War crimes are actions taken by individuals, whether military or civilian, that violates international humanitarian law, which includes the 1907 Hague Conventions, 1949 Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions. War crimes include “grave breaches” of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, which also applies to territory that is occupied even if the occupation takes place without resistance. Protected persons under International Humanitarian Law are all nationals who reside within an occupied State, except for the nationals of the Occupying Power. The International Criminal Court and States prosecute individuals for war crimes.
War Crimes: Attempts to Denationalize the Inhabitants of an Occupied State
The first instance of war crimes was brought up during World War I. In 1919, the Commission on Responsibilities of the Paris Peace Conference identified 32 war crimes, one of which was “attempts to denationalize the inhabitants of occupied territory.” The prosecution of German officials and their Allies for war crimes committed during World War I, however, was dismal. Of 5,000 individuals reported for war crimes only 12 were tried and 6 were convicted.
In October of 1943, the United States, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union established the United Nations War Crimes Commission (UNWCC). World War II had been waging since 1939, and atrocities committed by Germany, Italy and Japan drew the attention of the Allies to hold individuals responsible for the commission of war crimes. On December 2, 1943, the UNWCC adopted the war crimes that were drawn up by the Commission on Responsibilities in 1919 with the addition of another war crime—indiscriminate mass arrests. The UNWCC was organized into three Committees: Committee I (facts and evidence), Committee II (enforcement), and Committee III (legal matters).
Committee III was asked to provide a report on war crime charges against four Italians accused of denationalization in Yugoslavia. The charge stated:
“Apart from killing, deportation and interning innocent persons, the Italians started a policy, on a vast scale, of denationalization. As a part of such a policy, they started a system of ‘re-education’ of Yugoslav children. This re-education consisted of forbidding children to use the Serbo-Croat language, to sing Yugoslav songs and forcing them to salute in a fascist way, become members of the G.I.L. (Gioventu italiana del Littoria) and spend a certain time in camps for ‘education.’ In all these actions aimed at the denationalization of Yugoslav children, Dr. Binna took a very active part. He brought Italian teachers from Italy and posted them all over the province of Zadar. Amongst those Italian teachers who insisted on the Italianization of Yugoslav children, BETTINI, Education Inspector and INCHIOSTRI, head-master of a secondary school at SIBENIK took a prominent part. Dr. Tulio NICOLETTI Trustee for Education at SIBENIK, and Edoardo CIUBELLI, Education Inspector at ZADAR, were also prominently associated with this policy. NICOLETTI organized special courses for teachers to learn Italian and Italian ‘methods’ and he threatened all those who would not attend the courses. Dr. BINNA is also responsible for forbidding the edition of any newspaper printed in the Serbo-Croat language, and for forcing Yugoslavs to hoist Italian flags.”
The question before Committee III was whether or not “denationalization” constituted a war crime that called for prosecution or merely a violation of international law. The Committee reported:
“It is the duty of belligerent occupants to respect, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country (Art. 43 of the Hague Regulations). Inter alia, family honour and rights and individual life must be respected (Art. 46). The right of a child to be educated in his own native language falls certainly within the rights protected by Article 46 (‘individual life’). Under Art. 56, the property of institutions dedicated to education is privileged. If the Hague Regulations afford particular protection to school buildings, it is certainly not too much to say that they thereby also imply protection for what is going to be done within those protected buildings. It would certainly be a mistaken interpretation of the Hague Regulations to suppose that while the use of Yugoslav school buildings for Yugoslav children is safe-guarded, it should be left to the unfettered discretion of the occupant to replace Yugoslav education by Italian education.”
“It is the rationale of Art. 56 to protect spiritual values. And in order to afford this protection to spiritual values the provision protects the property of institutions dedicated to public worship, charity, education, science and art as a means to a certain end; to make public worship, charity, education, science and art possible even under belligerent occupation. If the belligerent occupant must not confiscate, seize, destroy, or willfully damage the property of educational institutions, he is the less entitled to interfere with the spiritual and intellectual life of the schools, the only possible legitimate exception being considerations of the safety of the occupying forces.”
The Committee concluded:
“In the case of Nicoletti (No. 20) who is described as Educational Trustee, it appears that he was a kind of Commissioner in charge of the administration and Italianization of the schools in the district. In his case it seems to be conceivable to fasten upon him the individual responsibility for the whole Italianization scheme. The case of the three other persons who were mainly teaching personnel, seems prima facie to be different.”
Denationalization through Germanization was also taking place during World War II. “Within weeks of the fall of France, Alsace-Lorraine was annexed and thousands of citizens deemed too loyal to France, not to mention all its ‘alien-race’ Jews and North African residents, were unceremoniously deported to Vichy France, the southeastern section of the country still under French control. This was done in the now all too familiar manner: the deportees were given half an hour to pack and were deprived of most of their assets. By the end of July 1940, Alsace and Lorraine had become Reich provinces. The French administration was replaced and the French language totally prohibited in the schools. By 1941, the wearing of berets had been forbidden, children had to sing ‘Deutschland über Alles’ instead of ‘La Marseillaise’ at school, and racial screening was in full swing.” Lynn H. Nicholas, Cruel World: The Children of Europe in the Nazi Web (2005), 277.
In 1906, the United States, as the occupying State, instituted a plan of Americanization in the Hawaiian Islands. The objective was to erase any and all national consciousness of the Hawaiian Kingdom amongst the school children in the Hawaiian Islands. The Hawaiian language was banned and American patriotism was taught in the public schools. The policy was established to counter the strong Hawaiian nationalism and opposition to American annexation as reported by the San Francisco Call newspaper, Strangling Hands Upon a Nation’s Throat (1897), Hawaii’s Last Struggle for Freedom (1897), and Passing of Hawaii as a Nation (1898). Americanization was carried out on a massive scale across the islands by inculcating American patriotism into the hearts of the school children and have them recite on a daily basis, ““We give our heads and our hearts to God and our Country! One Country! One Language! One Flag!”
The policy of Americanization bore a striking resemblance to Italianization and Germanization that took place during World War II, but where the German and Italian occupations only lasted six years (1939-1945), the American occupation of the Hawaiian Kingdom (1898-present) has gone uninterrupted for 116 years. What Germany and Italy failed to accomplish in six years, the United States was nearly successful at 116 years.
Today, there is no clear distinction made between the occupying State and the occupied State, as was the case between Yugoslavia and Italy or France and Germany during World War II. This was the case, however, when the United States military occupation began in 1898 during the Spanish-American War. But because of the prolonged nature of the occupation and the nearly successful program of denationalization, this clear distinction between the occupier and the occupied soon dissipated and our own people have unknowingly become the ones maintaining the policy of Americanization at the present.
The revitalization of the Hawaiian language and culture is in response to years of Americanization and the fact that the majority of the inhabitants of the Hawaiian Islands, to include the aboriginal Hawaiian, do not speak the Hawaiian language and know very little of Hawaiian culture is unequivocally the evidence of the war crime of “denationalization.”