From Syrian civilians locked in iron cages to veterans joining peaceful indigenous water protectors at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, from Sri Lanka to Iraq and from Yemen to the United States, human beings have been used as shields for protection, coercion, or deterrence. Over the past decade, human shields have also appeared with increasing frequency in noncombat contexts such as antinuclear struggles, civil and environmental protests, and even computer games. The phenomenon, however, is by no means a new one.
In Human Shields, Neve Gordon and Nicola Perugini describe how human shields have been used in key historical and contemporary moments and across geographical sites. The practice of human shielding corresponds with the history of shifting understandings of what is valued as “human”: in the American Civil War and the Franco-German War, only the elite were used as shields, while in later conflicts, hundreds of thousands of women and children and people of color were placed in the crossfire as deterrents.
Human Shields demonstrates how this increasing weaponization of human beings has made the position of civilians trapped in theaters of violence more precarious and their lives more expendable.