by Doctor Science
Emancipation touched off a crisis for the principle of humanitarian limits in wartime and transformed the international laws of war. In the crucible of emancipation, Lincoln created the rules that now govern soldiers around the world.[links added.]
In December 1862, three weeks before the final emancipation order was to go into effect, and just as criticism of emancipation was reaching its height, Lincoln’s general in chief, Henry W. Halleck, commissioned a pamphlet-length statement of the Union’s view of the laws of war.
Drafted by the Columbia professor Francis Lieber and approved by Lincoln himself, the code set out a host of humane rules: it prohibited torture, protected prisoners of war and outlawed assassinations. It distinguished between soldiers and civilians and it disclaimed cruelty, revenge attacks and senseless suffering.
A few weeks ago, fan/pro writer Sam Starbuck said:
I've been watching a documentary this morning called The Man Nobody Knew, made about Bill Colby, who was heavily involved in the Vietnam War and was director of the CIA in the seventies. I'm watching the footage currently of his examination before a Congressional committee into the misdeeds of the CIA, and it strikes me as downright surreal, the level of indignation being expressed over CIA covert actions. It's not that I think we shouldn't be indignant, shouldn't be angry, that the CIA assassinated or planned to assassinate major international political figures; it's more that I can't believe anyone actually was. I can't remember a time when it wasn't pretty much common knowledge that our intelligence agencies did this kind of thing. These men all seem so surprised.[links added] I remember the Church Committee hearing, and can assure Sam that people were in fact *surprised*, as well as appalled, that the US government was authorizing assassinations. Most civilians, at least, assumed that the US was and ought to be adhering to Lincoln's code. Yes, we knew realistically that there might be "incidents" of torture, assassination, or prisoner abuse, but they would be due to "rogue agents" or "bad apples", not to government policy.
It used to strike me as odd, when I was watching Torchwood, that I'd made such a complete transition from rooting for Mulder and Scully to uncover secrets to rooting for Jack Harkness to conceal them. That's a pretty big leap to make, that's changing sides, but I think it illustrates the mindset of kids who came of age in my generation. We grew up in the remnants of the Cold War and the beginnings of the war(s) in Iraq; I was twenty-one the year the Twin Towers fell. I have never had the luxury of trusting my government, but I've never managed to stir up much genuine rage over it either. It's simply the way the world is. (Which is terrible, I acknowledge, but I'm trying to be truthful, not perfect.)
Since 9/11, I've watched a *lot* of America change sides, as Sam did. I don't know if it really started with 9/11, or if it was already happening and I just didn't notice. I also have no idea if people in the military or defense establishment had the same experience, when it happened, and whether they deliberately jettisoned Lincoln's code or if they just kind of forgot about it.
I also don't have a good sense, off the top of my head, of where popular culture fits into this. 24 began in 2001, and it's definitely post-Lincoln in its morality. The first season was produced before the 9/11 attacks: was it as pro-torture then as it was in later seasons? At the other end, I don't recall that the original Mission: Impossible ever crossed the "no torture, no assassinations" line, though it sure crept right up to it. What about the MI movies? I've never seen it (I don't watch movies that are R-rated for violence, which means Quentin Tarantino's œuvre is a closed book to me), but my understand is that Inglorious Basterds is a parody? satire? exploration? exploitation? all of the above? of the desire to kick the code of war to the curb -- though I don't know if that developed over the very long course of its writing and development.