January 1, 2010


In 1944 it became known to the Free French Partisan fighting forces that the Germans had executed 80 partisans and planned soon to execute more. The Partisans thus decided they would shoot 80 Germans prisoners who had recently surrendered to them. At this point the Red Cross intervened, won a postponement of the executions, and sought an agreement from the Germans to treat captured partisans as prisoners of war, who may not be shot. The Partisans waited 6 days and the Germans did not reply. The Partisans then shot 80 German prisoners. After these shootings the Nazis executed no more Partisans.
Was the shooting of the 80 German prisoners by the Partisans morally justifiable? If so, why? If not, why not?
I feel that the shooting of the 80 German Prisoners was morally justified.
Supporting Arguments
1. The Partisans had agreed to the Red Cross and sought an agreement from the Germans. Since the Germans did not reply, the Partisans were left with no other option.
2. Had the Partisans not intervened, it is likely that the Germans would have continued to kill the surrendered Partisans. Thus the killing of 80 Germans would have saved many more lives.
3. It was the Germans who first killed the surrendered soldiers. They are the ones who committed the immoral act. The Partisans did the right thing by heeding to the Red Cross appeal. At this point too, it was the Germans who did the wrong thing by not responding. After that if the Partisans did not kill the 80 soldiers, it would be cowardice.
Counter Arguments
1. Isn’t killing in any form morally unjustifiable ?
No it is not. Take a simple analogy. If a thief enters your house and wants to kill your family and escape with all the cash and valuables. You request him not to kill your family members. If he does not heed your request, what does your morality tell you to do? Watch your family being slaughtered or try to kill that guy? The Partisans are in exactly similar situation. They agreed to the Red Cross intervention but the Germans did not respond. Now they have no option but to kill the 80 Germans to ensure that no more Partisan prisoners of war are killed.
2. Shouldn’t the Partisans have explored other options before taking this extreme step?
No, they shouldn’t have. Firstly, the fact that the Germans did not respond to the Red Cross request shows their intentions. No option could have possibly deterred them. Secondly, exploring other options would have lead to wastage of precious time. Some more Partisans might have been killed in the meanwhile.

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