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E-HELP Debate: War Crimes in the 20th Century


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#31 Charles Black

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Posted 17 May 2005 - 08:06 PM

Hello Mike Tribe

Unfortunately Mike, the gray areas are where the real problems lie. Those problems that have anguished and in many cases destroyed or disrupted the lives of many of those who involuntarily had to face them.

The obvious "black and white" as you refer to them, if they are in fact that obvious, are not the problem. But often what seems black and white in those cool reflective moments of reason, well after and removed from the fact, may often have seemed much less defined amidst the anguish, total gut wrenching fear and panic of a very disturbing moment in time.

It is kind of like being an armchair quarterback. After watching a football game, I could probably tell you precisely what, let's say Bret Favre, did wrong. He could even tell you better than I could. But that doesn't mean if that moment could be played over again in exactly the same manner, that he neccessarily would have done the "right thing".

In my life, that which I have been able to define as black or white has been of litle problem. But that vast area of varying shades of gray has been troubling enough to have colored my hair in the same way!
Charlie Black

#32 David Richardson

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Posted 18 May 2005 - 05:28 PM

However, when I think about what are usually classified as war crimes, I think firstly about fairly large-scale 'industrialised' actions. If you think about what seems to be happening in Darfur, for example, there seems to be collusion between the central government and the 'irregulars' who're committing their crimes on a systematic basis.

Or take the US policy of 'extraordinary rendition' (i.e. shipping people they pick up to countries where they will be tortured). (I'm using this as a current example - even though you could argue that at least some of the people involved are irregular fighters and thus, perhaps, by some legalistic definition not involved in a war). An isolated incident like this could be attributed to an individual who could be punished for his crimes ... but the CIA have a special fleet of planes for the purpose, which indicates planning.

#33 Derek McMillan

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Posted 30 May 2005 - 06:25 PM

No. If torture is inflicting pain on someone who cannot harm you - i.e. it cannot be termed self-defence - then it is never justified. The American justification of torture is referring to the victims or torture as terrorists. Omar Deghayes (for example) was a law student. There apparently exists a video which shows him talking to terrorists. This is rather thin evidence but made thinner by the fact that the video blatantly shows somebody else and not Omar.

Even if were proven that Omar were a terrorist, and on the contrary nothing has been proven, torture to make him confess would invalidate his confession, torture to make him implicate other people as terrorists likewise.

None of this could be described as "spur of the moment" or "a few bad apples". Everything points to something far more systematic. The use of a form of torture known as water boarding (copied from the Gestapo incidentally) was authorised by the CIA and the suspension of the use of such methods last year specifically excluded Guantanamo.

They also authorise the withholding of medication as an enhanced interrogation technique.

#34 Terry Haydn

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Posted 03 June 2005 - 09:46 AM

Part of a historical education ought to be to get young people to think beyond the idea of 'goodies and baddies' and towards the idea of realpolitik and complexity. Salman Rushdie made an interesting point post 9/11 about two films which were popular at around the same time: 'Gangs of New York' and the film derived from the Lord of the Rings books. The first was about an amoral battle for power, the second was about 'goodies versus baddies'.

This is not to argue for moral relativism, or that 'they are all as bad as each other'. There should be judgements on good and evil in history, but children should not be taught that, for instance, Britain is good and Germany is bad. All national histories have their skeletons, and children in Britain should be taught about Amritsar, Suez etc, as well as about the more glorious bits of British History. Similarly, they should be taught that in wars, atrocities are generally committed by sections of most armies, although particular regimes may encourage different scales and forms of atrocity.

#35 Derek McMillan

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Posted 03 June 2005 - 04:07 PM

I always thought the moral point of the Lord of the Rings was that there was no clear-cut battle between good and evil in the real world and to make it clear-cut required fantasy. CS Lewis came close to saying the same thing in Out of the Silent Planet when he pointed out that any fight in the real world was constrained by the fact that however evil the human being you were fighting they were still human and it was only by ceasing to regard his opponent as human that Ransom was able to summon up the will to defeat him.
Nationalism dehumanises, as does sexism and homophobia and the labelling of any group as "the enemy".

#36 Mike Toliver

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Posted 03 June 2005 - 11:50 PM

Well we could get into a real broohah about movies, but I agree with Derek: LOTR (both the books and the films) was all about how UN-clear things get when we're trying to do "good". While one can ultimately conclude that Hobbits and Elves and Men and Dwarves are "good" and Orcs and Uru-kia and Ring-wraiths are "bad", the journey is filled with flawed beings of all kinds - and in Gollum we see what Frodo could have become if not for "accident".

It seems entirely appropriate in this day and age and in a discussion of war crimes to note just how flawed we ALL are - and the more kids who watch LOTR and get that lesson in some fashion, the better.




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