Post-America- A Nation of Appeasers

100208 at 10:29 pm 20 comments

Posted on February 8, 2010 thelastcrusade

“Fear is the foundation of most governments.”   John Adams

America has not won a war since 1945.

Korea, Viet Nam, Cuba, and Cambodia remain Communist, and more powerful than ever.

The United States is in debt to Communist China, and subservient to the Maoist leadership of that slave-nation/super-power.

We have tolerated ridiculous generals and corrupt politicians who have squandered our nation’s wealth on building shopping centers in enemy capitals.

Our impotent leaders engage in discredited policies of “Nation building” in the vain hope that our terrorist enemies will see the light and become civilized friends of the “International Community”.

How things have changed

Defining “Victory” and “Peace”: How the U.S. and Israel Reject General Sherman’s Solution and Get Blamed Any Way

-By Barry Rubin

“War,” said General William Tecumseh Sherman, “is Hell.” He knew what he was talking about. Sherman’s march through Georgia and into South Carolina at the end of the Civil War helped end the Civil War while destroying a lot of civilian homes, farms, and towns..

His strategy was to inflict such terrible punishment on the South that it would surrender faster, thus saving lives. His men did things shocking to Americans even after such a bloody conflict, burning plantations and destroying everything in their wake. Ironically, though, even Sherman’s deeds have been exaggerated.

But Sherman was no mere brute. He was so depressed by the prospect of the Civil War—being among the few who understood how long and bloody it would be—that he had a nervous breakdown at its onset and tried to escape the responsibility of service that he ultimately knew would be impossible for him to avoid. Like other Western generals of his time, and almost up to the present day–but no longer–he simply believed, in his words, “I will ever conduct war with a view to perfect and early [that is, complete and quick] success.”

After the war, Sherman became commander of the U.S. army and about 1870, regarding the Franco-Prussian War but it applies generally:

How are wars won? The preferred way is for one side to see that its own victory is impossible and that it will face much heavier costs by continuing than by surrendering or making peace. By making a deal sooner, the side that’s losing often reasons that it can get better terms.

What do you do, though, if the other side isn’t going to give up? Here’s what Sherman said about the French-German conflict but which also applies to America’s Civil War and many other conflicts as well:

“The proper strategy consists in inflicting as telling blows as possible on the enemy’s army, and then in using the inhabitants so much suffering that they must long for peace, and force the government to demand it. The people must be left nothing but their eyes to weep with over the war.”

That’s pretty terrible. Remember, though, that Sherman did say war was Hell. When it became clear that Japan was not going to surrender in World War Two, requiring a full-scale U.S. invasion of that country’s homeland that would have left millions dead, President Harry Truman dropped two nuclear bombs on Japan. He was right to do so. The results were horrendous, heart-breaking. Yet if Truman had not taken that tough decision far more Japanese and Americans would be dead. The damage to Japan would have been so great that the country would not have recovered, if at all, until many decades passed.

Consider Sherman’s analysis in a contemporary context. Western democracies, including the United States and Israel, have no desire to pursue such a strategy. If the governments did, the democratic institutions and public opinion would never stand for it. This creates a paradox: if the other side doesn’t surrender, victory is impossible because that other side will not be crushed or so credibly threatened with destruction that its leaders will give in.

This is one side—the other is the nature and ideology of the enemies themselves—of asymmetric warfare. By refusing to surrender, by offering up their own civilians as casualties, by courting massive destruction, by keeping the battle going and inflicting casualties on the democratic combatants, the weaker side hopes to win. True, the radicals believe that their ideology and determination makes them stronger but there’s one more factor: they count on the squeamishness of their would-be victims as being too soft, in effect too democratic.

The radicals using asymmetric warfare are wrong in thinking they can win but they are right in thinking they can’t lose. The battle goes on as long as they choose, even if the democratic side doesn’t give up. And sometimes it does, or at least they can still hope that it will and use that hope to inspire more sacrifice from its own people.

