Some definitions and reflections I wrote recently about war from a variety of texts – a subject that has been on my mind especially in light of the growing ground conflict in the Ukraine.
War, the inherent struggles of humans in all consuming conflict. War is the overwhelming desire to impose one’s will upon others, through force. Be it ideals, beliefs, or even just pure subversion, war stems from the human differences we perceive between ourselves, and the overwhelming desire to ensure we are correct. By going to war, we say, “I believe in my ideals so much, that I am willing to sacrifice the most precious thing I have – myself – in order to prove I am correct. War is often conceived by a paltry few, and spread to the masses, sometimes readily, sometimes not. But in the end, a war must be supported by the majority, or it will, ultimately fail.
Should there be rules and laws surrounding war?
There is a certain irony to applying laws and rules to war, as it is, and likely always will be a savage, animalistic act. The act of taking a life, or many lives is not one that should be taken lightly, and rules and laws attempt to make this point more obvious. But, by applying rules and laws to war, those who make the rules are always favored, and rarely can all agree on the terms to which a war will be fought. And often enough, those who wish to engage in war cannot abide by those rules set in place, for they were disallowed from the process. It is all well and good to say, “We, as industrialized nations, will abide by rules about casualty numbers and types of technology we can and cannot use”, for they have certainly advanced the mechanization of war. But for those who fight with farm tools and natural materials, these rules mean nothing – they have no means to do so otherwise. It stands, in my opinion, that while we would like to make war a legalized, procedural event, there is little hope of that ever becoming a true reality.
Response to the Law of War Handbook
I thoroughly enjoyed this reading. Being taken through a brief history of the rules of war was quite refreshing and enlightening. This reading did a great job of boiling down the points into concise statements, with lots of references to known and popular events. Though there was little in the way of opinion, the facts were carefully chosen to provide what seems to be a common ground that worldwide laws of war are based on. I also liked seeing statements referencing the lack of a perfect system, solidifying the fact that this is a hotly debated topic even today. Overall this reading’s author was concise and informative, and presented historical facts well.
Response to The Art of War
“Know thy enemy”
SunTzu may be one of the first prolific writers about the theories of war. As such, he presents a very interesting view about war as an Art, already qualifying it as more than just conflict, in his mind. This art, he reasons, should ideally be quick, decisive, and overall efficiency. In this excerpt, he speaks little of morality, other than acknowledging its presence in considering war. His theories about war seem to mostly boil down to using tactics that are the most beneficial to wage war, often reducing the costs associated with it. By making decisive victories, there is minimal bloodshed, allowing the victor to easily take control and resume normal activities quickly. Several times, Sun Tzu bemoans inefficiency and poor planning, as they can lead to less than effective military campaigns, which are also likely to be more costly. Almost all of what is presented in this excerpt points to Sun Tzu being motivated to maintain “rules of war” for purely a tactical advantage – keeping captured soldiers alive bolsters the military, not harming civilians keeps the populations happy and removes them as a factor in planning.He does speak with a sense of honor that should be carried by those who make war, but it is unclear if this is a product of the society from which he came, or actually another tactical belief he held. Summing up Sun Tzu seems to point toward using efficient tactics to crush the enemy, which may also lead to more “honorable” warfare.
Response to The Prince
“It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both”
Machiavelli speaks in this excerpt about the political side of war. Describing first that war both the right and obligation of “Princes”, which I interpret as those rulers who also were responsible for leading their troops into battle, he speaks about the facts of using war as a tool for a princeship, as it assists in gaining and maintaining power. He then moves into the more interesting commentary, concerning the things that a prince should concern themselves with on a political front, as well as in terms of their relationship with the people, including their fighting force He speaks on a very practical level, describing very honest, human characteristics that can and should be leveraged by the “Prince” to ensure their reign of power. This focus on “the war at home” is a very important component, as Machiavelli points out, because without the support of the people, through love (or more likely, fear) the “Prince” will not remain so for long. Machiavelli asks the reader to consider the political scene as well when waging war.
Response to On War
“War is the continuation of politics by other means”
Clausewitz is primarily concerned with ensuring that their is little “sugarcoating” applied to war – it is not an art, but rather, an unfortunate political maneuver that falls within the realm of human nature. He wishes to present war as honestly as possible, citing that humans seem to have little interest in actually preventing war, using current firearms development as evidence for the human desire to continue improving conflict. And in many ways, he is correct. The politics of war are a massively tricky thing, a game played by many, but understood by few. It is certainly Clausewitz’s opinion that war is an unfortunate reality, but he offers little in the way of suggestions to improve the situation.
Response to Sherman
Sherman’s letter to his superiors echoes a lot of the ideals that were being formed about war because of the US Civil War. His plans to evacuate Atlanta before laying it to waste seem to show that he does feel remorse at the atrocities that have become the norm during this brutal conflict. And in his later letter, he sounds even more worn out by war, and is ready for things to end. It brings an interesting human element to the topic of war, where the horrors of the act are not lost upon those who are asked to commit it. Sherman’s reflection is especially powerful, given his known tendencies for complete destruction of the enemy.