In Act 4 of Shakespeare’s “Henry V,” the young king cries out, “I was not angry since I came to France until this instant.” The instant is his discovery, immediately following the battle at Agincourt, of the French army’s massacre behind the lines of the English camp boys. “Kill the poys and the luggage!” says Fluellen. “’Tis expressly against the law of arms. ’Tis as arrant a piece of knavery, mark you now, as can be offert. In your conscience now, is it not?”
The scene suggests there was a time, as far back as the early 15th Century, when rules of war were somehow understood and presumably honored on both sides of the Channel. Shakespeare suggests that “the law of arms” prohibited the slaughter of camp boys, unarmed and far from the lines of battle. It’s not clear how this was understood, or if the French had agreed to the terms.
I bring this up because of the discussion in the news media of “war crimes” having already been committed by the Russian Army, with its unprovoked, barbaric attack on civilian areas of Ukraine.
My response to this comes easily: The whole war is a crime. You want specific acts? It appears that they can be easily documented, and authorities have said they are going to conduct an investigation. But I suggest the International Criminal Court in The Hague and the United Nations Security Council save a lot of time and declare Putin’s war a crime and Putin a criminal, along with any Russian generals who gave orders to attack.
There is no justification for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and certainly no way to rationalize indiscriminate missile attacks on cities. The Ukrainians are heroic, defending their country. But none of this would be necessary without Russian aggression.
Save time and money. Declare the war a crime and Putin and his generals a gang of criminals, then move on and find some way to stop Russia’s aggression, end the war and make arrests. I don’t know how any of that will be done — it’s a very tall order, and ultimately, it’s really up to the Russian people to put an end to Putinesque madness — but if we get out of this mess alive, there needs to be an accounting. The free world needs to make a stand for humanity.
Say it now and move on: Putin’s war crime is the war itself.