Saturday, September 22, 2007

Today In History: Illegal combatant.

On this day in 1776, 21-year-old Capt. Nathan Hale of the Continental Army was hung(Dammit!) hanged for the crime of spying in the British rear area while disguised as a civilian. Behaving with great dignity and composure at the execution site, his alleged last words may have come from the play Cato, by Joseph Addison:

How beautiful is death, when earn'd by virtue!
Who would not be that youth? What pity is it
That we can die but once to serve our country.

4 comments:

comatus said...

While I have no doubt that the sumbitch was hung, the precise grammar to describe the outcome was "hanged." I'm doing parts of speech here; feel free to discuss the parts of Nathan Hale.

Mike said...

Actually, he was hanged as a spy, not as an "illegal combatant." That may seem a fine point to make, but it's important... he wasn't fighting in civilian clothing for the purpose of concealing his status, murdering civilians, murdering prisoners, wantonly attacking civilian targets, or fighting from protected facilities (e.g. churches). The key point is that he wasn't a war criminal. The implication of moral relativism with the current crop of illegal combatants is, frankly, ignorant at best and disingenuous at worst.

Tam said...

A spy, under the rules of war observed at the time, was most certainly considered an illegal combatant, which is why they were hanged.

global village idiot said...

I'm not so sure on that, Tam...

Even now the Hague and Geneva conventions as set out in the Army Field Manual "The Law of Land Warfare" (the FM number escapes me at present) both hold that spies convicted of espionage during time of war may be executed.

Likewise, soldiers who dress in civilian clothing without some "distinguishing mark or uniform" are in fact considered outside the boundaries of protections accorded Prisoners of War under both conventions.

It's not an archaic custom; it's modern-day international law. I teach this material annually to my subordinates at my Reserve unit. It's a training requirement.