Consider Israel in this context. The above explains why Israel can never “win” the conflict with the Palestinians or with the neighboring Arabs or Muslims for that matter. “Win” here means to gain such a triumph that the conflict will come to an end. But Israel can “win” by reducing the cost of the conflict to itself, going on with its national life, and reducing conflict to a minimum in terms of disruptions and casualties.

Equally, the radicals can gain international sympathy and criticisms of Israel but that will never bring them actual victory, only allow them to extend the conflict indefinitely. And so, there is no peace but Israel remains the closest thing to a winner, as long as it is willing to pay a certain price, while trying to reduce that price to the lowest possible level.

I am not advocating a Sherman-like policy. No one in any position of power in Israel is doing so or has ever really done so. Aside from the moral issue, the effect on Israel’s own society, and the impact on its international standing, such a step simply isn’t necessary.

Compare the Israeli view to that of the creator and commander of the German army, not in World War Two under the Nazis, not even in World War One, but in the 1870 Franco-Prussian war. The Germans had won but the French were waging war for a time through guerrilla forces.

General Moltke ordered all French guerrillas to be shot and anyone helping them be severely punished. “Experience has established that the most effective way of dealing with this situation is to destroy the premises concerned—or, where participation has been more general, the entire village….”

A German officer wrote in 1870: “We are learning to hate them more every day.…Atrocious attacks are avenged by atrocities which remind one of the Thirty Years War.”

Does this have anything to do with Israeli tactics on the West Bank or Gaza Strip? Of course not, though nothing would be easier for Israel to do in terms of capability. After 50 years of conflict, Israeli soldiers don’t respond the way those Germans did after five months. That’s why not a single real atrocity or massacre can be found by Israel’s enemies despite massive and desperate attempts to do so over many years; even despite the fact that there have been many completely documented and deliberately planned massacres of Israeli civilians by Palestinian terrorists.

And this remains true despite the fact that the “atrocious attacks” Israel faces, in terms of anti-civilian terrorism, is far beyond what that German officer in 1870 could ever have dreamed possible. Remember, too, by the way that under British rule in mandatory Palestine the mere possession of a gun was punishable by death. The British executed more Jews in two years during the 1940s than Israel has hung Palestinians who killed civilians in 50 years. In fact, Israel has not executed a single Palestinian during its existence.

Fortunately, back in 1871, the French government, realizing the hopelessness of the situation, made a deal, giving up one and a half provinces and paying reparations in order to end the war. Even this did not terminate the friction between the two countries which later resulted in two world wars, though that particular peace agreement held for almost 45 years.

Still, the Franco-Prussian war example shows that even a “total victory” might be less satisfactory ultimately than what for Israel is largely a victory for all practical purposes, including at least formal peace with two of its neighbors and a de facto peace—though not necessarily a permanent one of course, with the Palestinian Authority.

Two points to conclude. First, there is nothing harder than to explain the above to a Western audience. They identify a good outcome only with a full and formal peace ending the conflict. This is, of course, preferable. But if it is impossible—and it is in an asymmetric conflict when international sympathy for the aggressive “underdog” allows it to go on getting its people killed and territory damaged for decades—than a practical “victory” is the next best thing.

Second, it is rather ridiculous to slander Israel as a “war criminal” or bully or aggressor or the factor blocking peace when the opposite is true. If the weaker side insists on being the attacker and rejecting a reasonable peaceful solution, then that supposed “David” becomes in fact the actual “Goliath.”

Moreover, compared to the wars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries there have been no massacres, summary executions, wholesale destruction of cities, large-scale looting, or anything comparable to such things.

In the attempt to smear Israel, we are now down to debating whether it was right for Israeli soldiers to shoot back at enemy combatants trying to kill them who were firing from a specific building or which ammunition should have been used in doing so. And this in a situation where the other side is subject to no limits whatsoever, indeed can be expected to target civilians on purpose and execute prisoners.

Defiinitely, there has been a great deal of success for groups with a long history of deliberate terrorism in lying about Israeli actions and spreading the general impression that some kind of war crimes were committed. Yet the fabrications and irresponsibility of Western institutions in doing so are far more shocking than anything that actually happened.

