The Rules of Civilized Warfare

Westbrook Pegler

Spartanburg Herald-Journal/May 19, 1940

New York, May 18.—When the Germans were smashing through Poland without the formality of a declaration of war many patriotic Polish civilians were captured and quickly executed for sniping the invading Nazis. As to whether they actually did snipe the Germans there is only the word of the Germans themselves. But let it be assumed that they did take pot shots at the faceless men

Under the code ironically known as the rules of civilized warfare civilians who fire on the soldiers of an invading army are subject to the death penalty, but only if the invader has declared himself. The Germans had not declared war on Poland, nor have they yet done so. Their method has been to invite an invaded nation to “cooperate,” which is they word for surrender. They obtain a certain advantage by this, but the people, including the women of the invaded nation by the same process reserve the right to shoot them on sight. if the Germans were a civilized people the civilians would enjoy the status of captured German soldiers should they fall into the hands of the faceless men.

The Germans have threatened reprisals at the rate of 10 to 1 for the killing of their parachute soldiers who fell into the hands of the Dutch, but the parachute soldier creates a new problem, even though his country shall have formally declared war. He is dropped in communities where there are only civilians and his mission includes the killing of civilians, who probably will be unarmed, in order to spread terror and permit the capture of a few men at important points in the rear. What else would he be doing there?

To localize the problem let it be assumed that a group of German parachute soldiers suddenly appears in the outskirts of some small and peaceful city in Iowa. There are no American troops near, for this is a blitzkrieg, but, by way of admonition, the Germans shoot a few American civilians. In these circumstances would it be unreasonable to expect that everyone with a household pistol, a hunting rifle or old military weapon would try to draw a bead on a faceless man, or that the local racketeer, in a passion of honest patriotism, would whip his Thompson gun out of the golf bag or fiddle box and strike a blow for freedom? And if this happened would these civilians subject themselves to execution by the invader of they should be captured and eventually squealed on by the local Nazi bundsmen?

It would seem to make a difference, but, to comply with the old formalities, it would be possible, in war with the chosen people of the reich, to swear in the entire American population, male and female, as members of the armed forces, with only a uniform brassard for identification, thus reserving for the civilians in their home communities the rights of combatants.

That provision would seem to cover the case very neatly, and the distribution of a few arms in the household would help. True, the civilians would assume the risks of soldiers, but don’t they anyway? Aren’t they bombed and shelled and subject to shooting by the parachute troops?

As to whether the parachute soldiers met death in action or after surrender there would be no immediate need for discussion. It is a fine point, anyway, and one that would have to be worked out later. The important thing at a critical moment would be to remove the danger in a town people by civilians and having a capacity for patriotic indignation.

There are two problems here: One is the ground soldier of any army not formally at war with the invaded country. Any civilians has a right to kill him, and if a German platoon were to walk down an important street of, say, Atlanta, at high noon today, shooting promiscuously and setting fire to the buildings the civilians would react as the young Poles did.

The other is the parachute soldier in a civilian area, regardless of whether a formal state of war exists. Being landed among civilians, his mission obviously is to kill civilians and help capture their country. There being no soldiers about, the civilians surely will do their best, and the question of the invader’s rights will be put on the spike until civilization can get around to it.

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