American Civil War General Robert E. Lee said at Fredericksburg, “It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.”
With our all-volunteer force, “surgical” strikes, ever-cooler toys of combat from drones to smart weapons to advanced aircraft, to battlefield videos all over YouTube as entertainment, we have made war no longer terrible for our nation – and have grown “too fond of it.”
To not have to fight war, to not want to fight war, we must again make war as terrible as it once was. Or we shall be at it forever.
We’re now over a million deaths in to the “war”, or “limited combat”, or “nation building” in Iraq. Where we aren’t, is any closer to victory, the only sane reason to go to war.
Choosing to go to war and to kill and to die without choosing victory is the most immoral decision any nation can make. Yet we, who pride ourselves on being a moral people, are making this choice for the third time in the lifetimes of many of us. The result of this choice has, each time, been millions of dead for a goal in which we – demonstrably – do not believe: Permanently changing or terminating the behavior of an opponent.
War has a simple, brutal calculus: The side that kills the most enemy wins. And the side that can kill the most enemy while losing the fewest of its own understands that sacrificing more of its future generations than necessary to achieve victory is immature, immoral and existentially stupid. But an intelligent calculus of war also includes killing as few of the enemy as required to achieve victory.
It is the calculus of productivity in war – killing more of them than us, but not more of them than necessary – that we have forgotten and now ignore.
In choosing to reject both victory and the weapons providing the greatest productivity in man’s most lethal endeavor, America chooses to deal to our foes far more death than necessary. In not defeating our foe, we are responsible for the immoral deaths not only of those enemies we kill in not even trying to achieve victory, but also for the tens of thousands of young Americans who believed, wrongly, that their nation and leadership sent them into combat for a cause in which that leadership and nation believed.
We have weapons that are far more productive than those we deploy in not winning our wars. If we cared about human lives, ours and our adversaries’, we’d use these weapons and end these conflicts in victory much more quickly and at far lower cost – in lives and dollars – to both sides. The faster one’s enemy is killed, the more quickly the war ends and the killing stops.
Not only have we wasted over one million lives in our current S. Asia conflicts, we have spent close to $5T, enriching only the Military-Industrial Complex against which President Eisenhower warned us. We also have ripped apart thousands of the American families our leaders tell us we go to war to protect and defend.
Combat is about killing warriors, who are tools of policy. War is about killing nations. Conventional weapons are weapons of carnage. Nuclear weapons are weapons of war.
Let’s dispense with the nonsense of “non-state actors,” and the adolescent question of “against whom do we go to war?” People live, organize, train, eat, sleep, grow, love, kill and die within nations and with the permission of the governments of those nations. Any nation exists only due to the implicit support of those living within its borders. A few colonial farmers overthrew the British Empire in America. A few peasants overthrew the Czars. The Chinese reacted harshly at Tienanmen Square because they understood that small groups of men ideologically driven can change history. Ask ISIS. Ask Sweden.
Behaviors are generated and defined by ideology. Conflict between ideologies is expensive. Today no one does not know the ideological and funding centers of our adversaries.
War is the use of all national means to effect change in the behavior of nations, to destroy virulent, lethal ideologies. The rapid and brutal expansion of the NAZI ideology was why America went to war in Europe. The forceful expansion of the nation of Imperial Japan in the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere was why America went to war in the Pacific.
In American wars won on the field of combat (Civil War, WW2), American forces destroyed roads, bridges, railroads, telephone and telegraph lines, bombed dams and dikes, flooded farmland, destroyed crops and foodstuffs, torpedoed cargo ships, blew-up electrical grids and water works, bombed cities to rubble, and brought our adversary to the brink of starvation. We did this because without food, water, power and shelter a nation cannot fight. We did this because victory is making the vanquished utterly reliant on the victor for their sustenance. Victory not only destroys the capacity of an adversary to fight, but the will to do so. In only this way are behaviors permanently changed.
We fought as we did because we believed in our goal: The destruction of savage ideologies that were implacable foes of liberty and freedom.
As per the chart above, conventional weapons are less, not more, humane than nuclear weapons in achieving victory. Conventional weapons not only cost needless deaths, they lack the strategic statement of a nuclear detonation: Change your behavior or we will annihilate you.
People ignorant of nuclear weapons see them as Hollywood presents them – city killers. These are strategic weapons measured in effective yields of millions of tons of TNT (MT), and only are a portion of our nuclear arsenal. Tactical nuclear weapons also exist, with yields as low as 5,000 tons of TNT (5Kt), smaller than either of the WW2 atomic bombs. We drop that many tons of bombs in a month. With them we kill a lot of sand or jungle – but we don’t win wars.
In rejecting these weapons we allow our leaders to kill millions to no effect. And thousands of those dying in this rejection are our sons. A 5Kt warhead can stop the slaughter of thousands, make a serious political statement and, perhaps, end a war through an acceptance by our enemies of our seriousness of purpose.
General Eisenhower, Supreme Commander Allied Forces Europe, who led the Allies to victory in the largest land war in history, knew more about the human costs of war than any Western leader since. Yet as President he fought against his Pentagon his entire term in office, rejecting the costs of fielding a huge conventional army. He knew that “The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.”
Ike’s successful policy to deter the Soviets was “Massive Retaliation”. He promised that if America or our allies were attacked, America would go “all in”. President Eisenhower knew doing so would cost millions fewer lives and trillions fewer dollars than a large conventional force fighting in measured – incremental – retaliation. The world knew that General Eisenhower had killed millions to defeat his enemy; they understood the man and his experience. An acquaintance who lectures at the National War College once noted in a three-way discussion with an opponent of nuclear weapons, that Massive Retaliation “is the only reason they don’t speak Russian in Paris today.”
By promising to wage war he became one of a very few post-war presidents not to take America to war. Si vis pacem, para bellum.
The calculus of war has not changed. The decisions of American presidents have.
To the detriment of our kids, our culture, our budgets, and the millions of lives lost, and continuing to be lost by refusing to understand the nature of war, why we fight, and by rejecting our most productive weapons, choosing instead to send our children, we have chosen to make war not terrible. Combat always will be terrible; but war is what the populace experiences, not combat.
If America is to return to being the moral nation we all believe and want it to be, we do not need to rebuild our conventional military at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars. Rather, we need to learn, again, to wage war – hard, brutal, instant, final war – when and where necessary.
We need to make war terrible again.