The more you practise, the luckier you get

tl;dr: Do independent study with a purpose.

Last year, doing my history research module, I used to get distracted when doing independent study and wander off spending hours reading irrelevant stuff. But I did get into the habit of thinking about the module themes as I did so, and I did use the primary and secondary document analysis techniques.

On the afternoon before the exam—when I should have been revising—I came across the Commissar Order: the instruction to German soldiers to not take Russian political Commissars prisoner. I remembered that from reading gory Sven Hassel war stories and proceeded to waste the entire evening reading about it. But I did so using my newly-learned research and historiography skills; that way I could pretend it was ‘revision’.

It turned out this document was genuine and was later hugely significant in the Nuremberg war trials and, as a consequence, has been key in influencing international war crimes legislation prosecution since then. It also gives exquisite insight into the war on the Eastern Front.

Courtesy of module A327 Europe 1914-1989: war, peace, modernity, I was able to appreciate the significance of this document, evaluate its authenticity and put it into a political context. I actually got pleasure from using those skills to gain a much broader and deeper understanding of this tiny, trivial, scrap of history than I otherwise would have done. That scrap is still influencing international relations in the world but for the better now.

Anyway, so blinking what?

The next morning when I saw the exam paper, one of the documents to evaluate in the first question was… The Commissar Order! Either the gods smiled on me, or it is true that the more you practise, the luckier you get.

I have a problem with Max Weber

Max Weber, an influential German sociologist, said in 1918:

the state is a human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.

This statement is used as the argument for policing, criminal justice, prisons, war and all manner of violent acts initiated by the state that cause harm to its people.

Note that he said ‘territory’ not ‘people’, and that he said it immediately after Germany lost the Great War.

Weber, a Prussian by birth, was raised by a strict pro-Bismark politician and a strict puritan Protestant and grew up in Berlin surrounded by the political elite that were promoting the development and growth of a united Germany on the world stage.  He was a strong proponent of liberal imperialism: imperial expansionism that would allow Germany to compete with France and Britain.

He had identified a strong correlation between capitalist success in Germany and Protestantism.  This he attributed to predestination associated with protestant puritanism that was elsewhere suppressed by the Catholic Church.

During the Great War, Weber argued for strength and unity for Germany.  In 1916 he said the conquered nations of Europe should, in Germany’s long-term interests, remain as independent political countries within the greater German economy.  In 1917 he was one of those advocating ceasing the war, when Germany put the proposition to the Allies to leave the boundaries at their new positions based on the front line, that is, accept Germany had won.  This would allow the extended Germany to keep Belgium and other territories gained in the war to that point.  Unfortunately for Germany, the Allies decided to fight on.

During the Great War, Germany had committed ‘the Rape of Belgium’.  This was the taking from Catholic Belgium – at that time one of the world’s largest and most modern industrialised economies – of its machines and resources.  Its male population was transported to Germany to provide forced labour for the German war industry.  Belgium was stripped of its factories and experience and has never recovered from what Germany did.

After the Great War, discussions took place in Paris about what reparations Germany should be making for what it did in Northern France and Belgium.  It was during these discussions that Max Weber, pro-German, anti-Catholic, pro-capitalist gave his speech about the state being entitled to use violence within its territory.  That is, that Germany was perfectly entitled to do what it like to Belgium as it was German conquered territory.

That his quote “the state is a human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory” is still used today as an excuse for police brutality, the death penalty and genocide is beyond my comprehension.  Max Weber was an apologist for this worst atrocities Germany committed in the Great War and his defence of Germany in the context of a horrific war in which war crimes and genocide occurred is being used today in modern democracies to excuse immense social harms committed by states upon their citizens.

And yet he is considered a founding father of modern social science and this quote appears in text books as an essential foundation for functioning societies.

Some more of his statements from that period of the post-war German revolution:

The decisive means for politics is violence.

and

the world is governed by demons and that he who lets himself in for politics, that is, for power and force as means, contracts with diabolical powers and for his action it is not true that good can follow only from good and evil only from evil, but that often the opposite is true.

and

Whoever wants to engage in politics at all, and especially in politics as a vocation…lets himself in for the diabolic forces lurking in all violence.

The Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict

I noticed this on the 1974 entry on Wikipedia’s page Timeline of women’s legal rights (other than voting):

Article 1 of the declaration specifically prohibits bombing of civilian populations.

Article 5 of the declaration requires countries to recognise the destruction of dwellings as a criminal act.

This applies to all member states of the United Nations and has since 1974.

Think on that when you see news stories of wedding parties being hit by drones or see destroyed apartment blocks and homes in the Middle East.

If these are war crimes, who are the criminals and where are the trials?