Why did everyone one day decide to have rules for war?


Why did everyone one day decide to have rules for war?

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Because technological progress was wars increasingly ugly, and winning today does not prevent you from losing the next war, so you could become a victim of the same war crimes you committed earlier.

And it wasn’t “everyone decided one day”. Different countries had different rules for themselves, and some signed Geneva conventions a lot later than others, and some did not follow them.

Here is the official history: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geneva_Conventions#History

“Everyone” did not decide “one day.” It was a very gradual process. A Swiss businessman named Henry Dunant had visited a battlefield in 1859 and was appalled at the conditions for treating wounded soldiers. When he got back to Switzerland he formed an organization to improve the treatment of wounded soldiers and civilians in war zones – which is now known as the Red Cross.

The Swiss government held a convention in Geneva in 1864, inspired by some of the things that Henry Dunant was advocating for, and 16 countries sent delegates. At the end of the First Geneva Convention, 12 countries agreed to ratify a treaty that codified certain rules, basically around how to treat wounded soldiers and an agreement that Red Cross personnel were neutral.

There were several updates to the Geneva Conventions, some after WW1 and some after WW2. Those wars made the horrors of war more obvious, the need for rules more obvious, and also revealed some of the deficiencies in the original agreement.

Horror at the trends they were seeing. It wasn’t really a sudden thing, but a process over time with multiple treaties involved.

Before the Industrial Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars set the benchmark for size and brutality. Nonetheless, the weapons of the time were limited, and armies were constrained by how much food they could store (before good food storage) or steal from farmers. The biggest battles of the time involved a couple hundred thousand soldiers, with tens of thousands of casualties on both sides. Muskets and cannons fired slowly and inaccurately. Traditional norms of battle still applied.

Industrialization meant weapons that could fire rapidly and cause serious destruction, as well as the ability to transport and feed millions of men. Chemical weapons could disfigure and harm in new and unpredictable ways. Aggressive nationalism also meant new reasons to regard your enemy as below contempt. In short, it was becoming possible for both countries in a war to take hideous damage in new ways.

Because nations have agreements and contracts to reinforce peace for mutual benefits, and they are aware of the consequences if these are broken.

There actually have always been rules for war, at least since historical records existed. Religious places were often exempt from attack, for example.

Ancient warfare also often took place on selected battlefields with opponents using equivalent weaponry. Breaking convention, or fighting new enemies with differing conventions are often considered as atrocities in historical texts.