What are human rights in war?

Rules of war (in a nutshell) – Source: International Committee of the Red Cross

To look deeper into human rights in war, I have looked to the internationally general accepted rules. Please be aware that this is a quite modern creation, which was first negotiated after world war 2, and updated several times.

Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977.
Protection of the civilian population
Article 51 — Protection of the civilian population

1. The civilian population and individual civilians shall enjoy general protection against dangers arising from military operations. To give effect to this protection, the following rules, which are additional to other applicable rules of international law, shall be observed in all circumstances.


4. Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited. Indiscriminate attacks are:

(a) those which are not directed at a specific military objective;

5. Among others, the following types of attacks are to be considered as indiscriminate:

(a) an attack by bombardment by any methods or means which treats as a single military objective a number of clearly separated and distinct military objectives located in a city, town, village or other area containing a similar concentration of civilians or civilian objects; and

6. Attacks against the civilian population or civilians by way of reprisals are prohibited.

Some parts of article 51 of Protocol I, Convention of Geneva Source: ICRC

Looking at these rules, it is easy to find violations on these rules. Only looking at the world war 2 all sides did make use of these kind of attacks. Think on the Luftwaffe bombing on London, Rotterdam and other cities. But also widely used on allied side, bombing German cities and the American nuclear bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.But even in modern times, it is still happening. Think about some Israeli attacks, US drone and anti terrorist attacks in the middle east. US shoot down of Iran civilian airplane in 1988 (Iran Air Flight 655). And before mentioned wars of Ethiopia.

In modern times these violations are often overlooked or other wise dismissed by the actors. Or research on these items otherwise blocked or hindered. A good example is the research on the downing of flight MH17 in Ukrainian. Were both sides blame each other, and Russia actively hindering the research and spreading a lot of disinformation. In my research I have read trough some international court cases of Eritrea and Ethiopia, on the Badme war. And it is quite difficult to determine what is actually a civilian or military target.

As example, there was a new Electricity plant in Eritrea. It was bombed by Ethiopia. Is this a tactical target and military objective as it powers the military air base? Or civilian as it is the power source for the whole city, and the civilian side of the air base? May the people suffer because the military have a base close by, and do have mobile power plants in case others are brought down. It was a very confusing case. In this case the power plant was considered military valuable, and therefore a legitimate target. But it did increase the suffering of the inhabitants of the city, and reduced the first aid capabilities to the city, because no civilian planes could land on the airfield anymore.

It has learned me a lot of new insights. War is always dirty, even if the good guy is fighting it. And people will suffer, both when it is a violation against human rights and when it officially is not. Next research case will be civilians in war games.

Dutch Jets spotted

A little week of holidays past, to take a good rest. I did not spend anything at wargaming. But last saturday I visited the Dutch Air Force Open days, at Volkol Airbase, and took some pictures of Dutch planes.

But there where also some guest from other countries.

Some new inspiration to go ahead with Cold war Dutch air force.

Human rights in wargaming

In my research for the Ethiopian-Eritrean-Somali conflict, I encountered a lot of stories which are violating human rights. It started with reading the book Ethiopian-Eritrean wars Volume 2. As my interest is mostly on the aerial war, I didn’t bother that much on the ground war. I had already read the first volume and the one on the Ogaden war, and the ground war was nasty, but the aerial engagements were mostly air to air conflicts and ground attacks, with the ground attacks on military or insurgents targets. There would be some accidentally civilian casualties, but it looked like a genuine war.

Until the mention of Civil bombings around the 1978-1979 period. There were a couple of incidents described, were the Ethiopian air force attacked civilian targets, and saw them as tactical targets. Targets were: Food supply points, Markets and Aid convoys. It was stated that most interviewed airforce personal wouldn’t talk about these incidents, but admitted that it had happened. This triggered a question by me.

Some examples of human rights violation reports on Ethiopia. Source: Human Right Watch (hrw.org)

If the attacks have been placed historically, and I want to represent the air force of Ethiopia during that period, would that also include wargaming these strikes against civilian targets?

Can I challenge myself to wargame this conflict and feel guilty when I have to attack a civilian target, without circumventing these events? I hope this post to be the first in a series just debating, discussing this issue, and maybe create some kind of scenario, around this theme. It will probably be quite challenging.

Ethiopian market around 1980. A non-military target Source: Wikipedia

Wargaming drivers

For playing wargames, there are three main drivers as I see them:

  1. Having fun
  2. Enlighten yourself
  3. Learning history/ Create a story
Having fun

War is not fun, but still having fun is I think one of the most important aspects of wargaming. Either having fun with other people, or enjoy your own time spend. The fun is not about the war, but about the game and contacts. And it does not matter if it is an historical scenario recreated or a fantasy battle in space. You can enjoy your decisions made, either the ones that went wrong, or the ones that won the game. But in the end, it is a safe playground, and only the miniatures did die.

Enlighten yourself

Every battle you can learn something, but for wargaming learning new things is wider. You will learn new painting skills, calculating skills, research skills and knowledge. Wargaming will develop yourself willing or unwillingly.

Learning history/ Create a story

This is the divider between historical wargamers and fictional wargamers. Some people want to recreate history and learn what errors are made, and how it could have been changed if decisions were made differently. Others like to tell an epic story, in which would be heroes of villains defeating a certain threat. With a lot of grey area in between, like imaginations and alternative histories. But the basic idea behind it, is that humans want to (re)create stories to tell to each other or himself.

From above mentioned point I came to a general question, and hope I can investigate this in the future.

