Do civilians exist?

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liveboy21
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Do civilians exist?

Postby liveboy21 » Sat Jan 03, 2015 3:35 am UTC

War is a strange concept. Opposing countries at war summon a group of 'soldiers' and make them fight each other until the countries decide on which group of soldiers won.

Civilians then are the people outside of the group of soldiers who try to live peaceful lives and don't get involved in this fighting. But does this group really exist?

We can't say that civilians are the people that don't try to shoot the enemy because much of the army isn't involved in shooting but is still part of the army.
We can't say that civilians are the people who do not contribute to the war as every piece of work you do helps your country in the war. Every revenue earned, every product sold and every good bought all contributes to the war.

I'm sure this definition becomes harder in countries where it is legal for the general population to own guns. Can you hold a gun and be classified as one who doesn't shoot?

Is there a proper definition for civilians and does it make sense?

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Re: Do civilians exist?

Postby PAstrychef » Sat Jan 03, 2015 4:09 pm UTC

Historically, the fighting forces were made up of a very small part of the population, being very expensive to arm and maintain-that's one reason feudalism developed. For the most part, soldiers fought other soldiers because it was a better option (for the defense) than massacring entire populations. Also, if you want to conquer an area, you need the local population to make a a viable place. You needed the crops and manufacturing to support first your army and then the new colonists.
In many modern conflicts, it is harder to tell who is not a soldier, and fewer people are professional soldiers for long periods. Many modern conflicts are not between armies established by state governments, but are between groups of armed supporters. Some of them may be police or army personnel, but many are not. An Afghani storekeeper who ambushes members of a different branch of Islam isn't a soldier per se.
The very concept of guerrilla warfare is based on fighters who blend in with the local population. Despite their claims, not every French person alive during WWII was a member of the resistance.
That doesn't mean that there are no civilians. The Syrians who have fled to Turkey are civilians. The Turks in the region are mostly civilians. Most Ukrainians are civilians. So are most Rawandans, and Congolese. That I can easily own a gun, being American, doesn't make me a soldier. If there was a civil war going on in Chicago and I carried that gun to the grocery store, I still would not be a soldier. The people who brought picnics to watch the battles of the American civil war were civilians.
One of the most horrific parts of the conflicts in Africa is how often massacres of uninvolved people are used to terrify a population.
Your definition of how wars end is incorrect.
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Re: Do civilians exist?

Postby Zamfir » Sat Jan 03, 2015 5:32 pm UTC

If you are interested, this is a good place to start:https://www.icrc.org/customary-ihl/eng/docs/v1_cha_chapter1_rule1

Keep in mind that combatant is the special status. Combatants are allowed to be extremely violent, without legal repercussions.

Civilians do not get this special legal allowance: if a civilian attacks, they can be captured and tried.For murder for example. A combatant can only be held as prisoner of war and has to be freed once then conflict is over, no matter how many enemies they killled. In return for their special status, combatants should avoid targeting civilians as long as the civilians are peaceful.

Civilians then are the people outside of the group of soldiers who try to live peaceful lives and don't get involved in this fighting.

So this is not how civilians are defined. Being peaceful is not part of the concept. When civilians become aggressive, they stay civilians. People can defend themselves from aggressive civilians, under the normal rules of self-defense.

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Re: Do civilians exist?

Postby Tyndmyr » Mon Jan 05, 2015 8:32 pm UTC

liveboy21 wrote:War is a strange concept. Opposing countries at war summon a group of 'soldiers' and make them fight each other until the countries decide on which group of soldiers won.

Civilians then are the people outside of the group of soldiers who try to live peaceful lives and don't get involved in this fighting. But does this group really exist?

We can't say that civilians are the people that don't try to shoot the enemy because much of the army isn't involved in shooting but is still part of the army.
We can't say that civilians are the people who do not contribute to the war as every piece of work you do helps your country in the war. Every revenue earned, every product sold and every good bought all contributes to the war.

I'm sure this definition becomes harder in countries where it is legal for the general population to own guns. Can you hold a gun and be classified as one who doesn't shoot?

Is there a proper definition for civilians and does it make sense?


Sure. It generally has to do with uniforms. You're in the military, yer expected to wear a uniform when yer fighting. And fight the other guys also wearing uniforms. In theory, anyway.

It's a ritualized form of combat. Try to partition the violence off to minimize it. Good, when both sides have more or less the same traditions on the matter, and are willing to play by the same rules. Kinda breaks down when they don't.

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Re: Do civilians exist?

