Essays on War
Prof. Paul Eidelberg
Carl von Clausewitz (1770-1831)
Clausewitz’s magnum opus, On War, is studied in military schools to this day. He defines war as “an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will. Violence is the means; submission of the enemy to our will the ultimate object.” For as long as the enemy remains armed, he will wait for a more favorable moment for action.
The ultimate object of war is political. To attain this object fully, the enemy must be disarmed. Disarming the enemy “becomes therefore the immediate object of hostilities. It takes the place of the final object and puts it aside as something we can eliminate from our calculations.”
Clausewitz warns: “Philanthropists may readily imagine there is a skillful method of disarming and overcoming an enemy without causing great bloodshed, and that this is the proper tendency of the Art of War. However plausible this may appear, still it is an error which must be extirpated; for in such dangerous things as war, the errors which proceed from a spirit of benevolence are the worst.”
Not that Clausewitz advocates indiscriminate slaughter. He warns, however, that “he who uses force unsparingly, without reference to the bloodshed involved, must obtain a superiority if his adversary uses less vigor in its application.” Hence, “Let us not hear of Generals who conquer without bloodshed. If a bloody slaughter is a horrible sight, then that is a ground for paying more respect to War, but not for making the sword we wear blunter and blunter by degrees from feelings of humanity, until someone steps in with one that is sharp and lops off the arm from our body.”
It follows that moderation or self-restraint as a principle of war is absurd and suicidal. To defeat the enemy the means must be proportioned to his power of resistance, and his power of resistance must be utterly crushed.
The statesman must take into account not only the forces of the enemy. He must solidify the confidence and determination of his people. They must believe in the justice of their country's cause and understand the importance of victory as well as the consequences of defeat. The statesman must display wisdom, decisiveness, and moral clarity.
Above all the statesman must have, in his own mind, a clear view of his post-war goal or political object. The political object will determine the aim of military force as well as the amount of force or effort to be used.
This, by the way, is the crucial point of any Israeli attack on Gaza. Does the Government have a clear view of the goal or political object of this war? Is its military echelon geared to go beyond “Operation Iron Lead” and so devastate Hamas as to sear from the consciousness of these Muslims any further desire to attack Israel?□
Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, written about 500 BCE, is the oldest military treatise in the world. Even now, after twenty-five centuries, the basic principles of that treatise remain a valuable guide for the conduct of war. Indeed, Sun Tzu may be of interest to the General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, in view of the Arab Terrorist War that erupted in September2000. Since then some 1,500 Jewish men, women, and children have been murdered by Arab terrorists, and 15,000 more have been wounded, many maimed for life.
Referring to the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF’s) limited response to this Arab terrorism, former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said, “self-restraint is strength”! At first glance one might suspect that Mr. Sharon had been influence by Mother Theresa. It may well be, however, that he derived that dictum from a misreading of The Art of War? Sun Tzu would have an army general exhibit, at first, “the coyness of a maiden”—to draw out the enemy—but thereafter he would have his general emulate the fierceness of a lion.
Of course, when the forces of the enemy exceed your own or occupy superior ground, then self-restraint is prudence. But when this situation is reversed, self-restraint is weakness. In fact, Sun Tzu goes so far as to say, “If fighting is reasonably sure to result in victory, then you must fight, even though the ruler forbids it.”
In referring to various ways in which a ruler can bring misfortune upon his army and his people, Sun Tzu cautions a ruler against “attempting to govern an army in the same way as he administers a kingdom.” Although “In war, the general receives his commands from the sovereign,” “he will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.” Sun Tzu emphasizes that there are even occasions when the “commands of the sovereign must not be obeyed.”
Of course, this would violate the principle of military subordination to civilian authority, which Israel’s political leaders would proclaim to preserve their democratic reputation, especially in the United States. This perfidious attitude would multiply Jewish casualties and Jewish soldiers on the alter of PR.
In this connection, recall the Yom Kippur War, in which 3,000 Jewish soldiers perished. Certain general officers of the IDF obeyed the commands of the Meir Government by not launching a pre-emptive attack. Later, the Agranat Commission of Inquiry blamed them for the disaster. Sun Tsu might have agreed with the Agranat conclusion, but for different reasons. He would have faulted the generals for “self-restraint,” that is, for heeding the commands of their Government.
Admittedly, Sun Tzu did not have to worry about journalists and humanists who make the rational conduct of war impossible, and who therefore prolong the killing. When U.S. Admiral Bull Halsey said, “Hit hard, hit fast, hit often,” he was merely echoing Sun Tzu’s advice. By the way, this advice can also be gleaned from the Sages of Israel.
Thus, concerning Deuteronomy 20:1, “When you go forth to battle against your enemies,” the Sages ask, “What is meant by ‘against your enemies’”? They answer: “God said, ‘Confront them as enemies. Just as they show you no mercy, so should you not show them any mercy.’”
Sun Tzu would therefore be appalled by the alacrity with which Israeli governments engage in cease fires or “hudnas,” which allow Arab terrorists to regroup and accumulate more and deadlier weapons. Sun Tzu calls for the uninterrupted attack. He unequivocally opposes a protracted war: “There is no instance,” he says, “of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.”
Hence Israel’s Government must ignore the inanities of sheltered critics—of jaded intellectuals and politicians who preach “self-restraint” as if Hiroshima and Dresden never happened. The paramount concern of Israel’s political and military echelons is to minimize Jewish casualties. Horrible as it is, peace-loving Israel, confronted by a genocidal enemy, must kill for peace.□