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Rules of War

Soldiers And Civilians

The difference between soldier and civilian is another important distinction under the rules of war. War is fought by trained soldiers armed with guns, tanks, and an assortment of other strategic weapons that they are authorized to use for tactical advantage, both offensive and defensive. The object of war is to thoroughly defeat an enemy by destroying its armed forces, which may be accomplished in an infinite number of ways, including killing and attrition. It is anticipated that much blood will be shed during a war, regardless of its length.

Civilians, by and large, are neither trained in combat nor armed, and they are not authorized to kill except in SELF-DEFENSE. However, civilians do have families to feed, mortgages to pay, and jobs to perform, obligations that are not suspended during times of war. Hence, the rules of war attempt to insulate civilians from many of the inconveniences, distractions, tragedies, and horrors of war.

War provides combatants with no IMMUNITY from ordinary criminal laws against rape and plunder, even when such transgressions are committed pursuant to an order given by a superior. Crimes committed against civilians because of their race, religion, and national origin, including GENOCIDE, are considered war crimes. Like prisoners of war, civilians may not be punished for wrongs committed by their government or military forces, and they may not be held as hostages under any circumstances.

Civilians may lose their protected status in certain circumstances. When insurgents or guerrillas live among the civilian population, soldiers may take measures to ferret out the enemy, including the use of interrogations, searches, and curfews. Although the individual liberty of civilians can be temporarily curtailed in such situations, it cannot be permanently eliminated. Protracted internment of entire villages or groups of civilians is not allowed. Civilian supporters who carry weapons or grenades forfeit their protected status, however, and may be detained as prisoners of war or saboteurs. If soldiers seek to destroy an entire village that is known to be an enemy stronghold, civilians must normally be informed of the action ahead of time and permitted to evacuate.

Military practice differs as to whether children, older persons, and pregnant women should be allowed egress from a besieged area. At the same time, it is common practice to permit clergy and medical personnel ingress to besieged locales. Once a besieged area has been overtaken, the military is considered an occupying power with the responsibility to administer the laws for the preservation of public order and public safety. Supplies of food and hospital services must be ensured.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Roberts v. United States Jaycees to Secretary of StateRules of War - Origins And Development, War, Terrorism, And Subversion, Prisoners Of War, Soldiers And Civilians