Lincoln’s code: the fundamentals of international war time conduct


1863 was a very bloody year as thousands of Americans were killed in many Civil War battles, despite the hopeful start of the year, as the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Lincoln on January 1st. But within this chaotic year, the Lincoln administration instituted a code of war concerning the treatment of prisoners of war, slaves, spies, civilians and torture. Our guest, Yale University history and law professor, JOHN FABIAN WITT, introduces us to the man who wrote the military code still used today in international war time conduct – Francis Lieber, a military strategist at Columbia College. A pamphlet, written under his leadership, was distributed widely, laying down rules including how to distinguish soldiers and non-combatants; forbidding revenge attacks; and raising the importance of the truce flag to a higher level than before. These rules of laws have been adapted and expanded internationally over the last 150 years, including agreements like the Geneva Convention, and we continue to see nations trying to reconcile humanitarianism and justice. John Fabian Witt’s new book is “Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History.”

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal