Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Thomas Laub's "After the Fall"

Thomas J. Laub teaches history at James Madison University and is currently working on a study of the French army during the Algerian Civil War.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, After the Fall: German Policy in Occupied France, 1940-1944, and reported the following:
Current events in Afghanistan and Iraq have encouraged discussion of the rules of war, but few journalists identify, analyze, or explain these regulations in satisfactory detail. After the Fall studies German policy in occupied France during World War Two, and chapter four discusses the laws of war that informed German behavior between 1940 and 1944. Based on the code of chivalry, vague historical precedents, and international agreements such as the Hague Convention, the laws of war can be used to evaluate the legality of German policy and assess responsibility for atrocities carried out during the Occupation.

The 1907 Hague Convention obliged signators to “issue instructions to their armed forces which shall be in conformity with the regulations respecting the laws and customs of war on land.” Page 99 explains how British, French, and American military regulations advised officers to deal with a hostile population. All three nations viewed irregular combatants with a jaundiced eye and allowed commanders to seize hostages to ensure the peaceful behaviour of enemy civilians. Subsequent passages analyze German military regulations governing the occupation of hostile territory, and ensuing chapters analyze how German leaders applied these military regulations in occupied France.

Although the persecution of Jews violated legal standards in force during World War Two, the German practice of countering widespread resistance activity with hostage executions did not. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill condemned the German practice as barbaric, but their military regulations sanctioned a similar policy as described on page 99. Legal standards and practices described in chapter four explain why many Nazis escaped the hangman’s noose.

Revised in 1949 and 1977, the laws of war continue to bedevil soldiers fighting the so-called war on terror in the contemporary world. As they translate legal theory into practice on the field of battle, soldiers must treat alleged terrorists and unlawful combatants in accordance with the laws of war. They grapple with many of the problems faced by members of the German military government and Charles de Gaulle’s resistance organization during World War Two. After the Fall studies the occupation of France, but it sheds light on contemporary insurgencies.
Learn more about After the Fall at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue