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Accountability of Officers

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  • tsalagibra@aol.com
    Kristine Statham wrote: Does anyone know if officers during the CW were held accountable for the actions of the men under their command? They can in some
    Message 1 of 2 , Jun 28, 2000
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      Kristine Statham wrote:
      "Does anyone know if officers during the CW were held accountable for the
      actions of the men under their command? They can in some instances today.
      I'm doing research on Sherman for a paper on whether his March to the Sea
      would comply with present day military standards vs CW standards. Help,
      suggestions, hints?"

      Miss Kristine,
      I get the impression you are alluding to "war crimes". If I am mistaken
      then what follows is waay off base.
      Other than the occasional court-martial for the failure of a division,
      army, or corps on the battlefield, I am not aware of any legal actions,
      during or after the war, to hold officers accountable for the actions of
      their men on the battlefield nor of any legal requirement to do so. The
      court-martials I refer to were primarily driven by the lack of leadership of
      the officer and not due to any perceived wrongdoing on the part of the
      soldiers. Of course, there was that unfortunate misunderstanding concerning
      Nathan B.'s men and Fort Pillow, but even after the war there was no
      conviction or imprisonment of the Wizard because of the actions of his men.
      The only postwar punishment was of Captain Wirtz who was the commandant of
      Andersonville. He received, in fine vigilante tradition, a fair trail
      followed by a first class hanging. Such judgment and punishment, of course,
      administered by the Federal government who had chosen to overlook the
      depredations, starvation, diseases, and deaths in their own camps.
      The concept of "war crime" is ambiguous at best, in my very humble
      opinion. These crimes, like "hate crimes", are created through the fickle
      and ever changing arena of world or national opinion. They allude to our
      prayer and hope as human beings to maintain a level of humanity and
      civilization during armed conflict. We acknowledge the necessity of war but
      desire to retain a sense of our decency in the conduct of such an enterprise.
      To that end, crimes in these categories are based on subjective legal
      reasoning at best. Whereas theft, murder, rape, and vandalism have roots in
      common law and shared cultures, the concept of "crimes against humanity" are
      based more on altruism. The Nuremberg Trials and the war trials of the
      Japanese generals are two of the best examples and show how the ideology and
      culture of the victor can be stamped and impressed upon the hearts and minds
      of the vanquished. Reconstruction of the South is an example of the same
      attitude.
      It is my understanding that the concept of an officer being accountable
      for the actions of the men under his command didn't come into play until
      after the Geneva Conventions of the 1920's and 1940's; after World Wars One
      and Two. These conventions and treaties lay the groundwork for the concepts
      which our military forces operate under today and were the peg that the
      Federal government hung their hats on during the trials of Calley and Medina.
      To compare present day military standards to CW era standards would,
      again in my very humble opinion, be a difficult task. You would not only
      have to compare the legal standards and authority of military commanders but
      you would also have to include the social and political thoughts and ideas
      that prevailed throughout each era and their corresponding influence on the
      military philosophy. Don't forget the civil military commanders as well, the
      Military Governors during the occupation of Southern cities during and after
      the war.
      If you are near a military base, I would suggest contacting the base
      information officer and asking for publications on the Law of Land Warfare or
      even visiting the base library and asking the librarian. Each service
      publishes these manuals to be used as lesson plans for training sessions.
      However, don't be put off by thinking that you will have to wade through a
      whole bunch of militaryese. By the time I retired in '92 the style of
      writing was more coherent, informative and easy to read. Many of these
      publications provide a bibliography for further study and research. If you
      are not near a military base, you might try the Government Printing Office as
      these manuals are not classified.
      Also I would suggest you look into the history, development, and present
      day articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice or UCMJ. These are the
      rules and laws that govern the day to day life of everyone in the military
      and the articles upon which a member may be charged for violation of the Laws
      of Land Warfare.

      Good Luck,

      Steve
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