Did Governor Tarkin Commit a War Crime Destroying Alderaan?

Grand Moff Tarkin ordered the destruction of Alderaan on the military necessity to demonstrate the power of the Death Star. Tarkin’s stated intent was that no star system would oppose the Emperor after destroying a planet. Alderaan was selected based on the fact Princess Leia was from there and Tarkin’s suspicion that Leia was part of the Rebellion. Tarkin selected Alderaan over Dantooine, where Leia admitted there was a Rebel base, because the planet was “too remote for an effective demonstration.”

Was the destruction of Alderaan justified under the Empire’s “Doctrine of Fear”? Or was the destruction of an entire planet a war crime?

Governor Tarkin could argue that destroying Alderaan was done out of “military necessity” to instill fear in other star systems. This is a highly problematic argument, because Tarkin would be attempting to legitimize genocide.

The Doctrine of Fear in practice. Darth Vader used debris from Alderann as a “gift” to the new Queen Trios of Shu-torun, to remind her she served the Empire, in Darth Vader, Annual 1, February 2016, published by Marvel Worldwide, Inc.

“Military necessity” are the measures “relevant and proportionate” to securing the prompt submission of the enemy. See, LINCOLN, LIEBER AND THE LAWS OF WAR: THE ORIGINS AND LIMITS OF THE PRINCIPLE OF MILITARY NECESSITY, 92 A.J.I.L. 213, 215, fn 20.

Military necessity was the justification during World War II for US Citizens of Japanese, German, and Italian decent to remain under curfew.

The Government argued that the curfew orders were a “reasonable judgment of military necessity, because ‘cultural characteristics of the Japanese Americans, including religion and education, it was likely that some, though not all, American citizens of Japanese ancestry were disloyal.’” The Government further ordered that an entire group of US Citizens had to be “contained” because of an unknown number of individuals who could have been a threat to national security. Hirabayashi v. United States, 828 F.2d 591, 596 (9th Cir. 1987).

Later Courts recognized that the internment and curfew orders were done out of racial fears. Hirabayashi, at *601. Moreover, the argument that loyalties were unknown and “time was of the essence” was based on racist statements from General John L. DeWitt with evidence suppressed from the Supreme Court for forty years. Hirabayashi, at *603, citing Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214, 241 (1944).

Tarkin would take the justification for interning people based on race to a new level with destroying a planet because there was “no time to discern” who was loyal and disloyal to the Empire. The entire population was subject to summary execution because of Princess Leia’s involvement in stealing the Death Star plans.

In a case involving Texas Governor Ross Sterling, the Governor ordered controls on the production of oil to within 400,000 barrels based on military necessity, because according to Sterling, there would be warlike riots and insurrection, resulting in a state of war. Sterling v. Constantin, 287 U.S. 378, 391-92 (1932).

The Supreme Court rejected the Governor’s justification of military necessity to deprive citizens of their right to operate their oil businesses under state law. The District Court had stated there was not a state of war or insurrection in any territory. The Court further stated:

The evidence shows no insurrection nor riot, in fact, existing at any time in the territory, no closure of the courts, no failure of civil authorities. It shows that at no time has there been in fact any condition resembling a state of war, and that, unless the Governor may by proclamation create an irrebuttable presumption that a state of war exists, the actions of the Governor and his staff may not be justified on the ground of military necessity.”

Sterling, at* 391-92.

Governor Tarkin could argue there was insurrection within the Empire. However, destroying Alderaan would violate the prohibition from killing civilians in war. See, Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.

Nations are prohibited from committing murder on “persons taking no active part in the hostilities.” USCS Geneva IV, Article 3, section (1)(a). Blowing up an entire planet to instill fear in other star systems is the complete abandonment of any notion of universal rights.

There was no legal justification for Grand Moff Tarkin to destroy Alderaan. One could imagine Tarkin saying, “the only way to stop the Rebels is to kill their families.” This was an extreme war crime that justified Rebellion against the Empire.