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Thread: Collective Punishment of Civilian Population - Ardeatine Caves Massacre.

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    Default Collective Punishment of Civilian Population - Ardeatine Caves Massacre.

    Just read the “in this day” entry for 23 March, relating to the Ardeatine Massacre at Rome in 1944. This account, apparently, came from www.History.com; with due respect, there are some significant deficiencies and inaccuracies in this account. I would not normally bother to respond to this. However, the Ardeatine Caves incident does raise interesting questions regarding the functioning of “collective punishment” of civilian populations for acts of resistance against the occupying power in WW2, a practice that was lawful under the relevant Hague Conventions as they stood at that time.

    The incident that provoked the massacre may simply described. In March 1944, Rome was occupied by the Germans, assisted by residual Italian RSI officials. The city was, from the German point of view, under obvious threat of capture from the British and US forces established in Italy, although these were rather bogged down at the Gothic Line, and at Anzio. In the interests of impressing the population with their determination to maintain security in the city, the Germans instituted a procedure of regular (therefore predictable) patrols through the city by substantial units of police and security troops.

    In pursuance of this policy, a company of ethnic German Special Polizei drawn from Bozen (Bolzano) in the Italian Tyrol was marching on its regular route through the Via Rasella in central Rome. The regular route of this patrol/march was obvious to local resistance/partisan elements. As the Polizei advanced up the street (a typical “brownstone canyon” of central Rome), the resistants detonated a large bomb concealed in a street-cleaner’s cart, and opened fire. The net result was the death of over 30 Polizei. Since the actual culprits were not amenable, the question of collective punishment on the civilian population immediately arose.

    After a long-range debate involving senior German officers – and Hitler himself – it was determined that ten Italian civilian should be killed for each policeman killed in the Via Rasella. It would appear that the Rome Gestapo went along with this, in part, because of their assumption that there would be a sufficient number of persons under sentence of death to fill the quota. However, it quickly became obvious that this was not the case; the Regina Coeli Prison held only a very small number of “death row” convicts. There followed a truly obscene scramble, in which the head of the security apparatus at Rome, Obersturmbannfuhrer Herbert Kappler, and his staff scurried around, attempting to secure suitable victims without seeming completely indiscriminate (something that would have been ill-advised, given the military situation). In the end, they managed to come up with about 330 individuals, including the capital convicts, persons under indictment, Italian Army and Carabinieri soldiers under arrest for supporting the Badoglio/pro-Allied government and, of course, Jews. They were shot at the Ardeatine Caves with Mauser “broom handle” pistols (why this old weapon I do not know) by SIPO officers and men, on 24 March, 1944.

    The Ardeatine Caves Massacre raises a number of questions. To itemise some – first, was the massacre a “proportionate” response to the Via Rasella incident ? Bear in mind that the relevant international law, as it stood at the time, permitted “collective punishments” of this sort, but required “proportionality”. “Collective punishment” of civilians is unlawful under current international law. Secondly, what is one to make of the efforts of Kappler and his staff to identify suitable subjects for inclusion in this collective punishment ? This does not appear typical of the German approach to such situations in general. Was it a case of responding to the particular situation in Rome at the time ? And – given that war is Hell – are restrictions on collective punishments at all realistic ? After all, there is little sign that much respect is paid to such restrictions in the “little” wars in which we have indulged ourselves since 1945. Will such things happen anyway, and any justice subsequently meted out be “victor’s justice” only ? There are further issues – but that is a good start.

    By the way – the 1973 movie “Massacre in Rome”, while semi-fictionalised and replete with errors – gives a surprisingly good impression of what actually happened. Worth a look.

    Best regards, JR.
    Last edited by JR*; 03-22-2012 at 12:49 PM.

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    Default Re: Collective Punishment of Civilian Population - Ardeatine Caves Massacre.

