Atrocities in theory and practice: An introduction
Heuser, B. (2012) Atrocities in theory and practice: An introduction. Civil Wars, 14 (1). pp. 2-28. ISSN 1369-8249
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To link to this article DOI: 10.1080/13698249.2012.654677
Classical counterinsurgency theory – written before the 19th century – has generally strongly opposed atrocities, as have theoreticians writing on how to conduct insurgencies. For a variety of reasons – ranging from pragmatic to religious or humanitarian – theoreticians of both groups have particularly argued for the lenient treatment of civilians associated with the enemy camp, although there is a marked pattern of exceptions, for example, where heretics or populations of cities refusing to surrender to besieging armies are concerned. And yet atrocities – defined here as acts of violence against the unarmed (non-combatants, or wounded or imprisoned enemy soldiers), or needlessly painful and/or humiliating treatment of enemy combatants, beyond any action needed to incapacitate or disarm them – occur frequently in small wars. Examples abound where these exhortations have been ignored, both by forces engaged in an insurgency and by forces trying to put down a rebellion. Why have so many atrocities been committed in war if so many arguments have been put forward against them? This is the basic puzzle for which the individual contributions to this special issue are seeking to find tentative answers, drawing on case studies.