“We will not go to the trenches!”1 the “Fusillés pour l’Exemple,” military disobedience, and soldiers’ right to life

Peace & Change, EarlyView.


To what extent are soldiers required to accept grave dangers and what might be the implications of their disobedience to orders for a culture of peace? In recent years, soldiers’ rights have come under renewed interest as a result of certain judicial decisions that recognize their right to life, even in combat situations. This article traces this sensitivity to an historical precedent that has heretofore attracted little attention in the English-speaking literature: the decade-long effort to rehabilitate the “fusillés pour l’exemple,” French soldiers who were executed for disobedience during World War I. After providing an overview of the context, history, and reasoning of two leading French judicial decisions on those who disobeyed for refusing to engage in attacks they felt would lead to a certain and pointless death, we evaluate the extent to which these decisions presage recent human rights developments and what ongoing lessons they hold for a pacifist sensitivity at the intersection of human rights and the deployment of the military.

This was originally published on Wiley: Peace & Change: Table of Contents.