Two Can Play

by Bruce O’Hara

April 26, 2024

War is an inherently brutal, ugly and uncivilized activity. That’s why, over the course of centuries, the nations of the world have tried to come up with agreements and traditions that place limits on the savagery of war.

I remember stories from the First World War, how, on Christmas Eve, an informal truce would be called. French and German soldiers would sing Christmas Carols to each other from opposing trenches.

One of the most civilizing limitations that warring nations have sometimes honoured was the idea that only soldiers should fight and die in wars. Civilians, especially children, were deemed to ‘non-combatants’.

‘Honourable’ soldiers would make great efforts to avoid killing or injuring non-combatants. Though this agreed limitation on the violence of war was often ignored – think of General Sherman’s torching of Atlanta, the London blitz, the siege of Stalingrad, the carpet bombing of Dresden, or the mass slaughter that took place at Hiroshima and Nagasaki – strong and often successful efforts have been made in a good many wars over the course of history to minimize the number of civilian casualties.

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