Postby BattleMoose » Thu Jan 08, 2015 1:59 am UTC

The nature of warfare has changed so much over the past few centuries, as nations have industrialised and developed and incorporated new technologies.

If you go back far enough, just about every culture had established means of ritualised warfare. And it turns out this is really a good thing. If we view war as a means of resolving conflicts otherwise unresolvable, then you get the two "groups" together, have a little battle, resolve the conflict and go home. The going home part is really important. Typically the people who did the fighting were not professional soldiers, had other really important stuff to do, like bringing in the harvest and feeding their families so they couldn't be away from that job for very long. Again, often, they were fighting against members of their "own culture". Which is also relevant because they both have a strong vested interest in keeping each other strong for the time that a larger enemy will come and threaten them both. Classically think Greek City States, that would often fight together but when the Persians came, they were doing the shoulder by shoulder thing.

There are so many aspects of this type of warfare that we have lost, particularly quick and with low casualties. A Greek battle was over when the enemy phalanx broke, for example. North American Indians had a concept of "counting coup" which specifically was about not killing their enemy. The list really does just go on.

And after the nightmares of WWI and particularly WWII , where war was total and absolute, when civilians weren't protected and defeat was demanded as unconditional surrender, then ante was just raised so high. It was a war of survival for those involved. It is what war, particularly the Eastern Front, can be without ritualisation, and it was awful and it would be better if nothing like that happened again. The Geneva Treaty that protects civilians was signed in the aftermath of WWII.

Coming back again to the OP, with professionally armies as they are, so dependent on those back home for their ability to stay in the field, the people at home a very important part of the whole war machine, then does it make sense that they are not legitimate targets? Perhaps? Possibly? Shrug. But its awful. Complete destruction of cities so that they can no longer make machines of war, while effective, is awful.

For the most part, I view the Geneva Conventions, as attempts to bring back the ritualisation aspects of warfare into the modern age, to make war less unpleasant. They don't always make sense, can get outdated very quickly. Never universally adhered to. But they sure are trying. And as technologies are moving so quickly, and as such effect the way we fight so quickly, its really difficult to continuously update who we should fight. But we are much better for having them than not.

So whether or not a civilian that is building an Abrahams tank, should or should not be a valid target is a fair question. But for the moment, protecting him/her makes the whole war experience that much more bearable and that's a good enough reason in my opinion.

EDIT: Its worthwhile to note, that with the current Geneva Conventions and the rules of war as they are, conducting the Normandy D-Day invasions would be completely impossible. Particularly clauses relating to the destruction of infrastructure.

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Re: Do civilians exist?

Postby elasto » Thu Jan 08, 2015 5:38 am UTC

BattleMoose wrote:Coming back again to the OP, with professionally armies as they are, so dependent on those back home for their ability to stay in the field, the people at home a very important part of the whole war machine, then does it make sense that they are not legitimate targets? Perhaps? Possibly? Shrug. But its awful. Complete destruction of cities so that they can no longer make machines of war, while effective, is awful.

For the most part, I view the Geneva Conventions, as attempts to bring back the ritualisation aspects of warfare into the modern age, to make war less unpleasant. They don't always make sense, can get outdated very quickly. Never universally adhered to. But they sure are trying. And as technologies are moving so quickly, and as such effect the way we fight so quickly, its really difficult to continuously update who we should fight. But we are much better for having them than not.

So whether or not a civilian that is building an Abrahams tank, should or should not be a valid target is a fair question. But for the moment, protecting him/her makes the whole war experience that much more bearable and that's a good enough reason in my opinion.


Good post - and I think it's worth bringing in the ideology of (some) terrorists here. For them, civilians are legitimate targets for two basic reasons:

One is that they directly or indirectly enable the infrastructure of war, as you've outlined.

The other is that participate in the mandate of war - ie. they vote in the leaders who then commit the perceived or actual atrocities that the terrorists are fighting against: The politicians act in the name of the people - and the people endorse, legitimize and enable the politicians via the ballot box - even in indirect terms by simply failing to vote for the opposition - so even staying home would make a voter culpable.

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Re: Do civilians exist?

Postby Tyndmyr » Thu Jan 08, 2015 8:30 pm UTC

BattleMoose wrote:And after the nightmares of WWI and particularly WWII , where war was total and absolute, when civilians weren't protected and defeat was demanded as unconditional surrender, then ante was just raised so high. It was a war of survival for those involved. It is what war, particularly the Eastern Front, can be without ritualisation, and it was awful and it would be better if nothing like that happened again. The Geneva Treaty that protects civilians was signed in the aftermath of WWII.