    Interesting post. Certainly I'm not qualified to answer your questions, especially in the context of the "legislative intent" behind the law (I think what I'm doing is "responding," and off the cuff, at that). But my layman's reading of the word "proportionate" suggests a ratio of 1:1, not 10:1, would have been "appropriate." I believe that the Germans made wide use of the 10:1 ratio, in the Balkans and elsewhere. Even with the racial theories, did they really think a German was worth 10 of anybody else? What exactly was their rationale behind the ratio? (yeah, I know they want to raise civilian fear, and inhibit partisans with the "cost," but such for purposes, I would think 1:1 would work just about as well (or, on the theory trained soldiers cost a state "more," even a 2:1 ratio would seem "ample.") Those ratios might arguably be proportionate (1. Forming a relationship with other parts or quantities; being in proportion. 2. Properly related in size, degree, or other measurable characteristics; corresponding: Punishment ought to be proportional to the crime. 3. Mathematics Having the same or a constant ratio.)

    Regarding your second question, the idea of killing only criminals or those already condemned to die seems to undermine what theory exists behind the "proportional" response. Though one might observe a certain irony in the selection of criminals in return for killing servants of the Nazi state.... In any case, partisans & retaliation isn't one of my strong points. I suspect the obvious: Italy's long-term alliance with Germany, the nominal alliance with the RSI all were factors. Possibly, they didn't want to stir up "too much" civilian anger at Germany due to the proximity of Allied Forces, though if that was the motivation, it seemed a concern addressed a tad unevenly, as I (dimly) recall reading what was going on in Rome about this time. Don't know if I'm addressing the question quite as you meant it, and as for the rest of it, I won't venture a response at the moment. Just be interesting to see what anyone else might say....
    "...we have met the enemy and he is us." -- Pogo (Walt Kelly)

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    Default Re: Collective Punishment of Civilian Population - Ardeatine Caves Massacre.

    Counter terrorism to the nth degree.
    The Germans made their own rules.
    They were trypically heavy handed and I'm surprised they started with criminals, though they may have been more aware of their image this late in the war.
    They adopted the repressve measure they used early on.
    It seems like resistance against them perservered everywhere in various degrees regardless of their murderous responses.
    The movie was interesting and somewhat illustrated the situaion pretty well.

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    Default Re: Collective Punishment of Civilian Population - Ardeatine Caves Massacre.

    At the time of the massacre Roma is still a fascist city so killing civilians means killing ally civilians and Roma it's not a small city of the countryside, but the capital of Italian state.
    Maybe these two facts can explain why they started with criminals.
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    Default Re: Collective Punishment of Civilian Population - Ardeatine Caves Massacre.

    Quote Originally Posted by burp View Post
    At the time of the massacre Roma is still a fascist city so killing civilians means killing ally civilians and Roma it's not a small city of the countryside, but the capital of Italian state.
    But Italy had surrendered about six months earlier.

    It was no longer a combatant.

    The Germans were a foreign and or occupying force.

    Co-operation by Italians with the Germans in selecting victims amounts to collaboration with the enemy by those Italians.

    The law applying to the Germans was that applying to a foreign or occupying force.
    ..
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    Default Re: Collective Punishment of Civilian Population - Ardeatine Caves Massacre.

    Quote Originally Posted by JR* View Post
    first, was the massacre a “proportionate” response to the Via Rasella incident ?
    Calling it a ‘massacre’ implies that it was anything but proportionate.

    Quote Originally Posted by JR* View Post
    Bear in mind that the relevant international law, as it stood at the time, permitted “collective punishments” of this sort, but required “proportionality”.
    My understanding is that such collective punishments would, in this instance, have been prohibited by the Hague Convention of 1907 “Regulations respecting the laws and customs of war on land - Section III : Military authority over the territory of the hostile state -
    Art. 50. No general penalty, pecuniary or otherwise, shall be inflicted upon the population on account of the acts of individuals for which they cannot be regarded as jointly and severally responsible.”

    The selection of victims who had nothing to do with the original deaths is clearly contrary to that provision.

    Quote Originally Posted by JR* View Post
    And – given that war is Hell – are restrictions on collective punishments at all realistic ?
    War may be hell, but irregular actions against occupying forces are a different matter.

    Common sense and basic principles of justice dictate that any punishment for irregular actions should be against irregular forces.

    But the problem for regular forces is that usually they can’t identify the irregular forces, so sometimes they punish the civilians.

    Which makes it random reprisals rather than justly meted punishments.

    Which is rather harder to justify on any logical or moral basis than actions by irregular forces resisting the invaders in the action which prompted the reprisals.
    ..
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    Montesquieu

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    Default Re: Collective Punishment of Civilian Population - Ardeatine Caves Massacre.

