Genocide, Empire and Humanitarian Law

Nadin Brzezinski
9 min readMar 20, 2023

Lets talk empire, not as a Russian or an American thing, or for that matter a Roman thing. Lets talk empire as a mythic space, because let me be transparent on this, all empires have that characteristic. They all exist in the area of myth and in the modern period of nation.

Empires are an expression of will and power. Whether it was Assyria in the ancient world, sending horse drawn carriages with driver, and archer, and mass infantry, or its the modern tank with infantry and aircraft, both are a raw expression of power. Resistance to the empire is at times futile and can lead to genocide.

Now, this is a new concept, and a product of the 20th century. It was first used to describe the Holodomor, and later it became the basis for the charges of genocide at Nuremberg. Genocide is the purposeful elimination of a people. Usually these are peoples who have openly resisted conquest by an invading power. We have descriptions of this going back to the dawn of history, whether in Biblical texts, Sumerian texts, Roman texts, or even medieval texts.

The killing of all men, women and children we see in the story of Exodus is a description of genocide. So is the razing to the ground of many a nation that resisted the power of Rome. Or for that matter the razing of many a medieval town, and the purposeful killing of populations that resisted the rule of an invading army.

It is in the medieval period though that we see the first concepts of humane warfighting, with chiefly the writings of Grotious, regarding the Just War doctrine, that remained, mostly, legal theory that was discussed in early universities. Because laying siege to cities was common, and civilians were not excused because they were civilians. Though the theory remained in the back of the minds of philosophers, though not rulers necessarily. War had a just component to it, and armies on campaign should not just kill non combatants just because.

However, medieval armies did not carry with them large supply trains. It may be surprising to learn for us moderns that Rome did. Therefore an army on campaign had to feed itself, and it did by taking what they could from the country side. There were also figthing seasons because harvests back home are not going to be brought in on their own. The bulk of the infantry…

--

--

Nadin Brzezinski

Historian by training. Former day to day reporter. Sometimes a geek who enjoys a good miniatures game. You can find me at CounterSocial, Mastodon and rarely FB