I am looking for instances/examples (and sources) throughout history of times an army used it's own people as a buffer between itself and an opposing force.

While it is fairly common for an army to use enemy civilians or unarmed soldiers as shields (implicitly sending the message to the opponents that they will end up killing their own people), have there been any documented cases of an army using the very people it officially is defending as a line of protection?

I'm specifically looking for an army, militia, or national fighting force.

  • 3
    I personally wouldn't say that it was "fairly common" for an army to use enemy civilians - but I suppose that would depend on what you'd define as an army.
    – Kobunite
    Commented Jul 3, 2013 at 15:45
  • I concur with Kobunite; if you're going to assert that war crimes are fairly common, you should back up the claim. On the other hand, I don't think the assertion is key to your question; I recommend that you eliminate the accusation and focus on the real question.
    – MCW
    Commented Jul 3, 2013 at 17:14
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    Do you mean like Hamas does? Commented Jul 3, 2013 at 20:43
  • 2
    @jwenting Where else were Germany and Japan supposed to put factories, in the ocean? All factories were in cities, including in the US. Additionally, at that time, killing civilians in air bombings was not deliberately avoided so there is no way Germany thought that surrounding military installations with civilians would prevent a bombing. I believe you are incorrect.
    – Curious1
    Commented Jul 8, 2013 at 17:11
  • 1
    @FelixGoldberg Yes, exactly like Hamas - and the other Palestinian armies - do. I'd like to have specific examples.
    – Curious1
    Commented Jul 8, 2013 at 17:13

2 Answers 2


Review the definition of Human Shield in wikipedia; there are multiple examples of countries using their own population, or that of their allies as human shields. Note that almost every example is contested by one side or the other. This is in part because it would violate the Geneva convention. During interrogation by Allied intelligence officers in Nuremberg in October 1945, General Berger of the SS stated that Germany had contemplated the use of human shields, but discarded the notion in part because they realized that

. . . this would contravene the Geneva Convention . . .

I'm not going to quote examples from wikipedia because the examples are highly politicized; nobody wants to admit to war crimes.


I am quite sure this was common during Russian civil war on the part of the White army who used peasants as human shields during combat. On the other hand the Reds sometimes used rich or undesirable civilians (kulaks, priests etc) as hostages in turbulent areas.

  • I'm sure the reds weren't averse to using kulaks either, they weren't averse to starving them in their millions for resisting collectivism afterwards after all. Of course kulaks were "enemies of socialism" to the reds, thus not their own people.
    – jwenting
    Commented Jul 8, 2013 at 5:45
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    Do you have evidence for that claim? Hostages are one thing (both sides used them, I think) but human shields are quite another. Commented Jul 8, 2013 at 17:29

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