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Human Shield Dangers

Human Shields: A History of People in the Line of Fire (2020) by Neve Gordon and Nicola Perugini - A Book Review

N. Gordon and N. Perugini, Human Shields: A History of People in the Line of Fire is a description and analysis of 150 years of global human experimentation with human shields in conflicts.

Human shields, involuntary or voluntary, interpose their human bodies to reduce violence in war and civil conflicts.  The scope of the appearance of human shields is global for warfare and in civil controversies. The scope of the application of shields is global. The 150 years covered in this book is meant to be global. (omitting the Iran hostage crisis).  

The book’s time period is that of the recent 150 years. This period builds on a longer history of the global use of human shields in warfare.  From this book, the reader leaves not fully clear if the trend is toward, or away from, the involuntary or voluntary use of human shields in wars.  This book provides much evidence for the proliferation of uses of both involuntary human shields and voluntary human shields in the book’s time frame.

This book is intended to be geographically global in scope, which is welcome.  However, the book is geographically limited substantially to the area and fringes of Western Europe and the U.S. Shielding is a universal citizen tool with practical learning consequence around the globe.  

Only recently have shielding experience been subject to academic study.  A well-known pioneer in the academic study and communication of nonviolent tools, including human shields, is the Albert Einstein Institute.  The broadening scope of shielding is applied in many fields of shielding, including anti-nuclear struggles, civil and environmental protests, and even computer games.

This book contributes to public education from the evolving, global experience with human shields, which now include civilian movements to protest government actions.  The book highlights the reciprocal use of human shields by governments and militaries, and by civilian opponents of governments and their militaries.

The book focuses on the views of governments and militaries, which are reflected in the evolving laws of war affecting human shields. This focus includes narrowing views of the role of human shields, the adoption of the human shield function in protests against governmental military actions in civil conflicts, and the consequent general reduction in the rudimentary protections for civilian human shields.

The book’s basic idea is that the roles and protections for human shields have evolved and proliferated into civil conflicts throughout history and are evolving now.  Human shield participation and protections are also evolving, but not toward the increased security of human shields.

The trend of thinking in global military circles is incrementally to reduce and obscure any particular protections for the role of human shields. Civilian shielding is increasingly seen by global militaries as an unnecessary obstacle to successful military operations in wars and civil conflicts.

Increasingly, global governments and their military leaders view human shields as “other”, of diminishing human value, and unprotectable as civilians. In effect, the world militaries are encouraging the evolution of the weaponization of human non-combatants in military conflict, particularly in prolonged conflicts identified as combatting terrorism.

Civilian protest movements are exploring the creative uses of their human vulnerability to resist violence and denounce forms of dehumanization in wars and in internal civil controversies.

This book’s accessible public argument will likely be seen as the standard story of human shields. It will certainly be a popular and practical reference source for the use by human shields for use in protection, coercion, and deterrence. 

The book includes an index, a large bibliography, a partially helpful table of contents, and interesting endnotes.  

The book ends abruptly with the role of human shields in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but the reader turns the last page seeking the elements of a final, overall analysis and larger themes.  This absence may indicate a forthcoming second volume with these elements included.

Quakers: There is no reference to Quakers in particular and little reference to religion in general in this book. This book is particularly important for the strategies of protest movements involving Quakers as leaders and participants.  The book can be particularly important for Quaker youth and for parents in understanding the challenges ahead. There is no current Quaker group monitoring or lobbying the U.S. military initiatives to enlarge the category of war combatants and to restrict any historic protections for civilians as shields. Quakers are not at the table negotiating the laws of war.

Questions:

  • What is the role of Quaker parents in educating and protecting their children in civilian protests?
  • What are the particular dangers to the staff of global Quaker shielding organizations at the borders of warfare?
  • Who should monitor and lobby against the weaponization of human shields in wars and civil conflicts?

Resources:

Human Shields: A History of People in the Line of Fire, Neve Gordon and  Nicola Perugini (University of California Press, 2020)

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