In the Middle Ages the ideals of knighthood restrained some cruelties in warfare, but systematic legal codes did not appear until the 17th cent. The great work of Grotius, De jure belli ac pacis [on the laws of war and peace] (1625) and the works of Vattel had much influence in introducing humane practices. Detailed international treaties governing war are mostly a product of the 19th and 20th cent. The Declaration of Paris (1856; see Paris, Declaration of), the accords concluded at the Hague Conferences (1899, 1907), and the Geneva Conventions (1864, 1906, 1929, 1949) are the main bodies of formulated law.
There is no convention on the laws of war to which all the major powers of the world have acceded, and many conventions provide that their terms shall be inoperative if any of the belligerents is not a signatory or if an enemy commits a violation. Despite such provisions, many nations have adopted the laws of war, and the conditions of warfare have undoubtedly been ameliorated, particularly in the treatment of prisoners and the consideration shown to the sick and wounded. The care of the sick and the wounded is facilitated by making medical personnel noncombatants and by clearly marking hospitals and similar installations, thus sparing them from attack. Conventions restricting the use of certain weapons probably have not materially mitigated the horrors of war. For the most part, only those weapons that are of limited military use, e.g., poison gas, have been effectively banned, while efforts to prohibit militarily effective weapons, e.g., atomic weapons and submarine mines, have not succeeded.
The laws of war have had as their objective the protection of civilian populations by limiting all action to the military. A distinction was made between combatants and noncombatants, the former being defined in terms of traditional military units. Thus combatants must have a commander responsible for subordinates, wear a fixed and recognizable emblem, carry arms openly, and follow the laws of war. But the development of aerial bombing in World War I and of guerrilla forces dependent on civilians has tended to make all enemy territory part of the theater of operations. New practices and categories have yet to be worked out to protect civilian centers adequately.
Civilians in territory occupied by the enemy are, however, supposed to be entitled to certain protections. There may not be imprisonment without cause, and fines may not be levied upon a whole civilian population for individual offenses. Private property also receives limited protection, and it may not be confiscated for military use unless fair compensation is paid. Special rules govern such actions against property as the taking of a prize at sea or in port, the confiscation of contraband, and the use of the blockade. Property destroyed in the course of action against the enemy is, of course, not compensable. Places of religious, artistic, or historical importance should not be attacked unless there is military need.
No direct diplomatic relations exist between belligerents, but neutral diplomats are often given custody of property in enemy territory and are entrusted with negotiations. In the field of combat, passports, safe-conducts, and flags of truce permit consultations between opposing commanders. Hostilities may even be totally suspended by an armistice, which is often the prelude to surrender.
Violations of the laws of war have probably occurred in all major conflicts; a nation confident of victory will frequently not be deterred even by fear of reprisals. After World War II the military and civilian leaders of the Axis Powers who were responsible for violations were tried for war crimes, and some Americans were tried for war crimes in the Vietnam War (see My Lai incident).
See M. Greenspan, The Modern Law of Land Warfare (1959) and The Soldier's Guide to the Laws of War (1969); S. D. Bailey, Prohibitions and Restraints in War (1972).
In the 18th and the earlier part of the 19th centuries, a sloop-of-war was a small sailing warship (also known as one of the escort types) with a single gun deck that carried anything up to eighteen cannon. As the rating system covered all vessels with 20 guns and above, this meant that the term sloop-of-war actually encompassed all the unrated combat vessels including the very small gun-brigs and cutters. In technical terms, even the more specialised bomb vessel were classed as sloops-of-war, and in practice these were actually employed in the sloop role when not carrying out their specialized functions.
In later years the type evolved; in World War II sloops were specialized convoy-defence vessels, with anti-aircraft and anti-submarine capability.
In the first half of the 18th century, most naval sloops were two-masted vessels, usually carrying a ketch or a snow rig. A ketch had main and mizzen masts but no foremast, while a snow had a foremast and a main mast but no mizzen.
The first three-masted (i.e. "ship rigged") sloops appeared during the 1740s, and from the mid-1750s most new sloops were built with a three-masted (ship) rig.
The Royal Navy also made extensive use of the Bermuda sloop, both as a cruiser against French privateers, slavers, and smugglers, and also as its standard advice vessels, carrying communications, vital persons and materials, and performing reconnaissance duties for the fleets.
In the Royal Navy, the sloop evolved into an unrated vessel with a single gun deck and three masts, two square rigged and the aftermost fore-and-aft rigged (corvettes had three masts, all of which were square-rigged). Steam sloops had a transverse division of their lateral coal bunkers in order that the lower division could be emptied first, to maintain a level of protection afforded by the coal in the upper bunker division along the waterline.
The Royal Navy continued to build vessels rated as sloops during the interwar years. These sloops were small warships intended for colonial "gunboat diplomacy" deployments, surveying duties and to act during wartime as convoy escorts. As they were not intended to deploy with the fleet, sloops had a maximum speed of less than . A number of such sloops, for example the Grimsby and Kingfisher classes, were built in the interwar years. Fleet minesweepers such as the Algerine class were rated as "minesweeping sloops". The Royal Navy officially dropped the term sloop in 1937, although the term remained in widespread and general use.