Oddly enough, you have some ritualized combat even in WW1. Christmas truces, etc...you see some of the same patterns re-emerging. And, of course, being stamped out by higher ups repeatedly, but still, it makes an interesting study.

Ritualized conflict makes sense. Once the outcome has been determined, there's little reason or need to continue killing. Conflict is resolved, so and so won, let's skip ahead to the end. We only need to hit a decisive point, not actually kill everyone.

But, in addition to the "different cultures have different rituals" issue and the "ritual conflict being skipped over in the industrial age" issue, terrorism is also kind of a special case. It isn't necessarily seeking that sort of decisive victory. In a way, I suppose, but it's definitely a shift from most conflicts of old between culturally similar societies.

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Re: Do civilians exist?

Postby Autolykos » Wed Jan 14, 2015 2:51 pm UTC

Once the outcome has been determined, there's little reason or need to continue killing. Conflict is resolved, so and so won, let's skip ahead to the end. We only need to hit a decisive point, not actually kill everyone.

Often, you don't even need to go that far. War tends to break out when negotiations fail. One of the most important reasons for failed negotiations is that one side (or both) see the other as weaker (or less committed) than they see themselves. Otherwise, both would already know the outcome and could get to the compromise in the final peace treaty without all that destruction beforehand.
It usually only takes very little fighting to settle this disagreement about capabilities and commitment, because while it's easy to lie about it at the negotiation table, but you can't fake it on the battlefield. And once that has happened, making peace is the only rational course of action.

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Re: Do civilians exist?

Postby BattleMoose » Thu Jan 15, 2015 1:17 am UTC

Autolykos wrote:
Once the outcome has been determined, there's little reason or need to continue killing. Conflict is resolved, so and so won, let's skip ahead to the end. We only need to hit a decisive point, not actually kill everyone.

Often, you don't even need to go that far. War tends to break out when negotiations fail. One of the most important reasons for failed negotiations is that one side (or both) see the other as weaker (or less committed) than they see themselves.


Not all conflicts can be resolved by negotiation. Often times what the two parties want are mutually exclusive. To be fair, it could be viewed that then that negotiations failed, but then that includes all conflicts and isn't really a meaningful assessment. And while its certainly common to view your adversary as inferior (distressingly common) , decisions to go to war include many more factors than just the probability of winning.


It usually only takes very little fighting to settle this disagreement about capabilities and commitment, because while it's easy to lie about it at the negotiation table, but you can't fake it on the battlefield.


This isn't true. There are so many examples of countries enduring war for long periods of time that could not be seen with foresight after the opening battles.

And once that has happened, making peace is the only rational course of action.


Humans are often not rational actors. And it has in the past taken extreme measures to force an enemy to submit. Knowing one will lose is not the same as submission. Usually the distinction is between conditional and unconditional surrender. And having some extreme hope that some miraculous event could change events in ones favour.

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Re: Do civilians exist?

Postby Tyndmyr » Thu Jan 15, 2015 4:35 pm UTC

BattleMoose wrote:
Autolykos wrote:
Once the outcome has been determined, there's little reason or need to continue killing. Conflict is resolved, so and so won, let's skip ahead to the end. We only need to hit a decisive point, not actually kill everyone.

Often, you don't even need to go that far. War tends to break out when negotiations fail. One of the most important reasons for failed negotiations is that one side (or both) see the other as weaker (or less committed) than they see themselves.


Not all conflicts can be resolved by negotiation. Often times what the two parties want are mutually exclusive. To be fair, it could be viewed that then that negotiations failed, but then that includes all conflicts and isn't really a meaningful assessment. And while its certainly common to view your adversary as inferior (distressingly common) , decisions to go to war include many more factors than just the probability of winning.


I think all three of us are expressing mostly the same sentiment here. War follows a failure of negotiation. And sure, war isn't *just* about winning...but winning is a huge, huge part of it. It is not generally popular to portray a war as unwinnable. Even if a given battle is doomed, the sentiment of fighting this in order to support the overall war effort is common.

It usually only takes very little fighting to settle this disagreement about capabilities and commitment, because while it's easy to lie about it at the negotiation table, but you can't fake it on the battlefield.


This isn't true. There are so many examples of countries enduring war for long periods of time that could not be seen with foresight after the opening battles.


The faking on the battlefield is true. Can only fake competence so much. Not very much at all.