Can wargame rules include human rights violations, and still teach us a lesson, while telling the (his)story?

I hope to discuss and answer this question in multiple follow up post along the way. Looking more in-dept to the actual events and the physical impact, and how to recreate a scenario where you can both feel the impact of human right violations and not feel sadistic.

Roundels of War: Ethiopian – Somali – Eritrean

I finished the books on the Ogaden war and the second volume on the Ethiopian Eritrean conflicts. For the project I try to create I am planning to have the air force of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somali. With all the photos in the book, I determined what the different roundels for the aircraft would be. For Somali and Eritrea this was quite easy. But the Ethiopian air force is quite challenging, and multiple different roundels can be found. Even the information on Wikipedia is incomplete. But I came up to the following roundels.

Ethiopian Air Force

The Imperial Ethiopian Air Force Roundel from 1941-1974. Multiple different shapes of the star in the middle can be found. With more sharper points. This roundel was replaced in 1974 but was still used on older planes for long period of time. So coexisted with newer versions.

The Ethiopian Air Force Roundel from 1974~1998. The roundel has been replaced with the next version, but can still be seen on older planes. Coexisting with both other designs, and can be spotted still today.

The Ethiopian Air Force roundel of present day. Introduced just before the Badme war. 1998~now.

Somali Air Force

Somali Air Force roundel, introduced after the creation of the air force in 1954 and still used up today. It is very similar to the USAF roundel from 1942-1943.

Eritrean Air Force

The Eritrean Air force was only created in 1994 when it gained the Eritrean Independence. It started with old Ethiopian planes. Roundel is used up to today.

Mustering a Retinue

1629, During the siege of ‘s Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands, the Spanish and Imperial troops launched a diversion attack on the Veluwe area. This attack was performed to relief the threat of the Siege, and try to create panic under the civilization. It raised to several Siege to several cities, but also sacked a lot of smaller villages and dwellings.

The main forces were considered Spanish, but for a large part came from the Imperial armies. Around 18000-20000 men where gathered from the Imperial forces under command of Ernesto Montecuccoli. And a further 8000-9000 men came from the Spanish army under command of Hendrik van den Bergh.

Hendrik van den Bergh gathered the men on 17 July 1629 near Cuijk, and passed the Maas river with boat bridges on 21 July. It slowly progressed and created a bridgehead in wait or supplies. On 10 August Enesto Montcuccoli joined the forces and both headed land inwards. Their aim was to lay siege to a couple of cities, mainly smaller ones. They didn’t have siege equipment, so mostly relying on fear. During this few months a lot of smaller groups were pilaging the different villages and farms in between. Around the end of august they had conquered some cities, like Amersfoort. But it didn’t relieve the pressure of the Siege of ‘s Hertogenbosch, so the Spanish Imperial retreated.

Map of the conquest of te Veluwe, Netherlands 1629; By Claes Jansz. Visscher in 17th Century

I think this history will lend itself quite good  for Pikmans Lament, to play out all the little skirmishes and pillaging missions. To start I want to create my first retinue, which are the defending troops against the invading Spanish/Imperial forces. Because my home town was also pillaged, and it did have a fortified home and landlord he will be the officer of my retinue. Although not all details will be completely historical.

Officer Willem van Scherpenzeel (~1590-1636)

The family Van Scherpenzeel has been the owners of the “Heerlijkheid” Scherpenzeel from around the 13th century as landlord. These landlords where knights in “kwartier” (quarter = district) Veluwe. I have found that is father Johan van Scherpenzeel participated in multiple knightly meetings of this district. Around 1590 Willem van Scherpenzeel was born, and he would take over ownership of the house Scherpenzeel in 1619 when his father died. I couldn’t find any other details at this moment, except that he didn’t have any children, and died in 1636 and left the house to his sister and her husband. Alida van Scherpenzeel and Hendrik van Westerholt. From that time on the house was not owned by the family “van Scherpenzeel” anymore.

A reenactor as officer during the Slag om Grolle event on 20 april 2012.

Age: ~39
Rank: Ensign
Honour: 10
Basic trait: Ineffectual

His background I have described above. Because there is not a low known about him, didn’t have a wife and was not very precise in his administration, I have given him the trait of Ineffectual. This is a mostly negative trait, but hope it will play out without to much hassle.

Reenactors marching to the battlefield, depicting the Spanish and Imperial troops for the Battle of Grolle. During the Slag om Grolle event on 20 april 2012.
Company Veluwe

You are only a officer when you have command over a unit. Because of Willem is part of the “kwartier” Veluwe, I will just call the company Veluwe. It is probably not an historical name. To allow multiple actions the company will have multiple different units, which might be used in different scenarios. Probably I will never table everything together. Also because I will use the Pikemans Lament rules want to be able to test the different units, I will have them all available. Historically it would probably only have some pike and shot as most of the army was used in the siege of ‘s Hertogenbosch. The company has the following available units:

Inspection of the troops before battle. During the Slag om Grolle event on 20 april 2012.
  • 1 unit of lancers (Elite gallopers)
  • 2 units of dragoons
  • 2 units of Trotters
  • 5 units of Shot
  • 2 units of pike
  • 1 unit of Clubsman (which might double as neutral civilian party in some scenarios)
  • 2 regimental guns when appropriate
  • Some loose musicians and onderofficieren (as Agitators and Heroes to spend last couple of points and boost morale)
Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange and Ernst Casimir at the Siege of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Painting of
Pauwels van Hillegaert in 1635