Unconditional surrender

Unconditional surrender

Unconditional surrender is a surrender without conditions, except for those provided by international law. Announcing that only unconditional surrender is acceptable puts psychological pressure on a weaker adversary. The most notable uses of the term have been by the United States to the Confederate States of America in the American Civil War and to the Axis powers in World War II.


In the era post World War II, the comparable example of unconditional surrender is that of the Pakistani army in East Pakistan at the hands of the Indian army and the Mukti Bahini during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 or the latter half of Bangladesh Liberation War. Here 93,000 Pakistani soldiers surrendered unconditionally to the Indian Allied Forces (Mitro Bahini) commander Lt Gen. Jagjit Singh Aurora.

United States usage

The most famous early use of the phrase occurred during the 1862 Battle of Fort Donelson in the American Civil War. Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant of the Union Army received a request for terms from the fort's commanding officer, Confederate Brigadier General Simon Bolivar Buckner. Grant's reply was that "no terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works." When news of Grant's victory—one of the Union's first in the Civil War—was received in Washington, D.C., newspapers remarked (and President Abraham Lincoln endorsed) that Ulysses Simpson Grant's first two initials, "U.S.," stood for "Unconditional Surrender," which would later become his nickname.

However, subsequent surrenders to Grant were not unconditional. When Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House in 1865, Grant agreed to allow the men under Lee's command to go home under parole and to keep sidearms and private horses. Generous terms were also offered to John C. Pemberton at Vicksburg and (by Grant's subordinate, William T. Sherman) to Joseph E. Johnston in North Carolina.

The use of the term was revived during World War II at the Casablanca conference when American President Franklin D. Roosevelt sprang it on the other Allies and the press as the objective of the war against the Axis Powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan. The term was also used at the end of World War II when Japan surrendered to the United States.

Criticism on its World War II use

Both Churchill and Stalin disapproved of unconditional surrender, as did most senior U.S. officials (except General Eisenhower). It has been estimated that it helped prolong the war in Europe through its usefulness to German domestic propaganda that used it to encourage further resistance against the Allied armies, and its suppressive effect on the German resistance movement since even after a coup against Hitler there was no "assurance that such action would improve the treatment meted out to their country". It is also noted that without the demand for unconditional surrender central Europe might not have fallen behind the Iron curtain. [Michael Balfour, " [http://www.jstor.org/pss/2614534 Another Look at 'Unconditional Surrender'"] ", International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), Vol. 46, No. 4 (Oct., 1970), pp. 719-736]

urrender at discretion

In siege warfare the demand that the garrison surrender to the besiegers unconditionally is traditionally phrased as "surrender at discretion". For example at the siege of Stirling during the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion:

It was also seen at the Battle of the Alamo, when Santa Anna asked Jim Bowie and William B. Travis for unconditional surrender. Even though Bowie wished to surrender unconditionally, Travis refused, retaliated by firing a cannon at Santa Anna's army, and wrote in his final dispatches:

The phrase surrender at discretion is still used in treaties, for example the Rome Statute that entered into force on July 1, 2002, specifies under "Article 8 war crimes, Paragraph 2.b" that:quotation|Other serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in international armed conflict, within the established framework of international law, namely, any of the following acts::...:(vi) Killing or wounding a combatant who, having laid down his arms or having no longer means of defence, has surrendered at discretion; []

This wording in the Rome Statute is taken almost word for word from Article 23 of the 1907 IV Hague Convention "The Laws and Customs of War on Land": "To kill or wound an enemy who, having laid down his arms, or having no longer means of defence, has surrendered at discretion", [IV Hague Convention "The Laws and Customs of War on Land" October 18, 1907. [http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/lawofwar/hague04.htm#art23 Article 23] ] and is part of the customary laws of war. [The Nuremberg War Trial judgment on "The Law Relating to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity" held that "The rules of land warfare expressed in the [Hague Convention of 1907] undoubtedly represented an advance over existing international law at the time of their adoption. But the Convention expressly stated that it was an attempt " to revise the general laws and customs of war," which it thus recognised to be then existing, but by 1939 these rules laid down in the Convention were recognised by all civilised nations, and were regarded as being declaratory of the laws and customs of war...",( [http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/imt/proc/judlawre.htm Judgement : The Law Relating to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity] contained in the Avalon Project archive at Yale Law School).]

ee also

*Conditional surrender
*Strategic surrender
*Debellatio designates the end of a war caused by complete destruction of a hostile state.
*Military rule
*Suing for peace
*Criticism of Franklin D. Roosevelt

References and notes

Further reading

* [http://www.law.ou.edu/ushistory/germsurr.shtml German Surrender Documents of WWII] (US Historical Documents)

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Unconditional Surrender —   [ʌnkən dɪʃənl sə rendə], englische Bezeichnung für bedingungslose Kapitulation, bekannt v. a. als Kriegsziel der Alliierten gegenüber den Achsenmächten im Zweiten Weltkrieg, 1943 vereinbart von F. D. Roosevelt und W. Churchill auf der Konferenz …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Unconditional Surrender —    At the Casablanca Conference in January 1943, the Allies agreed that negotiations with Germany would be based on its “unconditional surrender” as the prerequisite for concluding the war. This meant that the Allies would neither barter nor… …   Historical dictionary of the Holocaust

  • unconditional surrender — noun A surrender without conditions, except for those provided by international law …   Wiktionary

  • unconditional surrender — giving up completely, absolute submission …   English contemporary dictionary

  • Unconditional Surrender Grant — General Ulysses Simpson Grant, USA …   Eponyms, nicknames, and geographical games

  • Unconditional — Un con*di tion*al, a. Not conditional limited, or conditioned; made without condition; absolute; unreserved; as, an unconditional surrender. [1913 Webster] O, pass not, Lord, an absolute decree, Or bind thy sentence unconditional. Dryden. [1913… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • unconditional — (adj.) 1660s, from UN (Cf. un ) (1) not + CONDITIONAL (Cf. conditional). Unconditional surrender is attested from 1830. Related: Unconditionally …   Etymology dictionary

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  • surrender — {{Roman}}I.{{/Roman}} noun ADJECTIVE ▪ complete, total ▪ unconditional ▪ immediate VERB + SURRENDER ▪ demand …   Collocations dictionary