But the sort of poor leadership that goes to war with a doomed army is likely to make other poor decisions in assessing odds. See also, Dunning-Kruger. So, you end up with leadership beliving victory is imminent when the situation on the ground is really quite bad. Miscalculation happens quite frequently, in fact. Think on all the people who have embarked on a war, promising it will be short and filled with glory, and proved to be terribly mistaken.

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Re: Do civilians exist?

Postby BattleMoose » Fri Jan 16, 2015 12:24 am UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:
BattleMoose wrote:
Autolykos wrote:
Once the outcome has been determined, there's little reason or need to continue killing. Conflict is resolved, so and so won, let's skip ahead to the end. We only need to hit a decisive point, not actually kill everyone.

Often, you don't even need to go that far. War tends to break out when negotiations fail. One of the most important reasons for failed negotiations is that one side (or both) see the other as weaker (or less committed) than they see themselves.


Not all conflicts can be resolved by negotiation. Often times what the two parties want are mutually exclusive. To be fair, it could be viewed that then that negotiations failed, but then that includes all conflicts and isn't really a meaningful assessment. And while its certainly common to view your adversary as inferior (distressingly common) , decisions to go to war include many more factors than just the probability of winning.


I think all three of us are expressing mostly the same sentiment here. War follows a failure of negotiation. And sure, war isn't *just* about winning...but winning is a huge, huge part of it. It is not generally popular to portray a war as unwinnable. Even if a given battle is doomed, the sentiment of fighting this in order to support the overall war effort is common.



We certainly are more in agreement than not. While many wars do follow a failure in negotiation, some don't. Sometimes there is a conflict and acceptable outcomes between the two parties are just mutually exclusive, in which case there is no room for negotiation. A few examples:

Winter War, Soviet Union and Finland, 1939-1940, Soviet Union demanded Finnish territory, Finns refused. Neither would budge, war.

Second Anglo Boer War, 1899, British demanded full voting rights for foreigners within the Boer Republics (independent states), The Boers refused, doing so would literally lose them their country. The British refused to back down meaning war was inevitable. Interestingly two very small countries declared war on the entire British Empire, not because they thought they could win, they had a very slim chance of winning, but because it was their only hope of remaining independent.

Germany and Poland , 1939, Germany demanded Danzig, and Poland refused. There was just no room for negotiation here. Poland would not acquiesce, and acquiescing is not the same as negotiation.

Conflicts that cannot be talked out are a thing.

It usually only takes very little fighting to settle this disagreement about capabilities and commitment, because while it's easy to lie about it at the negotiation table, but you can't fake it on the battlefield.


This isn't true. There are so many examples of countries enduring war for long periods of time that could not be seen with foresight after the opening battles.


The faking on the battlefield is true. Can only fake competence so much. Not very much at all.


But the sort of poor leadership that goes to war with a doomed army is likely to make other poor decisions in assessing odds. See also, Dunning-Kruger. So, you end up with leadership beliving victory is imminent when the situation on the ground is really quite bad. Miscalculation happens quite frequently, in fact. Think on all the people who have embarked on a war, promising it will be short and filled with glory, and proved to be terribly mistaken.


Wars can be very long. And there are many examples of nations suffering hugely in opening battles for multitudes of different reasons. Remaining committed, enduring, learning and improving and ultimately prevailing. Extrapolating the outcome from a war from the opening battles will often lead to incorrect predictions.

Examples include:
British army in WWI, suffering disastrously in their early offensives, Battle of Loos, Battle of the Somme.

German invasion of the USSR, winning fantastical victories, Battle of Minsk, Battle of Kiev, largest encirclement in military history.

Second Anglo Boer War, In one disastrous week, dubbed Black Week, from 10-17 December 1899, the British Army suffered three devastating defeats by the Boer Republics at the battles of Stormberg (690), Magersfontein (948) and Colenso (1,138), with 2,776 men killed, wounded and captured.

Second Punic War, 218–201 BC, Carthaginians won spectacular victories, battle of the Trebia, battle of Trasimene and battle of Cannae (still one of histories most complete victories), indeed Hannibal never lost a battle on the Italian Peninsular, still it was Carthage that was destroyed, not Rome.

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Re: Do civilians exist?

Postby Autolykos » Fri Jan 16, 2015 12:35 pm UTC

BattleMoose wrote:We certainly are more in agreement than not. While many wars do follow a failure in negotiation, some don't. Sometimes there is a conflict and acceptable outcomes between the two parties are just mutually exclusive, in which case there is no room for negotiation. A few examples:

Winter War, Soviet Union and Finland, 1939-1940, Soviet Union demanded Finnish territory, Finns refused. Neither would budge, war.

