Warfare: I. Introduction
In the immortal words of General William Tecumseh Sherman, one of its better known practitioners, "war is hell." Rather than diminishing with the cessation of the superpower rivalry that dominated the international scene for nearly half a century, the incidence of warfare is increasing. As the twenty-first century began over three dozen wars were being fought around the globe, like an insidious disease with no cure is in sight.
Types of War
Warfare is generally understood as armed conflict, often prolonged, between nations or parts of nations. Civil wars are fought between sections of the population within a nation. When an armed group engages in military action against its government, the war is an insurrection or a revolution, sometimes called a war of national liberation.
Despite its abhorrent character, nations routinely prepare for armed conflict, defensively, most claim. Some actively institute it for reasons their leaders deem necessary.
After the September 11, 2001, bombings of the World Trade Center and Pentagon, a new kind of war emerged, a war against terrorism. This turned out initially to be military action by the United States and its allies against the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan and against the international organization believed to be responsible for the September 11th attacks. It was followed shortly by Israeli forces invading Palestinian cities in an attempt to stop terrorist suicide bombings.
The point of all warfare, whether international, civil, revolutionary, or against terrorism, is to cause enough damage—human, physical, psychological, social, economic— that the other side gives up, surrenders, ceases to resist, or sometimes ceases to exist as a viable society. Throughout history the tactics of warfare have always included, sometimes reluctantly, sometimes not, but whenever deemed necessary, the deliberate targeting of enemy civilians. Contemporary military tactics emphasize creating severe damage to the enemy with as little loss of life on one's own side as possible.
Weapons of War
Over the centuries ever newer and more destructive means of waging war have been designed and produced. Contemporary wars are waged with highly sophisticated and lethal weapons by those societies that have sufficient technological and economic resources. The most deadly of these are the socalled weapons of mass destruction—nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.
NUCLEAR WEAPONS. First used by the United States on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II, nuclear weapons can destroy an entire urban area in one blast. Thousands of them, capable of leveling cities of potentially hostile countries, are deployed by the United States, Russia, Great Britain, France, China, Israel, India, and Pakistan. A one-megaton hydrogen bomb, a medium-sized nuclear weapon, would instantly destroy everything within a radius of a mile and a half of where it explodes. Every building in that radius would disintegrate, and all living creatures would die in a fraction of a second, and disappear. Within a three-mile radius, the heat would be so severe that anything exposed to it would burst into flames. As far as eight miles away people would suffer second-degree burns. As much as one-third of the population of a city of 1 million people would be killed or wounded by the blast and fire of such a bomb.
Smaller weapons, sometimes called mininukes or bunker busters, are designed to destroy underground targets. These bombs also create a huge crater above the target and spew radioactive dust for miles around the center. These smaller nuclear weapons are considered "usable" by military planners, by contrast with the larger city-destroying weapons whose value consists primarily in deterrence.
CHEMICAL AND BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS. Chemical weapons, first used by both sides in World War I in the form of poison gas, were later employed by Italy against Ethiopia in the 1930s, by the United States in South Vietnam in the 1960s, and by Iraq against Iran in the 1980s. In the twenty-first century the most advanced chemical warfare agent is binary nerve gas, which consists of two chemicals of relatively low toxicity that mix when their containing munition is fired. At that point they produce a lethal gas that is odorless and can be absorbed through the skin and eyes as well as by inhalation. The gas attacks the central nervous system, and those exposed to even low concentrations of it experience sweating and vomiting, followed by paralysis, respiratory failure, and then death.
Biological weapons spread viruses that cause diseases such as anthrax, botulism, plague, and smallpox, diseases that are usually accompanied by high fevers and deadly internal bleeding. Other viruses are designed to attack the lungs, brain, spinal cord, or heart. Once dispersed, these diseases can easily spread throughout a concentrated population, causing incurable illness, panic, and death.
Because it can also be used to manufacture benign agricultural and medicinal products, the equipment for manufacturing chemical or biological weapons is considered, in military terminology, "dual use." A pharmaceutical plant making civilian medical products might become a military target because it could also be used to make weapons for warfare.
The 1975 Biological Weapons Convention prohibited the development, production, and stockpiling of such weapons. But because they are relatively easy and cheap to produce—they have been called "a poor person's nuke"— less developed countries may consider them affordable weapons of mass destruction.
CONVENTIONAL WEAPONS. Conventional weapons include supersonic aircraft, swift ships and silent submarines, precision-guided munitions, remote-controlled pilot-less aircraft, rapid all-terrain vehicles for ground troops, land mines impervious to detection, visual aids for seeing in the dark, space-based sensors to pinpoint enemy targets, assault rifles that fire dozens of rounds a second, handheld grenade and rocket launchers, and shoulder-fired antiaircraft missile launchers.
SPACE-BASED WEAPONS. Space-based lasers and antimissile systems are being developed by the United States to give what military planners call full-spectrum dominance—control of land, sea, air, and outer space.
War involves the inflicting of pain and suffering, and the deliberate killing of other human beings, often on a large scale. It also inflicts serious emotional trauma on those who do the killing. Because warfare is so terrible, so contrary to the best inclinations of the human character, but because it is also a fact of national and international life, concerned persons through the ages have attempted to provide ethical frameworks with which to evaluate it.