And finally, Israel has rejected the Sherman strategy. It is the Palestinian side, along with Iran, Syria, Hizballah, and others that have embraced it. They just lack the competence to pull it off.

In Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, the United States is facing parallel issues, and this will happen even more in the future. It is understandable that democratic countries have generally abandoned the Sherman approach but there is a price to be paid for doing so. What is completely unacceptable is to pay the price for restraint and then be falsely accused of acting otherwise.

At the end of the Civil War, Sherman wrote, speaking words that all democratic societies truly feel:

“I confess, without shame, I am sick and tired of fighting—its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentations of distant families, appealing to me for sons, husbands and fathers….It is only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated …that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation.”

Yet Sherman did not live to see the age of ideological warfare, no matter what the cost to their own people the radicals and Islamists do indeed call for “more blood, more vengeance, more desolution.” They do so in the hope that their enemies are “sick and tired of fighting,” will do anything to avoid casualties and the “anguish and lamentations,” from citizens, and that fools in the enemies’ camp blame the continued warfare and suffering on their own side.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan)

Entry filed under: History. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

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20 Comments Add your own

  • 1. talibhaiku  |  100209 at 3:16 am

    At the end of the day war as defined by Clausewitz is organised violene for political purposes. There are many aspects of warfare that do indeed characterise it, most obviously military capabilities and technology.

    But the most important is political-will of the policy-makers, and this entails the will to carry on fighting. As you correctly point out, the Palestinians for example, cannot ‘win’ in conventional terms, and do enjoy much international support in their struggle for liberation.

    Israel cannot defeat the Palestinians, nor crush their desire for freedom – the more aggression and occupation the people are faced with, the more determined they are to carry on the fight.

    I believe Hebzbollah in both 2000 and 2006 managed successfully to display the superior political will in the conflicts.

    The guerrilla, has all the time in the world and plenty of patience – they know if they steadily, yet continuously keep sending back body-bags of conventional soldiers- those people back home will lose the will to carry on the fight.

    Vietnam was a political failure.

    People often talk about the ‘success’ of the 2007 Iraq surge, but it is still too early to be celebrating such a thing. It all depends on the Sunni’s results in the parliamentary elections, if they are dissatisfied, an insurgency will resume. Though right now the insurgents are focussing more on eroding the credibility in the government to provide security rather than foreign troops.

    In this Information Age era of guerrilla warfare, it has enabled them to convey their message more effectively and even to contradict mainstream news reports or to simply bypass them altogether.

    Afghanistan will be America’s longest war to date. Obama’s plan to total the troops in Afghanistan to 100,000 – and then start bringing home some after 18 months is unrealisitc.

    People may ask why did things turn out the way they did, after the American initial victory and regime change.

    History happened.

    Afghans do not take well to foreign invaders, and have an immense history of resistance to occupation. Think Alexander the Great.

    The more fatalities, plus the skewed objectives in the Afghan quagmire, will eventually be too much for the American people to stomach – along with the erosion of the political will to carry on the fight.

    The fact that the West, during Gordon Brown’s Afghanistan conference, proposing essentially a plan to pay the Taliban for peace- just shows how far their political will has seen a U-turn when compared to the over-confident Bush era at the start of the war.

    • 2. GoodOleBoy  |  100210 at 1:33 pm

      The civil war was lost by attrition not by Shermans march, it enraged the South. The only hope the South had to win was bringing England into the Conflict. There is still anger in the South from the actions of the North.

      The problems we have encountered in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Israelis have with Gaza and the West Bank is they are Muslims.
      The only thing they will respond to would be someone like Sherman. The USSR had Muslim areas and came down hard on them when violence occurred.

      The Bush administration overestimated the Iraqi’s. He thought them educated and thought they would value freedom.

    • 3. hepsy  |  100210 at 3:09 pm

      Although I am not a pacifist I do not understand war, specifically the political depth of it. Maybe it takes more testosterone than I have, or a different experience. That said, it seems obvious that Vietnam was a political failure, or political victory by Politically Correct standard. A deposed VC General was confused by why we gave up the war after it was won militarily.

