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Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know Paperback – July, 1999

4.2 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

This unique reference offers a compendium of more than 150 entries that broadly define "international humanitarian law," a subject that involves most of the legal and political aspects of modern conflict. The contributors include scholars, journalists, and international civil servants qualified by practical experience. Entries for Bosnia, Cambodia, and Rwanda help explain why the lexicon of recent warfare includes terms like "siege," "child soldiers," and "belligerent status." Although some of the accounts are more anecdotal than substantive, the style achieves the stated goal of the editors, both journalists: combining "technical accuracy and readability." In addition to cross references, most entries are enhanced by dramatic photographs. Overall, the effect of the book is to convey how modern warfare has obliterated the distinction between the military and the civilian. Highly recommended for reference collections at academic and larger public libraries.
-AZachary T. Irwin, Pennsylvania State Univ., Erie
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

paper 0-393-31914-8 Pulitzer-winning Newsday journalist Gutman (Banana Diplomacy: The Making of American Policy in Nicaragua 19811987, 1988) and Rieff (Slaughterhouse: Bosnia and the Failure of the West, 1995) present an encyclopedia on the laws of war and on the willful violation of these laws in so many recent acts of barbarism. War happens. Over time, however, international covenants, in particular the series of Geneva Conventions from the mid-19th century to 1977, have made reasonably clear (there is always some ambiguity in law) what is allowable in war and what is not. Paradoxically, while the laws of war have never been more developed, war crimes, especially against civilians in such places as Bosnia and Rwanda, continue on an epidemic scale. In this A-to-Z guidebook, the editors have gathered together contributions by experts in international law as well as journalists who have experienced war firsthand to try to make sense of both the laws of war and where and how they are violated. They succeed admirably. The book is loosely constructed around three major themes. Short pieces define particular terms and concepts within the international laws of war: aggression, genocide, just and unjust wars, etc. Longer essays explore particular violations of these laws: biological experimentation, children as soldiers, the use of chemical weapons, and others. Finally, ten detailed case studiesamong them Chechnya, Cambodia, the Iran-Iraq warare presented. While the A-to-Z format is often confusing (a definition will be followed by a totally unrelated case study simply because it comes next alphabetically), sufficient cross-referencing does allow following a particular idea or episode across sections. Adding to the richness of this work is the inclusion of an abundant number of photographs of the atrocities and horrors of war crimes. These serve to counteract any tendency toward dispassionate analysis that prose alone might allow. The book both informs and appalls, and it is meant to. As war-crime tribunals on Rwanda and Bosnia proceed, and as public consciousness of the atrocities that have occurred in such places increases, this is a work of singular importance. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 399 pages
  • Publisher: W W Norton & Co Inc (July 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393319148
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393319149
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,278,861 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on September 28, 1999
Format: Paperback
Crimes of War does what few books of its kind manage to accomplish. It is a well-researched and scholarly compendium of the various crimes of war with expert background information on the various legal instruments that prohibit these acts. At the same time, however, it a visually riveting -- and often shocking -- photographic compendium of war crimes ranging from disappearances to death squads to starvation. I had the impression that, judging from its pocket-size edition, Crimes of War was published with the intention of serving as a field guide to journalists and NGO/IO staff who wish to have ready access, written in plain English, to the legal predicates that prohibit war crimes. However, after reading Crimes of War, it seemed to be more the kind of book that should be required reading material for high school, college and law students who wish to have a basic grasp either of the history of war crimes or the legal basis for their prohibition. This book is in a class all its own.
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Format: Hardcover
"Crimes of War" should be required reading during senior year of high school. Written by journalists, scholars and law experts, this book not only details the wrongs committed in recent wars, but who committed them and under what laws the perpetrators can be prosecuted. The photographs are often shocking and force the viewer to face the truths in the text, which is well written by men and women who either witnessed the atrocities or are working to bring war criminals to justice. "Crimes of War" clearly shows that there are binding laws of warfare, and those who break these laws must be held accountable for their actions.
Israel is not singled out for criticism in "Crimes of War". There are two chapters under the letter A (it is arranged like an encyclopedia) and if a reader only get to the letter B they may feel Israel gets the bulk of criticism. However, the reader who reads the entire book will see Israel is fairly criticised.
Also, China is not condemned for Tiananmen Square in this book because this book is about war, war crimes, genocide, and international law. Tiananmen Square - while tragic and unforgivable - was a State using lethal force against its own people in a police action. Tibet could bear mentioning, but even prior to China's invasion Tibet was a remote society, hence the lack of coverage by outsiders.
The scathing reviews of this book probably say more about the "issues" within the reviewer than the contents of the book: The truth can hurt and denial is an easy trap. Scores of countries are mentioned in this book (the US being one) and it's the facts that sting here - not "agendas". In the end, "Crimes of War" succinctly and logically reinforces the point that there are no excuses for crimes against humanity.
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Format: Hardcover
From the moment of its publication, I was a fan of this book and have referred to it often. Somehow, this book has managed to condense a complex area of international law into a brief, highly readable, and easy to understand guide.

A project of The Crimes of War Project, this book was designed to serve as a handbook for journalists and other foreign correspondents in the field who routinely cover wars and humanitarian emergencies. Relief and aid workers are usually the first "outsiders" on the scene of such upheavals. However, as the editors point out, "their training usually does not encompass trying to stop or even report on war crimes." NGOs and watch groups have expert staff, but often have limited access to "hotbed" areas and can be slow to respond. Journalists often cannot make necessary distinctions between legal and illegal acts and may not fully understand the international or legalistic import of what they are witnessing. Finally, the general public is often unable to make such distinctions as well.

This book and accompanying website are an attempt to better educate journalists, consumers of news media, and other on the ground workers by providing an easy to use overview in the form of brief entries, arranged by topic of international humanitarian and human rights law, so that we can all better serve as watchdogs and advocates for human dignity and the rule of law.
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Format: Paperback
This A-to-Z guidebook is absolutely amazing. Without falling into the trap of legalese (which is beyond most lay people), this book manages to teach us numerous things about the conduct of war and how difficult it is to apply the numerous chapters and laws in modern conflicts, be they international or internal.
The photographs that accompany most articles are striking; some of them are rather gruesome, but this is war, and the more suffering we see, the more likely we are to commit ourselves to not seeing this kind of inhumanity ever again. To do so, we have to put action behind political rhetoric, to give substance to our words (Vaclav Havel's motto).
I recommend this book to anyone who is interested about the law, war, man's inhumanity to man, and the legal architecture which, over decades, has been taking form to protect us from ourselves.
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