“The separation of armies and peaceful inhabitants into two distinct classes is perhaps the greatest triumph of International Law. Its effect in mitigating the evils of war has been incalculable. One must read the history of ancient wars, or savage wars of modern times – such as Chaka’s campaigns, by which he made the Zulu name terrible throughout northern Natal – to appreciate the immense gain to the world from the distinction between combatants and non-combatants. But if populations have a war right as against armies, armies have as strict a war right against them. They must not meddle with fighting. The citizen must be a citizen and not a soldier. Wellington told the inhabitants of southern France in 1814 that he would not allow them to play with impunity the part of peaceful citizens and of soldiers, and bade them go join the ranks of the French armies if they wished to fight [footnote deleted]. It may be said broadly that there is no room in modern war for the resistance of unorganised inhabitants. They have had their chance of joining the armed forces of their country, and if they have not done so, then they must loyally play their part as citizens. For a while their duty to their country must remain in abeyance; with the invader comes the reign of war law, and war law has a short shrift for the non-combatant who violates its principles by taking up arms. ‘The civilian who kills without being ordered to do so, and thereby wipes out the line of demarcation (between soldier and inhabitant), cannot be disarmed except by death. The condition of prisoner of war does not exist for him: he must be annihilated in the interests of humanity’
[footnote: Moritz Busch, op. cit., Vol. II, p.207. Professor Holland remarks (Studies in International Law, p. 73), that there are two reasons for not allowing the population of an invaded country to take part in the war: (1) guerrilla warfare has an inevitable tendency to develop into cruelty; (2) if a military commander protects the inhabitants he must be assured that they do not cut off his stragglers or fire on his detachments.]
"Through the sparing of a peaceful population is a fairly modern growth in war usage, the refusal of combatant rights to non-military people is almost as old as history: it is mentioned in De Officiis
[footnote: See Body’s Wheaton, International Law (2nd Edition), p. 428)].
" The idea may be traced from the existence of a peculiar warrior caste in ancient times, through feudalism, with its men-at-arms, jealous of encroachment on their specialised pursuit, to the modern principle of the division of labour, developing a kind of trade-unionism in fighting which would exclude all but professional or semi-professional forces from interference in war. ‘It is manifest’, says Kipling’s Umr Singh, Sikh of the Khalsa, trooper of the Gurgaon Rissala, type and spokesman of a breed of fighters,‘that that he who fights should be hung if he fights with a gun in one hand and a purwana [a permit given to non-combatants for their protection] in the other’. There is a whole chapter of war law – its history and its principle – epitomised in his words. Today the refusal of belligerent rights to unorganised populations has a justification which it lacked in ancient times and those who claim for every citizen the right to take arms at his pleasure against an invader, are really striking at the roots of all clean and civilised war.
“The name of the little French town of Bazeilles, south of Sedan on the road to Montmedy, will be associated with the war law regarding resistance by unorganised populations. There has been much discussion and, no doubt, much false witness, as to what happened there on the 1st September 1870. The German Official History of the War states that the inhabitants took an active part in the struggle which raged in and about the village, and that they spared neither the wounded nor the stretcher-bearers, so that 'the Bavarians found themselves eventually compelled to cut down all inhabitants with arms in their hands‘
[footnote: German official History (English translation, Part I, Vol. II, p. 316)].
"Whether, as the Germans alleged, the inhabitants burnt the helpless Bavarian wounded alive, pouring hot oil over them before carrying them into the blazing houses, which had been lighted by the German shells, or whether the Bavarians beyonetted old men and women in their beds and threw infants into the burning houses;
[footnote: See Hozier, Franco-Prussian War, Vol. I, pp. 429-31; Cassell’s History, Vol. I, pp. 95-8, 154; Vol. II, pp. 561-2; Busch’s Bismarck, Vol. I, pp. 168-70)];
there can be no doubt of the accuracy of two statements, namely, that the village folk resisted the Bavarians arms in hand, and that the Bavarians exacted a heavy vengeance in consequence. The town was made fuel of fire – reduced to the condition of Pompeii, says Sir Harry Hozier – and the bodies of the dead were left to burn where they lay. General Phil Sheridan saw the black ruins and smelt the odour of the burning flesh the next day
[footnote: Sheridan’s Personal Memoirs, Vol. II, pp. 411-12. Bismarck spoke to him of ‘those burning Frenchmen – ugh!’].
the Daily News correspondent relates that he saw ‘the charred corpses of the women and tender little ones – a sight I dream of to this day, and wake in a sweat of horror’
[footnote: Daily News War Correspondence, p. 190].
"To point the moral and make it clear that the destruction was not merely the unconsidered act of a maddened soldiery, a German Proclamation of the 29th September spoke of ‘the sentence executed against the village in virtue of the law of war’
[footnote: Cassell’s History, Vol. I, p. 154].
"It is not too much to say that the incident sent a thrill of horror through Europe. But extreme as the punishment was, the inhabitants had undoubtedly broken the law of war in joining in the street fight, and the Bavarians had a clear war right to deal summarily with those taken red-handed in action. Ten years before, a well-informed writer in Blackwood’s Magazine
[footnote: Vol. 88, p. 612 (1860)],
pointed out that attacks by the inhabitants of an invaded country directed against the hostile troops would recoil with terrible effect upon their own heads. ‘Men, women and children sacrificed, the innocent as well as the guilty, houses burned and property plundered and devastated – are all considered legitimate retribution for acts of aggression by an unorganised population”.
WAR RIGHTS ON LAND, J. M. Spaight, MacMillan and Co., St. Martin’s Street,
London, 1911, pp. 37-9.
Final note by C.W. Porter: According to modern research, including an official French investigation, no more than 39 residents of Bazeilles
were killed during the fighting. All other claims are dismissed as“propaganda”. What is certain is that there was very violent fighting,
over 6,000 men were killed, a few partisans were captured and shot by the Germans, and a few houses were burnt.
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