The short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Union Army veteran Ambrose Bierce — long a staple of high school curricula and the subject of music videos, television, and film — is not typically thought of as a study in the dilemmas of humanitarian law. But it is. It depicts an execution for violation of the laws of war. Even better, the text embodies a central tension in the laws of war. On the one hand stands a sentimental humanitarianism that aims to minimize the human suffering of war; Henri Dunant’s book, “A Memory of Solferino” popularized this stance and helped establish the ICRC in 1863. On the other hand, a righteous humanitarianism chafes at the constraints that sentimental humanitarianism places on the pursuit of justice. Francis Lieber, whose code of rules for the Union Army was published a year after Dunant’s book, embrace the righteous justice of particular causes. Bierce’s “Owl Creek” straddles the two planks of the modern laws of war.