From the British Empire to Gaza

Photo by Felton Davis | CC BY 2.0

As old as war itself, collective punishment has long been the most damning and destructive weapon of all. Not satisfied with engaging combatants alone and directly, historically, it has fueled state reprisal against families, communities and entire populations in a drive to “win” a given conflict, military or otherwise, at all costs.

With roots that trace, literally, to the start of time, reprisal has evolved as modern warfare became more proficient and popular resistance more prevalent. Nowhere has collective punishment proved more evident and efficient than it has in the West where it has long run the gamut from civil sanctions, to population displacement, to political penalty, to imprisonment, to outright slaughter. Of late, it has grown more subtle, yet no less pernicious, through state censorship that seeks to control the narrative of the day.

In the American Civil War, during his “march to the sea”, General Sherman ordered his troops, when faced with any resistance from guerillas, to “enforce devastation more or less relentless according to the measure of such hostility.”  In doing so, his troops targeted non-combatants causing more than one-hundred million dollars in property damage. Today that destruction would be valued at more than one-and half billion dollars.

The strategy known as “hard war” was defined by widespread destruction of civilian supplies, infrastructure and property, which disrupted the South’s…

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