War is the continuation of politics by other means. Societies are political entities. Societies create armed forces as tools to implement their political objectives – offensive and defensive. Simply, an army is a policy tool, not a policy maker.
Killing an army, uniformed or not, does not destroy the politics or the processes through which policy is created. Failure to destroy, or to cause the general collapse of the opponent’s society is the failure of the political goals for which the war was fought.
WWI is an excellent example. The German army was not defeated on the field of battle, its cities and towns were not occupied. They thought they had acceded to Wilson’s 14 Points and were angered and frustrated to learn that they inadvertently had surrendered to the Allies. The general German misperception that they had not been defeated – and the fact that the German society in truth had not – led to the resumption of hostilities a generation later.
In WWII Allied leaders understood this lesson. The result was absolutely no question that the enemy polities and societies had been destroyed and caused to collapse. The countries were occupied. The military tool was destroyed, yes, but the war was won- and its political goals achieved – through the general destruction of the enemy societies in Cologne, Berlin, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, etc.
No one worried about the Japanese Street or the German Street. Why we worry about the Arab Street just shows our lack of seriousness – or a general lack of confidence in Western Civilization by our yammering classes – in both parties.
Wars are won only by inducing inconvenience to an enemy (American Revolution, War of 1812, Vietnam, etc.) or by destroying the enemy (Civil War, WWII). Creating a cease fire every other week, worrying about disarming – rather than utterly destroying – a foe, concerning oneself with “hearts and minds,” is working the inconvenience side of the equation.
Limited war, from Korea to Vietnam (French and American experiences) to Iraq, never has worked for modern countries. A non-Western, non-civilized country cannot be inconvenienced to the levels that can a modern industrial society with smaller families, more distractions and a Western liberal outlook on life and its value.
If the enemy cannot be inconvenienced to the point of withdrawing from the battle, either that enemy must be destroyed or collapsed – or we do not believe in our policy goals to the extent that we should be willing to go to war, even in defense of those policies. No third option exists.
If we do not believe in our policy goals, the sacrifice of the lives of our soldiers is immoral. If we do believe in our policy goals – and I, for one, certainly do – then the enemy societies must be collapsed – they must be defeated, not just have their policy tools, their military forces, run off an inconvenient battlefield to lick their wounds and rearm.
Which brings us to weapons of war. Precisions Guided Munitions (smart bombs) are police weapons, not weapons of war. In fact, once they have been used on selected high-value targets which can slow the execution of the war, such as anti-air batteries, PGMs hamper the prosecution of war. Once those high-value targets have been destroyed, PGMs must go back into the depot and weapons of war brought out.
Civilians are killed by weapons of war. Civilian deaths are and must be seen as unavoidable for the simple fact that the goals of an enemy can only be defeated by defeating their society – not just its armed policy tool.
This means not just that civilians can die, it means they must know they will die, must understand that their deaths will not be avoided to the detriment of legitimate military operations. This knowledge must be real enough to cause them to change their policies – which is the whole point of the war in the first place.
In order to win a war, enemy civilians must occupy a lower rung of importance than the goal of the war. Otherwise we tell our soldiers – and theirs – that their civilians are more important than our soldiers. Civilian deaths, though not sought after, must be accepted if doing so means we are making our policy tool – our military forces – more effective in accomplishing the political goals which we are trying to achieve through their use.
In fact, no great effort must be made to avoid civilian deaths. If civilians are in the battlespace their loss may be unfortunate, but not as unfortunate as losing the war. More civilians died in the firebombings of Tokyo than in the nuking of Hiroshima – and no one at a policy level was particularly concerned – we were at war.
As long as our enemy knows we will avoid legitimate military targets, putting our forces more at risk, in order to avoid civilian casualties, war cannot be won. It really is that simple.
If we collapse their society, destroy their polity, we win. If not, we lose.
We are not in a police action – we are in a war. The lives of the soldiers of my country are more important than the lives of enemy civilians.
Targeting the enemy tools of warfare is how a battle is won; it cannot win a war. Only targeting the enemy society and polity can.
We can target and defeat their polity without incurring any casualties whatsoever – which is the moral way to fight a war. Causing those brave enough and committed enough to our values to die when we can do otherwise is immoral.
Truman (a Democrat) understood that sacrificing perhaps half-a-million Americans when achieving the political aim of WWII did not require it was an immoral and inefficient way to win a war that was projected to last at least another two years. The realization caused him to use nuclear weapons – and avoid those tremendous costs in lives lost. The strategy worked, the Japanese society was crushed, and Japan has been a democratic polity and an economic and military partner for 60 years.
No valid reason exists not to use nuclear weapons on our enemies, particularly Riyadh and, if they get much closer to the nuclear club, Iran and North Korea.
From a military standpoint the only thing that matters is the size of the bang that destroys the foe.
From a political standpoint, winning the war against Islamist fascism will require the general destruction and collapse of the societies that breed it, much as killing NAZIsm required the destruction of the society that bred it, and killing Imperial Japan required the collapse of the society that created it.
It is unserious to speak of societies in guiltless terms – to assume that any society is a flock of lambs not responsible for their government. All societies are responsible for their government, and all societies can overthrow their governments. Colonists threw out the British Empire. Peasants overthrew Russia. The Chinese harshness at Tianenman Square was because Chinese leaders understood this fact.
Either we begin to take this war seriously and win it or it will become too inconvenient for a modern liberal democracy and we will lose it, with disastrous consequences for democracy, liberty, freedom and the world.
Why we are willing, evidently, to wait on the detonation of an Iranian bomb before we use the weapons at our disposal is unknown and will be dealt with very harshly by future historians – if the West survives.
And there is no reason – historical, divine, or other — to assume that the West, its liberties, freedoms, science, technology, advances across the breadth of human effort, must survive.
There is no way America and the EU are going to pony up literally millions of soldiers to invade and crush this evil ideology using the tactics of WWII minus the understanding that the goal is more important than civilian casualties. WWII would not have been won under those rules.
Killing the German society and the Japanese society freed hundreds of millions of people from tyranny and subjugation. Killing such a tyrannical, evil enemy is necessary. How that enemy feels about us is immaterial.
If we believe in our youth and our future, our casualties must be minimized.
If we believe in ourselves and in our traditions, this war must be won.