True, sometimes you have issue indivisibility - but that's quite rare, and the Winter War is a poor example. There were negotiations, the negotiations failed, and the war ended well before total victory of either side with different concessions than originally demanded based on a new assessment of the situation.
Territorial (or economical) disputes are usually easy to settle in negotiations once both sides are acting on the same information, because you can just draw the new border anywhere you like or compensate financially for e.g. trade rights.
It isn't enough that the demands are mutually exclusive - compromise must also be impossible to make war happen/continue when both sides are in agreement about their relative strength.

Also, issue indivisibility is not the only reason for compromises being impossible. If the losing side can't trust the winning side to uphold the treaty and would lose its ability to fight back if it accepted, there won't be peace either - unless there's a third party that would enforce it. That's probably the case for both the Boer War and the Danzig ultimatum. This might also be the reason for the initial negotiations in the Winter War failing as Finland would've lost important fortifications at the border, but the war showed that their value was overestimated anyway.

But yes, I think we agree on most points and are just quibbling over details, definitions and numbers.

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Re: Do civilians exist?

Postby Tyndmyr » Fri Jan 16, 2015 3:15 pm UTC

BattleMoose wrote:
Tyndmyr wrote:
BattleMoose wrote:
Autolykos wrote:
Once the outcome has been determined, there's little reason or need to continue killing. Conflict is resolved, so and so won, let's skip ahead to the end. We only need to hit a decisive point, not actually kill everyone.

Often, you don't even need to go that far. War tends to break out when negotiations fail. One of the most important reasons for failed negotiations is that one side (or both) see the other as weaker (or less committed) than they see themselves.


Not all conflicts can be resolved by negotiation. Often times what the two parties want are mutually exclusive. To be fair, it could be viewed that then that negotiations failed, but then that includes all conflicts and isn't really a meaningful assessment. And while its certainly common to view your adversary as inferior (distressingly common) , decisions to go to war include many more factors than just the probability of winning.


I think all three of us are expressing mostly the same sentiment here. War follows a failure of negotiation. And sure, war isn't *just* about winning...but winning is a huge, huge part of it. It is not generally popular to portray a war as unwinnable. Even if a given battle is doomed, the sentiment of fighting this in order to support the overall war effort is common.



We certainly are more in agreement than not. While many wars do follow a failure in negotiation, some don't. Sometimes there is a conflict and acceptable outcomes between the two parties are just mutually exclusive, in which case there is no room for negotiation. A few examples:

Winter War, Soviet Union and Finland, 1939-1940, Soviet Union demanded Finnish territory, Finns refused. Neither would budge, war.

Second Anglo Boer War, 1899, British demanded full voting rights for foreigners within the Boer Republics (independent states), The Boers refused, doing so would literally lose them their country. The British refused to back down meaning war was inevitable. Interestingly two very small countries declared war on the entire British Empire, not because they thought they could win, they had a very slim chance of winning, but because it was their only hope of remaining independent.

Germany and Poland , 1939, Germany demanded Danzig, and Poland refused. There was just no room for negotiation here. Poland would not acquiesce, and acquiescing is not the same as negotiation.

Conflicts that cannot be talked out are a thing.


Oh, sure. To be clear, I'm talking about negotiation as a strategy failing, not merely "the negotiators were incompetent".

If your best alternative to negotiation is better than any settlement the other side will give, then negotiation is an irrational option. Rationality will not *always* lead to peace.

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Re: Do civilians exist?

Postby EMTP » Thu Jan 29, 2015 11:51 pm UTC

It's also important to note that the interests of the people and the interests of the leadership conducting the negotiations may not be identical. The leadership may find it useful to fight, or to make peace, in circumstances in which the majority of the people would be better served by some other course.

One example of this, so common as to approach the level of a truism, is when leaders use fear of/anger towards a foreign (or internal) enemy to curry support from the public.
"Reasonable – that is, human – men will always be capable of compromise, but men who have dehumanized themselves by becoming the blind worshipers of an idea or an ideal are fanatics whose devotion to abstractions makes them the enemies of life."
-- Alan Watts, "The Way of Zen"

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Re: Do civilians exist?

Postby Autolykos » Fri Jan 30, 2015 12:37 pm UTC

That's completely true (and a likely cause for the observation that no two democracies ever were at war with each other*), but not nearly as surprising as that two perfectly rational leaders with the best interest of their people in mind, who don't want war, can still end up in one.

*Technically, that depends on how strictly you define "war" and "democracy". Great Britain declared war on Finland in WW2 (with both countries having democratically elected leaders), but they never attacked.


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