GLEN COVE, NY —War is a great evil, but it is not like most evils. By its nature, war produces noble, heroic deeds. While epidemics, famines, droughts, earthquakes, floods, and persecutions may be the occasions of heroic deeds, only war depends on such deeds. Heroes, however, do not cause wars; diplomats cause wars.
Great soldiers grasp both the elegance of war and its horrors. Robert E. Lee said, "It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it." William Tecumseh Sherman, after leading a massive war of aggression against a population of innocent civilians, described the glories of war as "moonshine" and war as "hell."
|| Horrible and costly wars are often caused by a failure to make it clear that the just will fight back.
||War is unlike other evils in another way. There are just wars, but there are no just famines, earthquakes, or epidemics. Just wars are almost always wars of defense of oneself or others. Not all defensive wars, however, are just. A just war can never be more unjust than the conduct of the enemy, either in its conduct or its consequences. Indeed, a justification for war can never justify injustice.
Often, a war appears to be just when it is begun, but only because of a failure to imagine its consequences. Certainly, Austria was justified in making war on a secret-society-dominated Serbia, whose government and army were complicit in murdering the heir to the Austrian throne. It was easy enough to imagine a quick Austrian victory and a new Serbian government that would not continue destabilizing the Balkan region. It took a little more imagination to foresee that Serbia's friends would join the war, and a lot more imagination to foresee the dissolution and destruction of the Austrian empire and the age of tyrannical dictatorships. If Austria truly gauged the potential consequences of World War I, it would not have followed such a suicidal course of action.
Roman military writer Vegetius said, "Si vis pacem, para bellum" (If you want peace, prepare war.). This is true, but it is also a great paradox. The unimaginative observers see war preparations as increasing, rather than decreasing, the danger of war. History has proven, however, that truly well-prepared nations, like the Swiss, are seldom attacked.
Horrible and costly wars are often caused by a failure to make it clear that the just will fight back. Those who fail to make it clear that they will resist unjust aggression with superior force are morally culpable of causing any war that ensues.
During the Korean War, 30,000 Americans died. The war started because Secretary of State Dean Acheson gave the impression that the West would not fight back if North Korea invaded South Korea. Not surprisingly, North Korea attacked. The entry of the mainland Chinese communists prolonged the war. Truman was so afraid of starting World War III that he did not allow the bombing of the bridges over which the Chinese invaders traveled or the pursuit the invaders across such bridges. In short, the State Department not only started this war -- it also prolonged it.
Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait set into motion a chain of events that included two wars and a tangled web of problems. Prior to that invasion, Iraq had served as a useful restraint on the lunatics who run Iran. Two wars could have been avoided and Iraq's useful role continued if someone in the State Department had the good sense to make it clear to Saddam that any invasion of Kuwait would be driven back by overwhelming force.
Military theorist Clausewitz said, "War is not merely a political act, but also a political instrument, a continuation of political relations, a carrying out of the same by other means." Wars frequently occur when the just fail to make it clear to the unjust that the price of unjust wars is too great to make them worthwhile. War is not so much a continuation of political relations by other means as it is a failure of political relations due to the timidity and ineptitude of the diplomats charged with carrying them out.
The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2013
by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com.
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Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the
New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in
many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles
about the law.
See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.
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