Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Megret on War Prisoners: A Cautionary Tale from the Crusades?
Posted by Mary L. Dudziak
A Cautionary Tale from the Crusades? War and Prisoners in Conditions of Normative Incommensurability is a paper by Frederic Megret, McGill University - Faculty of Law. Here's the abstract: The conventional wisdom is that treatment of prisoners during the Crusades, in an age long before the development of the modern laws of war, can only have been horrendous. Historical evidence seems to partly vindicate this account, but is also testimony to how well prisoners were treated on some occasions. This chapter explores the impact that norms about the nature of war and how it should be waged had on the issue. It suggests that despite the religious intensity of the Crusades and the fact that they unfolded along civilizational divides, there were several strands within the Christian and probably even more the Moslem tradition which guaranteed a degree of moderation in warfare, particularly protection for prisoners. The conclusion is that an overarching law of war is not necessarily a pre-condition to restraint in warfare, as long as a number of other circumstances exist such as a strong deontological imperative of self-restraint.