The tyrant who started the war should be tried and executed. His henchmen who committed murder should be dealt with likewise. This precedent, set by the Nuremburg trials, should be followed whenever a tyranny is defeated in war.

National punishment

In 1982 the Argentinean military dictatorship ordered the invasion of the British Falkland Islands. Although the era was replete with defeatism, socialism, inflation and Keynesianism, it was the good fortune of the Falkland Islanders (who regarded themselves as British) and for the world at large (which needs to see aggression properly dealt with), that Margaret Thatcher was then Prime Minister of Britain. Mrs. Thatcher’s government immediately dispatched a military task force, which, after a brief fight, re-took the islands.

Unfortunately, no effort was made to punish the Argentine people for their aggression and the consequent deaths of British soldiers and sailors, many of whom were burned alive. Punishment in such situations is important, as an example for history, and so the aggressor people themselves can see the error of their ways. As a result of escaping unpunished, the Argentine people still have not learned that aggression is wrong. Argentine politicians who vow to one day re-invade the islands are typically given a rousing cheer. This behavior is in marked contrast to the contrition displayed by the Germans concerning the malfeasance of their forebears. The Argentines are like a bank robber who is escorted from the bank by police and then released. Instead of being chastened, they are piqued.

Although the British did not have the resources to occupy and reform Argentina, they clearly had the resources to punish the aggressors. Specifically, once the islands were re-taken, the British could have instituted a blockade of Argentine sea and air ports. Once a full-sized runway at Port Stanley was complete, they could have begun to degrade Argentine civilian infrastructure. The punishment should have been continued until the Junta who ordered the invasion was handed over for trial and execution, and the Argentine people passed a referendum expressing contrition.


Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites; in proportion as their love of justice is above their rapacity; in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption; in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and the good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without.

—Edmund Burke. Letter to a Member of the National Assemb1y (1791), in Reflections on the Revolution in France and Other Essays.

Rehabilitation through occupation is the gold standard approach for dealing with a defeated country formerly ruled by a tyrant or by warlords. However, the expense of such an undertaking makes it a luxury that should rarely be indulged. The aim of occupation should never be to ruin the inhabitants or even to weaken them. The threat Germany and Japan posed in World War II stemmed not from their industrial strength, but from their lack of principles. Thus, occupation should seek to turn the defeated people away from blood and iron and toward speeches and parliamentary majorities; away from the rule of might and toward the rule of law; away from injustice and toward common decency.

Winning hearts and minds

No one likes foreign troops on their soil. If occupying troops are rigidly professional, however, if laws are fair and uniformly enforced, if locals are gradually put in positions of authority, if the occupying forces fulfill mainly an auditing and oversight role (to the greatest extent possible remotely), if the occupying force practices what it preaches with scrupulous transparency, honesty, and adherence to the rule of law, then resentment will soon transform to collegial loyalty.

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove