RULES OF ENGAGEMENT: THE GENEVA CONVENTION
Background, Application and Critical Analysis
By Doug DuBrin, an English/History teacher and editor/ writer.
Strange as it may seem, there are rules for war. In 1864 in Geneva, Switzerland,
a variety of world leaders, statesmen and diplomats came together in order
to devise and document a plan that would lessen the suffering and atrocities
of combat. Commonly known as the Geneva Convention, the conference was
formally titled: "CONVENTION FOR THE AMELIORATION OF THE CONDITION OF
THE WOUNDED IN ARMIES IN THE FIELD." (See http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/lawofwar/geneva04.htm
for the complete document.) The document has since been ratified, clarified
and expanded, most recently in 1949.
Geneva Convention (64 articles in length) sought to, among other goals,
modernize the document for the rapidly changing world, particularly in
terms of technological advancements. Four years earlier in World War II,
the world had seen a global conflict of astonishing proportions that was
not only unimaginably bloody and destructive, but also culminated in history's
only use of atomic weaponry. To this day, the Convention is referenced
in wartime. With the supposed recent capture and imprisonment of U.S.
soldiers by the Iraqi army, Defense Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmad stated
that the prisoners Iraq now holds would be treated in accordance with
the Geneva Convention (see Online
NewsHour story). Whether Iraq adheres to the Convention's guidelines
remains to be seen, but the mere fact that the Iraqi government mentioned
it shows the global influence of the document itself.
of relevant Articles of the Convention document (Articles_13-14).
2. Entire Geneva Convention document (provided at http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/lawofwar/geneva03.htm)
3. Copies of prisoner photos, both from Al Jazeera television and U.S.
media sources (newspapers, magazines, Web sites, etc.).
in mind that these photos are serious in nature and possibly disturbing
to view, so please use discretion when deciding whether to include them
as part of your instruction.
to national standards
Introduction: Begin by discussing the overview of the Geneva Convention.
Express that the document, originally ratified in 1864, is a work in progress,
much like the U.S. Constitution -it must adapt to the changing nature
of warfare, especially concerning the evolution of technology.
have the students analyze the Iraqi media's use of images of the prisoners
of war (POWs) to determine whether it is contrary to the tenets of the
Convention, particularly Article 13 (see NewsHour
Extra story). Convention Article 13 includes the requirement that
prisoners of war:
not be "subjected to physical mutilation or to medical or scientific
experiments of any kindů"
- "at all
times be protected against acts of violence or intimidation and against
insults and public curiosity."
ask the students to compare the use of the Al Jazeera images of American
prisoners to recent media images of Iraqi prisoners held by U.S. soldiers.
You may wish to ask:
- Are the
Iraqi prisoners apparently being treated humanely?
we know for certain based on a photograph?
- If there
were inhumane treatment of the Iraqi prisoners, does the American media
have a responsibility to report it?
Ideas: After the students have gained a solid foundation on the Geneva
Convention, have them respond either in essay or discussion format to
any or all of the following:
- Is the
U.S. in its "preemptive strike" breaching a code of conduct for war?
has in the past used chemical weapons (on the Iranian and Kurdish populations),
which are forbidden by the Geneva Convention. Why do you think they,
and not nuclear weapons, are disallowed?
- If you
were responsible for expanding the content of the Geneva Convention,
what would you include? What recent developments in warfare would you
reviewing with the students the specific components of the Convention,
ask them to devise their own set of rules of war. They could work either
individually, in pairs or in small groups. When they have completed
the task, have them compare their findings both with other groups as
well as with the doctrine itself. To facilitate the process, you may
want to ask:
What forms of combat would you permit/outlaw and why?
do you think prisoners of war (POWs) should be treated?
would you draw the line in the use of weapons of mass destruction?
certain governments have preferential treatment over others? In
other words, should nations with poor human-rights records or histories
as aggressors be given less leeway in regards to their military?
the neutrality of nations always be respected, even if it puts your
own country at a tactical disadvantage? (Consider the recent conflict
over Turkey's refusal to grant the U.S. use of its land to deploy
troops near the Iraqi border.)
to National Standards:
explanations, please consult www.socialstudies.org/standards/teachers/vol1/home.shtml
Power, Authority, and Governance
Science, Technology, and Society
Standard 9: Global Connections
Standard 3: Civics and Government
Author Doug DuBrin taught Social Studies and
Literature at the Arizona School for the Arts for 4 years. Before that
he taught at the Near North Montessori School and the Monroe Middle School
in Rochester, NY. He has a BA from the University of Rochester and a MA
from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
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