Teaching the rules of war to fourteen year olds
A lesson on the idea of a just war and the Year 9 students were cynical about there being “rules of war.” A video from the International Committee of the Red Cross did nothing to persuade them. “Sure, sir, who is going to enforce those rules?”
“Theoretically, the United Nations.”
“Yeah, what are they going to do about commanders who ignore the rules. Who is going to arrest them?”
“It’s a good point. Unless the United States provides assistance, then no-one will be brought to justice.”
I talked about the conflict in Bosnia, mindful that Radovan Karadzic’s forty year prison sentence was an exception rather than a rule. Genocidaires more often live to an old age and die in their beds. Karadzic’s brutality was possible, in part, because of the impotence of the United Nations. In 1995, Dutch UN troops were powerless to prevent the massacre of eight thousand men and boys by Serbian forces in the supposedly “safe area” of Srebrenica.
And it was not the first time that the United Nations had stood and watched while genocide had proceeded unhindered. The previous year, in 1994, a United Nations’ force was in Kigali, capital of Rwanda. Hutu extremists had launched full scale genocide against their Tutsi neighbours and 2,500 Tutsis and moderate Hutus had sought refuge in a school that was the base for Belgian UN peacekeeping troops. The troops ensured the evacuation of white expatriates from the city before withdrawing from the school, leaving the fugitives there to be butchered. The soldiers did not fire a shot until dogs began eating the corpses and the commanding officer told his men to shoot the dogs.
Had the Year 9 students been told the story of the events in Srebrenica and Rwanda, they would have been reinforced in their perceptions.
If the United Nations force in each situation had included United States forces, would the genocides have taken place?
It would be hard to imagine an American commander allowing the murder of eight thousand men and boys in Bosnia, it would hard to imagine an American commander allowing the murder of eight hundred thousand in Rwanda, for the reason that he would not have to do so. He would generally be present with such overwhelming force, and with such sophisticated equipment that he would have been under no threat from Karadzic’s thugs and would certainly have been under no threat from a machete-wielding mob. The United States is the only power capable of any effective policing intervention on the international stage; without US power, the United Nations is impotent.
Certainly, US politicians have got things seriously wrong. The interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan have created last states worse than the first. Certainly, the Iraq sanctions policy of the Clinton regime in the 1990s was malignant in its effects, Secretary of State Albright conceded the policy had cost the lives of hundreds of thousands. Certainly, many people might feel a world free of American influence might not be such a bad place.
But what happens to the world when there are not US soldiers available to leap from Black Hawk helicopters? What happens when there is not a Humvee for hundreds of miles around? What happens when US warships are not on hand to launch missions into areas? In a world without an American presence, who is there left that might stop deliberate, wilful mass slaughter?
An isolationist America would bring comfort and delight to many people; few of them with democratic intentions. Without the Americans being prepared to intervene, the world would be a much more dangerous, and a much less liberal, place.
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