    Exactly how do you identify and cut the irregular forces from the crowd?
    Viet Cong as an example.
    Also any resistance or partisan fighter.
    They strike, then fade back into the populace for the most part.
    That's why I mentioned "counter terrorism."
    It is an unpleasant strategy formed to deal with these tactics.
    It consists of acts that are thought to turn the populace against the terrorists or irregulars.
    The thinking is that when everyone is subject to punishment for the acts of the few, support for the few will vanish.
    In the case of German occupation, their totaliarian concepts pretty much precluded any moral basis.
    They were not concerned with justifying anything. They figured if you have them by the nuts, their hearts and minds will follow.
    If not, just kill some more.
    Nothing new here.

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    Default Re: Collective Punishment of Civilian Population - Ardeatine Caves Massacre.

    It was no longer a combatant.
    To nit-pick a bit, the Italian Co-Belligerent Army was formed in September 1943, and by early '44 was in the Allies' lines. They took part in the Battle of Monte Cassino, but I'm not sure if such was before or after the March 24 date of the incident above. And of course there was the RSI....
    Last edited by Ardee; 03-27-2012 at 07:36 PM.
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    Default Re: Collective Punishment of Civilian Population - Ardeatine Caves Massacre.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ardee View Post
    To nit-pick a bit, the Italian Co-Belligerent Army was formed in September 1943, and by early '44 was in the Allies' lines. They took part in the Battle of Monte Cassino, but I'm not sure if such was before or after the March 24 date of the incident above. And of course there was the RSI....
    The cobelligerant army (CIL - Italian Liberation Corps) fought in Mignano Montelungo (Cassino front) in december 1943 and later on the Adriactc sector of front. Later in 1945 on the mid of Gothic line in the sector of Bologna.

    However I don't think it's much important the fact that Italy was divided in two factions, one enemy and one ally of Germany.
    Unfortunatly, Italy was considered by Germany a "traitor" former ally, and the new RSI government, even if formally a sovereign ally, had many troubles in containing the Germany's will. Obvously RSI had to negotiate from a weaker position. Actually RSI was not a puppet state as too much historiography reports, but surely couldn't have the same diplomatic strenght of Germany, a bulky and bully "ally".

    I'd add a question to the JR one: were those "partisans" (those of via Rasella) regular fighters for the international laws?
    Did they show a clearly visible symbol or insinia? Did they get openly the arms?
    No they don't. So we can consider them saboteurs or terrorists. We have to rember that they killed too 3 Italian civilians, among them a child that was sitting just over the trash can filled with the explosive.
    We must add that the South Tyrol (altoatesini) seedlings (still Italian citizens 6 months before) were not an important or strategic objective, but an easy one. And unfortunatly the Italian Communist Party that was behind the bomb centered the wanted result: a bloody German retaliation.
    The aim was to aggravate the conflict and the ongoing civil war in Italy. Aim totally got unfortunatly.
    However internationl laws admits retaliation against sabotage or terrorist actions, not against actions led by regular fighters (true partisans). Very very often, too often, Germans did not distinguish this difference... committing war crimes.
    Actually we must admit that sometime it's difficoult to distinguish clearly. But the distinction has to be made.
    In the case of via Rasella, the retaliation was legitime. The proportion of 10 executed per 1 is obviously "criminal", but the retaliator actually has a wide choise in the spaces of war laws. I remember that the Allies used wider proportions (so even more "criminal") in similar facts happened in Northern Africa.
    In fact after the war Kappler was condemned not for the retaliation itself, but for his mistake: 5 persons more he was ordered to shoot. He killed 335 people, instead of 330. For this reason he was sencenced to life imprisonment.
    So, it is difficoult to respond to the JR question, and depends on every single fact and guerrilla action. Regular action or sabotage or terrorism? From this depends the retaliation legitimacy.
    In the case of via Rasella we have a clear terroristic act against second line troops involving innocent civilians for cinic political reasons...
    The killers of via Rasella would had be judged after the war for war crimes, instead were acclaimed as "heroes" and "true partisans" by the winners, firstly of course the Communist party and its powerful propaganda.
    Last edited by DVX; 06-08-2012 at 11:47 AM.

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