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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

General Meade at Gettysburg


"All commanders are authorized to order the instant death of any soldier that fails in his duty at this time."
- General Meade at the Battle of Gettysburg, 1863 [The Civil War, DVD-3, 17:23]

I was wondering if people think that General Meade should have been sent to the Hague and tried as a war criminal for issuing such an order?

Consider for a moment what this order says: It says someone with a rank as low as lieutenant, and possibly in his early twenties can order the summary execution of someone even younger for the "crime" of losing his nerve while being shot at. No trial. No due process. No appeal. And he's not even the enemy.

Now consider the circumstances: The Battle of Gettysburg was the most decisive battle of the American Civil War. It was the largest land battle ever to take place on the North American continent. For three days in the gentle farmland of Pennsylvania, General Meade's Union Army of 85,000 locked horns with General Lee's racist army of 65,000. More than any other armed struggle in our history, this one shaped the country we live in now. Considering that Lee's army captured free blacks and sent them south into slavery as they moved north, I would very likely not even be here had Meade's army not prevailed.

And this battle was by no means a sure thing for the Union. Victory was saved from defeat by the thinest of threads, that's why it went on for three days. So we must also consider this: What would have been the consequences of Meade not issuing that order?

I pose these questions because in the context of the Syrian Civil War, the Free Syrian Army has been almost universally condemned for executing, in the field, seven members of a notorious Berri shabiha gang after they broke their word on a ceasefire. This, after they captured 56 members of this family, held some sort of make-shift field trial and found that those seven warranted immediate execution while 49 others would be held pending further investigation.

Because if the exigencies of war don't allow for that, I don't see how they can allow for General Meade's order. At least the Berri clan were enemy soldiers.

And there are other parallels that can be drawn between the two battles: Like the Battle of Gettysburg, the Battle of Aleppo is probably the most decisive battle in their civil war, only the Battle of Aleppo has already gone on for more weeks than Gettysburg went in days.

This story, complete with video, about the FSA execution of the leaders of the Berri clan is most often repeated by those that are looking to an excuse for doing nothing about Bashar al-Assad's slaughter of 25,000 Syrians and counting. Their excuse goes something like this:
"See both sides commit war crimes. Both sides commit human rights violations."
And that platitude is just about the most stupid, most lame reason I have ever heard for not taking a stand and picking a side in this fight.

When isn't that true in a war? Especially if the person defining what is and isn't a human rights violation is doing it from the civilized comfort of Geneva, Los Angeles or New York. Because if General Meade's order is not a "human rights violation," I don't know what it is!

I'm normally not a betting man but I'm so sure of myself on this that, here and now, I offer $100 to the first person that can show me a war were both sides didn't commit human rights violations. For example, I already know, without consulting Wikipedia, that this shamelessly used truism could equally well be used to disavow any support for the Jews fighting the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria


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