Friday, July 18, 2014
The fourth transgression of Gaza
The time taken to conquer Gaza was longer than expected, but another even more difficult problem emerged. An army on the march is ill suited to the maintenance of prisoners of war. Moreover, Napoleon was very short on food, and could not afford to feed the two thousand Turks he had captured. Using his western sense of honor as his guide, he freed the Turks on the condition that they swear not to fight the French ever again. British and other western soldiers would adhere to their word of honor. For the Turks, however, western concepts of honor would prove to have little relevance. They were in a holy war against the infidel, and one does not honor pacts with the devil.
Thinking that problem solved, Napoleon marched north to Jaffa. On March 7, he took the port city of Jaffa. This was a significant military victory, but it led to one of the more controversial episodes in Napoleon's career. In taking Jaffa the French also took about four thousand Turkish prisoners. Many of these prisoners were the very Turks who had earned their freedom at Gaza by swearing not to fight the French again. Moreover, the problems of food and transportation that existed in Gaza were even more serious with the French further north and the number of Turks doubled.
Napoleon was thus faced with a very difficult situation. He could, of course, release the Turks. Doing this would mean, however, that they would eventually rejoin the Turkish army and kill more French soldiers. Clearly, Napoleon could not have any faith in their oaths. If Napoleon kept them prisoner, they would either starve to death or cause the starvation of French soldiers. Napoleon was torn by the options, and consulted at length with his advisors. In the end, however, he ordered the Turks shot.