by KEVIN KNODELL
The “war on terror” has sparked a lot of debate about the relationship between combatants and non-combatants. There has been heated debate about rules of engagement and the escalation of force, and the balancing act that soldiers face in preserving the lives of their comrades and those of civilians. An Army lieutenant colonel told me that this was a new challenge for military planners and soldiers.
Not so, according to the 1st Canadian Army Operations Order for the 1944 invasion of Normandy, which I read at the British National Archive earlier this year:
To put affront, no matter how small, upon a people who have already suffered long at the hands of an occupying army, would be to inspire the same spirit of obstructionism which the German policies have induced. Interference with the person or property of civs is justified only by dire mil necessity
The feeding of civs under certain circumstances may become a mil commitment – this will be decided by local mil comd.
The control of refugees is essentially a staff responsibility implemented by Civ Affairs. Refugee reception areas will be established as require, from which refugees will be dispersed.
In diaries and on interview tapes, Allied veterans of the campaign related that civilians were a frequent concern. Displaced persons were often a nuisance to soldiers, as fleeing refugees frequently clogged the roads, blocking convoys and creating a logistical headache.
At times, civilians were a danger to soldiers. I came across at least two accounts of French civilians opening fire on Canadian troops. One was a teenage girl, evidently pro-German, who attacked Canadian troops with a rifle shortly after the landing. Another was a territorial French farmer who’d allegedly fired a shotgun at Canadian troops.
At the same time, soldiers often relied on the assistance of the locals for directions and intelligence as they tried to navigate the hedgerows and ruined towns, just as soldiers in today’s wars often depend on locals for intel.