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Hors de combat, literally meaning "outside the fight," is a French term used in diplomacy and international law to refer to military personnel who are incapable of performing their military function. Examples include fighter pilots and aircrew members parachuting from an aircraft in distress, as well as the sick, wounded, detained, or otherwise disabled. Military personnel hors de combat are normally granted special protections according to the laws of war, sometimes including prisoner of war status.

In addition to personnel, hors de combat may refer to anything out of action or disabled.

Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions defines:[1]

A person is 'hors de combat' if:

(a) he is in the power of an adverse Party;
(b) he clearly expresses an intention to surrender; or
(c) he has been rendered unconscious or is otherwise incapacitated by wounds or sickness, and therefore is incapable of defending himself;

provided that in any of these cases he abstains from any hostile act and does not attempt to escape.

In literature

  • F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote of Froggy Parker as Amory Blaine flirted with Isabelle in "This Side of Paradise":

    On her right Froggy was hors de combat already, although he hadn't quite realized it.

  • Baroness Orczy wrote in her famous novel The Scarlet Pimpernel:

    When we find them, there will be a band of desperate men at the bay. Some of our men, I presume, will be put hors de combat. These royalists are good swordsmen, and the Englishman is devilish cunning, and looks very powerful.

  • Kurt Vonnegut described himself as hors de combat on the title page of his famous anti-war novel, Slaughterhouse Five:

    …who, as an American infantry scout hors de combat, as a prisoner of war, witnessed the fire bombing of Dresden…

  • Jules Verne, in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, has Captain Nemo explain:

    Professor, I am sorry for one of the best vessels in the American navy; but they attacked me, and I was bound to defend myself. I contented myself, however, with putting the frigate hors de combat; she will not have any difficulty in getting repaired at the next port.

  • Alexandre Dumas's characters in "The Three Musketeers" several times refer to men wounded as "hors de combat," specifically when describing fights to others as a method of recounting casualties, such as the King Louis XIII of France to the Musketeers after a violent time in the city:

    Seven of his Eminence's Guards placed hors de combat by you four in two days! That's too many, gentlemen, too many!


See also


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