide a safe harbor for combatants

who followed the laws of war. Although I do not have enough information to

judge, it is certainly within the realm of possibility that the Arab

executed by Major Wingate did not fall within the bounds of those afforded

the protections of the Geneva Convention as interpreted at that time. In no

small part owing to Nazi atrocities, subsequent protocols in 1958, and

after, basically defined everyone as a lawful combatant or civilian, thus

making the whole thing pretty meaningless. I believe this was a dreadful

error because if everyone receives the treatment accorded a PoW regardless

of adherence to the laws of war, then the Geneva Convention ceases to have a

meaningful, practical impact. Aside from propaganda and world opinion,

those who choose to operate outside the bounds of civilized world opinion

have no disincentive to treat captives in any manner they see fit. As with

your snarky ignorant reader, I am afraid the preponderance of concern during

this evolution has been the perceived moral righteousness of those

reinterpreting the rules rather than with the protection of combatants or

civilians in conflicts.

But here’s another contrarian response:

Your contrarian might have mentioned the verdict on Wingate of Churchill’s personal physician Lord Moran, who recorded in his diaries: “[Wingate] seemed to me hardly sane — in medical jargon a borderline case.” He ate whole raw onions as others (the sound of mind) might eat oranges and attempted suicide in 1941 by stabbing himself in the neck.

Are you sure that the self-styled “historian and military analyst” wasn’t an elaborate and ill-intentioned spoof on NRO?

Me: Now, as far as me not offering an editorial opinion on each link or email I post, we’ve been around this horn a few times. I don’t think I always have to do that. Sometimes I think an email is interesting. I post it with comment. Sometimes I post it without comment. My motives vary. Sometimes, I haven’t figured out what I think of the email or link and want to hear from readers. Sometimes I know what I think, but also know that if I say it I will hear from bazillions of readers and I’m not in the mood. Sometimes, I think it’s obvious what I think without me having to say so.

Regardless of my motive, I hold fast to my conviction that this is an incredibly minor problem in the universe. I hardly think what this republic suffers from most conspicuously is a shortage of instances where I express my opinions.

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