Friday, July 06, 2007

The Opinionator: A blog at the New York Times by Tobin Harshaw & Chris Suellenthorp

On the Fourth of July, John Fabian Witt, a professor of law and history at Columbia, wrote on the op-ed page of The Washington Post that the Declaration of Independence “advanced an idea about war. The idea that war ought to be governed by law.” He writes of Thomas Jefferson’s message to King George III:

The climactic final charges, for which the rest were prologue, indicted the king for war crimes.

Britain’s navy, wrote Jefferson and the Congress, had “plundered our Seas,” while its armies had “ravaged our Coasts, burnt our Towns, and destroyed the Lives of our People.” Jefferson accused the British of employing legions of foreign mercenaries to commit acts of death and desolation “scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous Ages,” acts unworthy of civilized nations. He charged British forces with taking Americans hostage and compelling them to bear arms against their own country. He and the Congress concluded their litany of war crimes by condemning the king’s two most fiendish offenses against the laws of war: inciting slave insurrections and encouraging attacks by “merciless Indian Savages, whose known Rule of Warfare, is an undistinguished Destruction, of all Ages, Sexes and Conditions.”