From a post to ALT.BOOKS.DAVID-WEBER dated October 10, 1999:

Masada and the Eridani Edict

    Someone has mentioned two threads to me which I thought I would go ahead and respond to. Since one of them is a bit spoiler-ish, I am doing so in two separate posts. As the catchy header on this one suggests, this one deals with the Eridani Edict and Why Is There Still A Masada.

    The main reason is that while the Masadans nuked planetary targets, they did not engage in indiscriminate planetary bombardment with weapons of mass destruction which is what the Edict actually outlaws. As I believe I said in an earlier post on this same topic, the use of area bombardment is not outlawed under the current "Rules of War" or under the Eridani Edict if the defenders have been summoned to surrender and are in an ultimately hopeless position. That is, you are not required to take casualties in your own forces if inflicting casualties is all the defenders can hope to accomplish and they simply refuse to accept that. Nor are you prohibited from ever using nukes (or kinetic strikes) on inhabited planets even if the defenders still have a reasonable chance of standing you off and refuse to surrender. What you are responsible for is seeing to it that such weapons are not used (1) indiscriminately, (2) as a weapon of terror, (3) genocidally, or (4) without warning the recipient of the attack that it will be launched unless certain conditions (like surrender) are met.

    For the purposes of the Edict, "indiscriminate" means that targeting and release of weapons is not closely controlled in an effort to absolutely minimize civilian casualties. For example, plastering the entire state of North Carolina to take out Fort Bragg would be considered a violation of the Edict; destroying Fayettville because it's right on the fringes of Fort Bragg (a legitimate military target) and gets caught in the fireball is not necessarily a violation of the Edict as long as the defenders have been warned that such weapons will be used at all. It then becomes the defender's responsibility to evacuate civilians from the area of legitimate targets. (And, conversely, it is his responsibility not to put the ICBM silo in Central Park in the first place, as well, thus effextively using his own planetary population as hostages against an attack by any enemy force.) By the same token, the accidental destruction of, say, a major city, is considered an "indiscriminate use" of weapons of mass destruction because, as the attacker, you failed in your obligation to make sure that "accidents" like that don't happen.

    For the purposes of the Edict, "demonstration nuclear strikes" are considered a Bad Thing. Obviously, the first legitimate planetary target you take out also becomes a demonstration strike ("My God! They really did it!"), but nuking a major city a la Warneke in Honor Among Enemies as a pure exercise in terror is a clear violation of the Edict.

    Under any circumstances (including "They didn't surrender when we asked them to and they couldn't hold out anymore so we turned their whole durn planet into a billiard ball, so there, nyahh!"), the destruction of a planetary population (or a sizable chunk of it) and the destruction of a viable planetary ecosystem (or major damage to it) is considered a violation of the Edict. That is, one is not allowed to simply get frustrated and level the entire planet, even if they're being stubborn and stupid. With the clean weapons available by Honor's time, plus the existence of kinetic weapons, the destruction of the means of resistance should not mean killing everyone on the planet, and that is all the attacker is really authorized under the Edict to do. As I say, if the main planetary defense center is located in the middle of the planet's largest city, the attacker is justified in taking out said city if there is no ultimate hope that the defender can withstand attack and he has been summoned to surrender. But if the major bases are out in the boonies (where sane defense planers would place them), then one is expected to start by destroying said bases, concentrations of military forces, support infrastructure, etc. One doesn't simply start out by firebombing Dresden.

    As for the Masadans, they probably did, technically, violate the Edict. But it happened the better part of fifty years before The Honor of the Queen, no one outside the system knew about it at the time, the people responsible for ordering it were pretty much all dead by the time of The Honor of the Queen, a case could be made for the argument that they were, in fact, attacking military targets (they did not, for example, nuke cities although they did nuke some of the planetary farms, although people should remember how much of Grayson's agriculture was already in orbit), and Grayson won the war and hanged a couple of the people responsible for giving the order in the first place. By the time the Sollies knew a thing about it, it was old news, the locals had settled it amongst themselves, and the people responsible for it were already dead. One may argue that by not going ahead and destroying the government of Masada they failed to enforce the Edict and thus ultimately weakened it, but anyone who is ever tempted to use what happened as justification for violating the Edict themselves should also be aware that the government of Masada was not destroyed by the Graysons, who won the war and were in a position to do so. The Edict's purpose is to provide a penalty severe enough to make the use of the proscribed weapons/tactics unacceptable even if you win. If you lose before the League even knows you did it, then that comes under the heading of finished business as far as the League is concerned. (And you shoulda known better than to pick on someone tougher than you in the first place!)

    I understand that soneone raised a point about prolong. As I understand it, the question was how far back the League should go in looking for culpable individuals and punishing them. That is, do you punish the successors of the government/ruler who ordered the attack if the members of said government (or said ruler) are already dead by the time you find out about it.

    The Solarian position is that they are not in the business, Edict or no Edict, of trying to play moral policeman. That is, it isn't their job to go around reversing injustices after the fact; it is their job to deter future injustices. Or, specifically, one particular type of injustice having to do with planetary bombardment. The Edict calls for the League Navy to move in and forcibly disarm (however vigorously is required) anyone who violates it and to remove the government which ordered/authorized/allowed the outlawed strike(s). If the League finds out 20 or 30 years, say, after the event, that Planet A nuked Planet B, but the individuals who ordered the strike are dead (not real likely that all of them will be dead in 20 or 30 years, even without prolong, perhaps, but Accidents Do Happen, especially if the government in question was overthrown or something of that sort), then the League is not likely to send in the fleet and shoot all of the violators' successors in power. What they will do is launch an investigation, carried out by Solly personnel, not the locals, to determine who gave the order and where responsibility for it lies. If the individuals who ordered the strike are still around, then the League will insist that they be turned over to the League for punishment and imprisonment. And the League Navy will provide however much military muscle is required to see to it that the investigation is carried out and the guilty parties are surrendered. In the case of Masada's actions, even if they had constituted a violation of the Edict (an arguable point) none of the Elders who gave the order in the first place were still alive by the time the Sollies found out about it. Had Masada been a prolong-equipped society at the time, some or all of them probably would have been alive, and the League would have faced a much thornier problem. As it was, the Sollies probably heaved a huge sigh of relief and got back to their own affairs with a sense of profound gratitude.

    I trust the above addresses the question(s) which was (were) raised.

    David