Page images
PDF
EPUB

confirmed the prohibition on the ground that it was not fair to inflict on an enemy more than the least possible injury. The long-bow consequently came into greater use. But Richard I., in spite of Popes or Councils or Chivalry, revived the use of the cross-bow in Europe ; nor, though his death by one himself was regarded as a judgment from Heaven, did its use from that time decline till the musket took its place.

Cannons and bombs were at first called diabolical, because they suggested the malice of the enemy of mankind, or serpentines, because they seemed worse than the poison of serpents. And torpedoes, now used without scruple, were called infamous and infernal when, under the name of American Turtles, they were first tried by the American Colonies against the ships of their mother country.

In the sixteenth century, that knight “without fear or reproach " the Chevalier Bayard, ordered all musketeers who fell into his hands to be slain without mercy, because he held the introduction of firearms to be an unfair innovation on the rules of lawful war. So red-hot shot (or balls made red-hot before insertion in the cannon) were at first objected to, or only considered fair for purposes of defence, not of attack. Yet, what do we find ?-that Louis XIV. fired some 12,000 of them into Brussels in 1694 ; that the Austrians fired them into Lille in 1792 ; and that the English batteries fired them at the ships in Sebastopol harbour, which formed part of the Russian defences. Chain-shot and bar-shot were also disapproved of at first, or excluded from use by conventions applying only to particular wars ; now there exists no agreement precluding their use, for they soon became common in battles at sea.

The invention of the bayonet supplies another illustration. The accounts of its origin are little better than legends : that it was invented so long ago as 1323 by the women of Bayonne in defence of the ramparts of that city against the English ; or by Puséygur, of Bayonne, about 1650 ; or borrowed by the Dutch from the natives of Madagascar; or connected with a place called the Redoute de la Baionnette in the Eastern Pyrenees, where the Basques, having exhausted their ammunition against the Spaniards, are said to have inserted their knives into the muzzles of their guns. But it is certain that as soon as the idea was perfected by fixing the blade by rings outside the muzzle (in the latter quarter of the seventeenth

1 Fauchet's Origines des Chevaliers, &c. &c., ii. 56; Grose's Military Antiquities, i. 142; and Demmin's Encyclopédie d'Armurerie, 57, 496.

• Fauchet, ii. 57. Lequel engin, pour le mal qu'il faisait (pire que le venin des serpens), fut nommé serpentine," &c.

century), battles became more murderous than ever, though the destruction of infantry by cavalry was diminished. The battle of Neerwinden in 1693, in which the French general, Luxembourg, defeated the Prince of Orange, is said to have been the first battle that was decided by a charge with a bayonet, and the losses were enormous on both sides.

History, in fact, is full of such cases, in which the victory has uniformly lain ultimately with the legitimacy of the weapon or method that was at first rejected. For the moment, the law of nations forbids the use of certain methods of destruction, such as bullets filled with glass or nails, or chemical compounds like kakodyl, which could convert in a moment the atmosphere round an army into one of deadly poison ;? yet we have nothing like certainty—we have not even historical probability—that these forbidden means, or worse means, will not be resorted to in the wars of the future, or that reluctance to meet such forms of death will in the least degree affect either their frequency or their duration.

It is easy to explain this law of history. The soldier's courage, as he faces the mitrailleuse with the same indifference that he would face snow-balls or bread-pellets, is a miracle that is explained by discipline ; for, whether the soldier be hired or coerced to face death, it is all one to him against what kind of bullet he rushes, so long as discipline remains—as Helvetius the French philosopher once defined it, the art of making soldiers more afraid of their own officers than of their enemy.3 To Clearchus, the Lacedæmonian, is attributed the saying that a soldier should always fear his own general more than the enemy : a mental state not difficult to ensure in every system of military mechanism. Whatever form of death be in front of a man, it is less certain than that in his rear.

For the nearest approach to a statement of what the laws of war in our own time really are, we must turn to the Brussels Conference, which met in 1874 at the summons of the same great Russian to whom the world owes the St. Petersburg Declaration, and which constituted a genuine attempt to mitigate the evils of war by an international agreement and definition of their limits. The idea of such a plan was originally suggested by the Instructions published in 1863 by President Lincoln for the government of the armies of the United States in the civil war. The project for such an inter

Dyer, Modern Europe, iii. 158. 2 Scoffern's Projectile Weapons, &c., 66. 3 Sur l'Esprit, i. 562.

· These Instructions are published in Halleck's International Law, ii. 36-51; and at the end of Edwards' Germans in France.

national agreement, originally submitted by the Russian Government for discussion, was very much modified before even a compromise of opinion could be arrived at on the several points it contained. And the project so modified, as a preliminary basis for future agreement, owing to the timid refusal of the English Government to take further part in the matter, never, unfortunately, reached its final stage of a definite code ;' but it remains nevertheless the nost authoritative utterance extant of the laws generally thought to be binding in modern warfare on the practices and passions of the combatants. The following articles from the project as finally modified are undoubtedly the most important :

Art. 12. The laws of war do not allow to belligerents an unlimited power as to the choice of means of injuring the enemy.