      On the present conflict in Afghanistan, I don’t understand that, either, other than it’s guerrilla warfare, too. Don’t know how a trained military can fight against them, other than besiege them, cutting them off from food and water, and jamming their communications. But then, that would be so Politically Incorrect. The Afghani who want freedom, and their allies (including US) would be sacrificed in a satisfactory PC manner to appease those with a different mission.

      Your comment is appreciated, mahalo !

  • 4. talibhaiku  |  100210 at 2:04 pm


    A person is only defeated once they have lost the will to stay in the fight. Israel has “come down hard” on its enemies – there have been many cases of disproportionate responses from relatively light offensives.

    The Israel offensive in Gaza last year left over a thousand Palestinians dead – against 13 Israeli dead. Has it stopped the Palestinians’ resolve?

    The offensive seems to relate to Sherman’s strategy: “left nothing but their eyes to weep with over the war.”

    Considering the damage to the already, barely existent Palestinian economy and infrastructure, etc.

    Do you really think that a near ‘Total War’ would change the situation on the ground in Afghanistan? A non-conventional enemy that can simply disperse and come back when the onslaught has settled? (Like they did post-2001).

    I also think it is a tad bit patronising when you think a smart man like Bush of all people, was wrong in thinking the Iraqi’s were “educated” and that they would “value freedom”.

    It is always a surprise to American’s when they try to force their idea of freedom- and with that, liberal democracy on a different populace, a different culture and civilisation.

    To many Iraqi’s “freedom” would be a complete withdrawal of foreign troops- and their trigger-happy mercenaries out of their territory. Could it also be that a proud Muslim country simply might not want a secular and liberal brand of democracy?

    • 5. GoodOleBoy  |  100210 at 4:05 pm

      Did the Israelis cause total destruction? Loot burn and kill all stock, rape all the women? They try to spare innocents unlike the Palestinians.

      Expulsions from Gaza and the West bank to Iran and Syria. They actually despise Palestinians as do most Islamic states. Wholesale destruction of neighborhoods harboring terrorists be they Hammas or any other group would help but the terrorists best friends the press would barbecue them.

      Were 600 missiles light, daily suicide bombings, school buses bombed, disco’s bombed light? The muslims target children.

      Bush and his staff were thinking in terms we understand, western hemisphere with Judeo-Christian values. Islam doesn’t fit into that thought pattern. It is a mistake I saw often in the military.

      • 6. talibhaiku  |  100210 at 4:26 pm

        Israel does not distinguish between civilian and militants – in every operation it is mostly civilians who are killed. Also as you say “unlike the Palestinians” – that is EXACTLY the situation – one of the most powerful militaries in the world against an entirely civilian population (give or take militants- but even they are not “military”) There is no Palestinian national army, it is unbelievable that you bother contrast the two, as if this is an evenly matched duel.

        You are clearly biased in your posts and do not take into consideration the human rights abuses, war crimes and not to mention the actual plight of the Palestinians as a people. White phospherous over the most populated stretch of land is a no-brainer that it is going to mostly kill civilians. They knew what they were doing.

        Hamas was founded in the late 80’s (Ironically with some support by Israel to counter the then highly militant and popular- yet secular Fatah of PLO).

        Israel on the other hand was founded in 1948 (spearheaded by Jewish TERRORIST organisations – Bombing of King David Hotel????), at the expense of the indegenous populations. Despite, the literal carving up of the Middle East after the Ottomans (which is another story in itself), the Palestinian question was left unresolved.

        “Muslims target children” – As if the cheap homemade missiles have some form of ariel precision right? Israel has killed numerous Palestinian children. As I said your posts are not balanced at all – you are only pointing out militant-based terror and not state-terror.

        By the way, Israel continues to ilegally (and that is the key word here) occupy East Jerusalem, as well as its policy of continued expansion in the W.Bank. Removing Gaza settlements, whilst boosting W,Bank ones doesn’t go unoticed.

        And is Judeo-Christian values about breaking international law (Iraq War) as well as acting unilaterally? More to the point how can there even be mention of war when speaking of “Christian” values (Judeo has the less peaceful O.T). And you speak to me about compatibility?

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