In times of war, isn’t it all a crime?
Can a redundant phrase also be oxymoronic?
Although a necessary evil that must be enforced to maintain some semblance of order in a chaotic world, cannot the act of war itself be considered a crime against humanity in general – every time it occurs?
Indeed, if committing a crime of any type against a fellow human being, whether it be stealing a man’s possessions or killing a man in presumed self-defense, can be construed as a foundation for war, then is not attempting to bring an individual to justice for war crimes a hypocritical act?
All acts of war, whether rooted in religion, politics, or both, are crimes against ourselves as a species, yet as a somewhat civilized society, we usually find it necessary to lift arms in the name of defense or offense, all under the guise of protecting citizens from force and fraud in a skillful manner.
Once we have accomplished mastering this concept of war itself, we lower the mighty sword and grab a pen, constructing constitutions and laws in order to govern citizens in an attempt to ensure that when anyone makes a statement in a context that can injure another, fear of those laws will make them adhere to the truth.
(This generally accepted theory also abides by Adam’s rule of nature that all men are basically evil in heart and will screw thy neighbor any time they think they can get away with it, but that’s another issue altogether.)
But when those rules are broken on an international level (or sometimes within ones own borders), we go to war.
At that point the rulebook is tossed out the window and until a truce is called or somebody yells “Uncle,” we inhabit a world in which the values of fairness, equality and honesty have no role.
Although some would like to think so, there are no real international laws concerning war because there is no international government in charge (the Hague Conventions, Geneva Conven-tions, Geneva Protocols and anything from the United Nations looks nice on paper and makes us feel good about ourselves to a point, but try telling that to Daniel Pearlman).
And even if there were, would they be responsible for determining the point when a necessary action by another became illegal because it was performed in pursuit of a wrongful goal? Wrongful to whom?
So, for the moment, let’s forget about those 2nd Amendment fanatics who rationalize that the answer to less violence is the accumulation of more violent weapons (a pistol in every pocket – that’ll stop the violence!), and accept the fact that we are a warring species, forever doomed to annihilating one another repetitively in order to keep the peace.
Back to the question at hand, which is why have war crimes when all war is considered a crime against someone, somewhere?
Is there actually a maximum tolerance level we reach for killing? Who makes that determination?
War crimes are nothing more than continuing to hurt those on the losing side. However, most of the time general consensus agrees that those who lost deserved to, and in the case of genocide (see: Germany after 1945 and Bosnia just about any time), continued punishment is mandatory in order to stifle repetition.
If Osama and I were locked in a secure room with nothing but a fingernail puller-outer and him wrapped tight in heavy chains and me with a smile on my face, would it be considered cruel and unusual punishment (and thus a war crime) to start with the left pinky and slowly work my way through all 21 digits (wink-wink, nudge-nudge)?
If the event were broadcast live, would Americans be cheering me on (“slower, slooooower!”) while Muslim extremists were pleading for me to stop, claiming I was going “too far?”
Do those not involved in a war, after choosing which side to support, have the ability to determine which particular acts of war are considered “over the top,” thus qualifying the accused for a war crime?
What if the accused claims, as so many in war do, that he was only doing “what he had to do?” Isn’t this what a government asks of its soldiers, to temporarily abandon all morals and ethics for God and country – unless they’re talking to the press – regardless of the consequences?
Therefore, is it not hypocritical for the Palestinians to be claiming that in Jenin the Israelis did not win fair and square and should be investigated for war crimes?
Just what in the wide, wide world of equality is fair and square in times of war?
Face it, good people and bad people are both going to die in a war.
Whether anybody deserves it or not is a judgment call for the individual pulling the trigger or pulling the strings, whichever the case may be, and that individual must deal with the internal moral and mental masturbation.
One man’s complicated war is another man’s simple defense of peace, and if a war is just or unjust will always be determined by those pulling the trigger first.
But the winner will never be charged with a crime.
Richard Carnes of Edwards can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org