Art. 13. According to this principle are strictly forbidden-
a. The use of poison or poisoned weapons.
b. Murder by treachery of individuals belonging to the hostile

nation or army.
C. Murder of an antagonist who, having laid down his arms, or

having no longer the means of defending himself, has

surrendered at discretion. d. The declaration that no quarter will be given. 6. The use of arms, projectiles, or substances which may cause

unnecessary suffering, as well as of those prohibited by the

Declaration of St. Petersburg in 1868. f. Abuse of the flag of truce, the national Aag, or the military

insignia or uniform of the eneiny, as well as the distinctive

badges of the Geneva Convention. & All destruction or seizure of the enemy's property which is

not imperatively required by the necessity of war. Art. 15. Fortified places are alone liable to be besieged. Towns, agglomerations of houses or villages which are open or undefended, cannot be attacked or bombarded.

Art. 17 ... . All necessary steps should be taken to spare as far as possible buildings devoted to religion, arts, sciences, and charity, hospitals and places where sick and wounded are collected, on condition that they are not used at the same time for military purposes.

Art. 18. A town taken by storm shall not be given up to the victorious troops for plunder.

I "It would have been desirable,” said the Russian Government, “ that the voice of a great nation like England should have been heard in an inquiry of which the object would appear to have met with its sympathies."

yoL, CCLIII. NO. 1819.

Art. 23. Prisoners of war . . . should be treated with humanity. . . . All their personal effects except their arms are to be considered their own property.

Arts. 36, 37. The population of an occupied territory cannot be compelled to take part in military operations against their own country, nor to swear allegiance to the enemy's power.

Art. 38. The honour and rights of the family, the life and property of individuals, as well as their religious convictions and the exercise of their religion, should be respected.

Private property cannot be confiscated.
Art. 39. Pillage is expressly forbidden.

There is at first sight a pleasing ring of humanity in all this, though, as yet, it only represents the better military spirit, which is always far in advance of actual military practice. In the monotonous history of war there are always commanders who wage it with less ferocity than others, and writers who plead for the mitigation of its cruelties. As in modern history a Marlborough, a Wellington, or a Villars forms a pleasant contrast to a Feuquières, a Belleisle, or a Blücher, so in ancient history a Marcellus or a Lucullus helps us to forget a Marius or an Alexander ; and the sentiments of a Cicero or Tacitus were as far in advance of their time as those of a Grotius or Vattel were of theirs. According to the accident of the existence of such men, the laws of war fluctuate from age to age ; but, the question arises, do they become perceptibly milder? do they ever permanently improve ?

It will be said that they do, because it will be said that they have ; and that the annals of modern wars present nothing to resemble the atrocities that may be collected from ancient or mediæval history. But as the warfare of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was, if possible, more barbarous than that of the two preceding centuries, it is not impossible that the present direction is actually a downward one, and that is a consideration which is well deserving of dispassionate and careful inquiry.

Poison is forbidden in war, says the Berlin Conference; but so it always was, even in the Institutes of Menu, and with perhaps less difference of opinion in ancient than in modern times. Grotius and Vattel and most of their followers disallow it, but two publicists of grave authority defend it, Bynkershoeck and Wolff. The latter published his “ Jus Gentium" as late as 1749, and his argument is worth translating, since it can only be met by arguments which equally apply to other modes of military slaughter. “Naturally it is lawful to kill an enemy by poison; for as long as he is our enemy,

he resists the reparation of our right, so that we may exercise against his person whatever suffices to avert his power from ourselves or our possessions. Therefore it is not unfair to get rid of him. But, since it comes to the same thing whether you get rid of him by the sword or by poison (which is self-evident, because in either case you get rid of him, and he can no longer resist or injure you), it is naturally lawful to kill an enemy by poison.” And so, he argues, of poisoned weapons. That poison is not in use in our day we do not therefore owe to our international lawyers, but to the accident of tradition. In Roman history the theory appears to have been unanimous against it. “Such conduct,” says the Roman writer Florus of a general who poisoned some springs in order to bring some cities to a speedier surrender, " although it hastened his victory, rendered it infamous, since it was done not only against divine law, but against ancestral customs.” ? Our statesman Fox refused indignantly to avail himself of an offer to poison Napoleon, but so did the Roman consuls refuse a similar proposal with regard to Pyrrhus ; and Tiberius and the Roman senate replied to a plan for poisoning Arminius that the Roman people punished their enemies not by fraud or in secret, but openly and in arms.

The history of bombarding towns affords an instance of something like actual deterioration in the usages of modern warfare. Regular or simple bombardment, that is, of a town indiscriminately and not merely of its fortresses, has now become the established practice. Yet, what did Vattel say in the middle of the last century?

At present we generally content ourselves with battering the ram. parts and defences of a place. To destroy a town with bombs and red-hot balls is an extremity to which we do not proceed without cogent reasons.” What said Vauban still earlier ? “The fire must be directed simply at the defences and batteries of a place .... and not against the houses.” Then let us remember the English bombardment of Copenhagen in 1807, when the cathedral and some 300 houses were destroyed; the German bombardnient of Strasburg in 1870, where rifled mortars were used for the first time, and the famous library and picture gallery destroyed; and the German bombardment of Paris, about which, strangely enough, even the military conscience of the Germans was struck, so that in the highest circles doubts about the propriety of such a proceeding at one

Jus Gentium, art. 877, 878.
? Florus, ii. 20.
3 Edwards' Germans in France, 164.

« PreviousContinue »