War - Types of Warfare - Behaviour and Conduct in War

Behaviour and Conduct in War

The nature of warfare never changes, only its superficial manifestations. Joshua and David, Hector and Achilles would recognize the combat that our soldiers and Marines have waged in the alleys of Somalia and Iraq. The uniforms evolve, bronze gives way to titanium, arrows may be replaced by laser-guided bombs, but the heart of the matter is still killing your enemies until any survivors surrender and do your will.

—Ralph Peters

The behaviour of troops in warfare varies considerably, both individually and as units or armies. In some circumstances, troops may engage in genocide, war rape and ethnic cleansing. Commonly, however, the conduct of troops may be limited to posturing and sham attacks, leading to highly rule-bound and often largely symbolic combat in which casualties are much reduced from that which would be expected if soldiers were genuinely violent towards the enemy. Situations of deliberate dampening of hostilities occurred in World War I by some accounts, e.g., a volley of gunfire being exchanged after a misplaced mortar hit the British line, after which a German soldier shouted an apology to British forces, effectively stopping a hostile exchange of gunfire. Other examples of non-aggression, also from World War I, are detailed in "Good-Bye to All That." These include spontaneous ceasefires to rebuild defences and retrieve casualties, alongside behaviour such as refusing to shoot at enemy during ablutions and the taking of great risks (described as 1 in 20) to retrieve enemy wounded from the battlefield. The most notable spontaneous ceasefire of World War I was the Christmas truce.

The psychological separation between combatants, and the destructive power of modern weaponry, may act to override this effect and facilitate participation by combatants in the mass slaughter of combatants or civilians, such as in the bombing of Dresden in World War II. The unusual circumstances of warfare can incite apparently normal individuals to commit atrocities.

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... ” —Ralph Peters The behaviour of troops in warfare varies considerably, both individually and as units or armies ... In some circumstances, troops may engage in genocide, war rape and ethnic cleansing ... Commonly, however, the conduct of troops may be limited to posturing and sham attacks, leading to highly rule-bound and often largely symbolic combat in which casualties are much reduced from that which ...

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