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THE CIVILIAN, THE INNOCENT, AND THE NON-COMBATANT IN WAR

It’s an interesting theory of war and I think it is at least partially true. Especially from the pragmatic standpoint. I rarely argue against pragmatism or practicality.

But I strongly and truthfully suspect the whole issue is far more complicated than that. For instance, psychologically, and this is especially true once Christian ideals get fully embedded in a society (rather than a society just formally accepts Christianity as a state-religion), most soldiers (truer as time progresses, but especially true of the West) have no desire to kill or harm a civilian, innocent, or non-combatant.

Yes, pragmatically you’re wasting much needed resources and both tactical and strategic advantage by attacking non-combatants, but also, psychologically, you feel it immoral and evil to do so if it can be avoided at all. I know I do.

I would also feel it immoral to attack a combatant who has truly surrendered (rather than just making a pretense of it) or who has demonstrated they have no more desire to fight. Commiserate with that I would have no desire to kill a prisoner of war, or any helpless prisoner. To me all of those things are simultaneously entirely un-Christian and highly unmanly.

Why do we spare civilians in war?

October 13, 2014 – 06:23

Neither compassion nor charity were the reasons why Western soldiers spared enemy civilians in war, new Danish research shows.

Soldiers relaxing in a village. They are not popular among the residents, who may have been citizens of an enemy territory. (Painting by Adam Albrecht)

Soldiers get killed in war. That’s the way it is.

But it hurts us more when people not in uniform lose their lives, despite the fact that a soldier who gets killed just as well can be someone’s boyfriend, son, father, daughter or best friend — just as any civilian.

So why do we actually distinguish between soldiers and civilians? Gunner Lind, Professor of History at the Saxo Institute of the University of Copenhagen, has found answers to this question.

“Soldiers easily got into difficulties using their energy to fight civilians. So the practice was introduced, according to which soldiers would do their best not to harm civilians who refrained from taking part in acts of war,” says Professor Lind.

The military historian has presented his research in a new book, ‘Civilians at War’, in which a number of Danish and international researchers have examined the development of the concept ‘civilian’ from the 16th century up until our modern era. His research begins at a time when the brutality and customs of war of medieval times still applied.

“We all have the impression that the Middle Ages were extremely violent and that’s not far from the truth. The level of violence was really high,” says Lind.

Rules of law laid down by church father

In the Middle Ages everybody carried a weapon. Peasants might not have had swords but they had daggers or axes which they used for their work on the farm.

Conflicts in the form of rebellion, feuds or actual war could arise out of the blue because violence was a tool everyone used. When the state or a squire entered into a feud they would gather local peasants, who would bring along their own weapons. In addition to this, a warlord could hire professional warriors and draw on the services of the nobility, who had spent their youth training in the art of war.

Learned Christians and those in power in medieval society saw it as quite legitimate to go to war, despite the moral imperative of the Biblical Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt not kill”.

Augustine of Hippo, also known as Saint Augustine or Saint Austin, who lived in the fourth and fifth century A.D., asserted that there was such a thing as just war, in which Christians could legitimately be involved.

Christians: you may kill, but spare the innocent

Killing in a just war could be justified if one’s adversaries had committed a grave injustice, such as declaring war on, or threatening the lives of, Christians. This was the reason for the preliminary declaration of war in 1095 which led to 200 years of crusades against Muslims.

Among adversaries, however, there would theoretically always be innocents who had nothing to do with the grave injustice committed, and it was deemed that they should be spared by the warring parties.

Was anyone automatically innocent? For instance women or children?

“Children, yes. But women — we can’t be sure of that,” says the historian.

He explains that women had little influence in the society of the day, and children absolutely none whatsoever. The Christian thinkers of the day, however, disagreed as to how innocent women actually were in war, and some held the belief that women could be held to account for an adversary’s unjust actions and thus be held responsible.

Professor Lind does not think the concept had much significance in practice. It was not possible, for instance, to keep a town under siege without its children suffering as a result. Hunger and disease invariably followed in the wake of a siege…

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