Tuesday, 30 January 2007

3:5 Keep attacking and threatening your enemies.

The classic manual on all of this is, of course, that magnificent (if brutal and cynical) book by Clausewitz On War, which can be usefully supplemented by Machiavelli’s marvellous advice in The Prince, as well, nowadays, many manuals put out by your Departments of War (sorry, we should have said of Defence).

Let us remind you of a few of their central bits of advice, things like: act first, constant preparation and arms stockpiling, strike mercilessly, be prepared, iron and fire, deception and lying and so on.

So this is how you should behave in Christ’s wars. It was how we treated the heathen Saracens in the Crusades, how we exterminated the Albigensian heretics, how we destroyed the savages around the globe who opposed your glorious kingdoms. There is no room for scruple in these matters.

If all this is true of ordinary wars, imagine how much more it is the case in a religious war against civilization’s enemies. These enemies will use any tactics against you. Even if, as yet, their attacks have been limited (the whole twin towers was less than a month’s civilian death toll in Iraq), we must not be lulled, for they would kill many times that number if they could, and rejoice at the carnage. Even if the amount of death and destruction you have brought down upon them is many times more than what they have done to you, do not relent. Even if they have not done many of the things which they could have done with ease; poison the water systems, spread plagues, bomb nuclear plants, you should still speak angrily of them as ‘totally unscrupulous’. You must continue to describe them as utterly ruthless and as using all means against you. Then you are justified in whatever methods you like.


Gabriel Andrade said...

To me, Clausewitz has always been an intringuing figure. Are there any rules in wars? Most ethic systems would say 'yes, of course'. But then again, military history has precisely been a dialectic towards the suppression of war rules. Every military technology that comes up becomes a violation of former war rules: the horse, gunpowder, mustard gas, nuclear weapons, each deadlier than the former. The purpose of warfare is to win. Of course there are the Hague Conventions, but few care about them, and if generals cared too much about them, they would propably be defeated in war. So, Clausewitz seems to me as someone who used basic common sense: if a General wants to win, so called 'rules of war' are really inexistent.
Is guerrilla warfare illegitimate? Is hiding behind civilians illegitamte? Are nuclear attacks illegitamte? As with most military issues, they are consiered illegitimate in as much as the denouncing party does not engage oin these type of practices. For Islamists, air strikes are ilegitimate, for Americans, guerrilla is ilegitimate. Who is right?
I guess one could only answer: "all of them are ilegitimate". War is wrong, in any of its forms, defensive or offensive. This is perhaps the greatest contribution of Church Father such as Tertullian, and certainly, a true Christian is a pacifist. This could be labeled utopian, even mad (Churchill did have to intervene against Hitler, otherwise, the world would be much more miserable today), but, precisely, the Christian peace-ethic has been useful to balance a world that is already prone to warfare.
Thus, Clausewitzean thought is quite rational: the best way to win is by ignoring rules, and since there is no effective referee in war, you might as well ignore them. Furthermore, by ignoring rules, you will win the war, and by winning the war, no one will judge you (indeed, who talks about Allied, Yankee, Puritan or even Guantanamo atrocities as they develop?).
But, this terrible rationality has been confronted by a Christian non-secular (thus, somewhat irrational) ethic that warns that killing is wrong under any circumstance. The future of peace depends upon the success of this Christian idea.

Gabriel Andrade said...

A further thought about Clausewitz: perverse as he may have been in his advocacy of 'total war' (namely, everything is allowed if victory is desired), I think one may partly excuse him as someone who, contrary to what it would appear, he saw war as a means and not as an end itself. I wouldn't say Clauswetiz adscribed to a warfare-for-the-sake-of-warfare mentality. He saw war as an instrument for peace (that is a reprehensible view, nevertheless, but I would not say it is fascist), namely, 'an extension of politics' as the famous phrase goes.
And, even more importantly so, he very much considered that military actions have consequences that could be disastrous after the war is over. For instance, if you desire to establish control over a population, perhaps attrocities are good to show who is in command and to send a message that traitors will not be spared; but not too much attrocities, because that could generate more resentments in the future, and the control will soon be lost. So, ironically, the humane face of Clausewitz appears as a side effect of his perverse rationality.
I'd say Clausewitz is not any more special than most military theoreticians. They all have the same motive: how to win battles and kill more effectively. Why is someone like Julius Ceasar revered, as opposed to Clausewitz, when in fact the Roman Emperor (and every great general) shared similar views? I guess the answer lies in the fact that Clausewitz has been subject to Enlightenment (and Christian) criticism.
Every 'great' general has been 'great' precisely for his ability to kill more people effectively. To kill, you must restrain morality. Clausewitz only pushed to its logical extreme a long history of military progress (that is to say, more efficiency in warfare, more numbers of enemy casualties, demoralizing adversaries by any means, etc.), from stones to cannons.
For my part, I prefer to echo early Christianity's rejection of warfare and even military service, but I understand this could be naive. Some balance must be found.