Three such frameworks are traditionally presented, with a fourth added since the middle of the twentieth century. The first, often called the realist position, is the belief that a war must be prosecuted to a successful conclusion using all available means. The second, pacifism, maintains that all killing is wrong, that war is so inhumane that no one should take part in it. The third, and most widely held, is the just war theory, which maintains that, although war is regrettable, it is sometimes necessary and should be fought under specific ethical guidelines. The fourth, relatively new since Mohandas Gandhi (1869–1948) introduced it in waging India's war of national liberation against the British, involves active nonviolence as an effective alternative to the organized killing of warfare.
REALIST APPROACH. Realism is based on the belief that the end justifies the means, necessity knows no law, that if a war must be fought it should be fought totally. This meant, according to the nineteenth-century German theoretician Carl von Clausewitz in his influential book On War (1832), that an enemy's military power must be destroyed, and that the country must be conquered in such a way that it cannot produce a new military power. Even the will of the enemy must be destroyed. Whatever means are necessary should be used to force the other side into submission.
The realist approach was epitomized in World War II when the Allies waged what came to be called "total war" against Germany and Japan, insisting on nothing short of unconditional surrender. Earlier President Franklin D. Roosevelt had decried the German bombing of the cities of Warsaw, Poland; Coventry and London, England; and Rotterdam, the Netherlands, calling these campaigns ruthless and shocking to the conscience of humanity. But in pursuit of the goal of unconditional surrender, the United States itself used saturation bombing on cities in Germany and Japan, culminating in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Those countries that possess nuclear weapons in the twenty-first century have steadily maintained their will to use them if their security is severely threatened, if deterrence fails, regardless of the consequences.
Contemporary warfare tends to absolutize one's country and the cause for which it is fighting: "My country, right or wrong"; "we're good, they're evil"; or, as President George W. Bush put it in launching the war on terrorism, "you're either with us or you're with the terrorists." Given the patriotic fervor that arises when a nation finds itself at war, the vast majority of a country's political, academic, and even religious leaders tend to support the war. Rare are the instances of religious officials questioning whether the war is right, rarer still those who put forward the great ideals of peace and common humanity as an alternative to fighting and killing.
PACIFISM. Pacifism, refusal to take part in war on religious or humanitarian grounds, is based on the belief that the deliberate taking of human life is wrong. The belief might be religious (e.g., "Thou shalt not kill," "Love your enemies"), or it could be a conviction that all human life is valuable, and that deliberately terminating it, even an enemy in warfare, violates the integrity of the human condition. A pacifist's refusal to take part in war is recognized by law in some countries as conscientious objection to military service. Where such refusal is not legal, pacifists suffer the consequences—often imprisonment, and sometimes even death.
JUST WAR THEORY. The just war position is based on the conviction that violence is sometimes necessary to stop aggression or to secure the legitimate goals of one's country. The phrase just war was coined by the Greek philosopher Aristotle in the fourth century b.c.e. to describe military action undertaken to enslave those designed by nature for servitude but who resisted their proper place in the social scale. The term's classical formulation in Western philosophy began, however, with the Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo in the fifth century c.e.
Augustine was convinced that humanity, corrupted by sin, was prone to violence. Although loving one's enemies was the Christian ideal and peace the goal, it was inevitable that human cruelty and desire for power would emerge. When this happened, Augustine maintained, force must be used to counteract it. But the intention must always be to restore peace.
The just war theory was later codified under two headings. The first, jus ad bellum, was the right to go to war. This could happen only when there was a just cause, and when going to war was a last resort. It also had to be ordered by the proper authority, responsible for the common good of the society. The damage to be inflicted must be proportionate to the good expected by taking up arms.
The second heading, jus in bello, concerned ethically proper conduct during a war. This involved two important restrictions: using only those military means that are sufficient to accomplish the goal (sometimes called the principal of proportionality) and a prohibition both on executing hostages and prisoners and on attacking nonmilitary targets (the principle of discrimination).
Governments in modern times have tended to reduce the jus ad bellum argument to having a just cause for war, expressed as a serious threat to national integrity or security. Although the Charter of the United Nations declares that all war is illegal, Article 51 allows nations to go to war in selfdefense, with every nation free to define self-defense as it sees fit, including the maintenance of access to sufficient natural resources such as water or oil.
Modern weapons assure that some if not many noncombatants will be killed. The jus in bello part of the just war theory is increasingly focused not on avoiding such killing, but on preventing public revulsion over it. Political expediency demands that civilians not be considered as direct targets but, in military terminology, as collateral damage, regrettable side effects. Restricting the news media's access to areas of combat and limiting the media only to information derived from military briefings are ways of keeping civilian casualties from arousing negative public opinion.
ACTIVE NONVIOLENCE. Gandhi, leading the people of India in their struggle for independence against Great Britain in what would otherwise have been a war of revolution or national liberation, introduced a new tactic—active, positive, organized nonviolent resistance. For the most part the Indian war of independence disavowed armed conflict in favor of a disciplined nonviolent movement by large numbers of Indian people. This new kind of war took several decades but resulted in freedom from the British and the creation of the modern nation of India.
Gandhi's tactics were taken up in the late 1950s and 1960s by the American clergyman Martin Luther King Jr. in the struggle for the civil rights of African Americans. It has also been used in other parts of the world, such as in the liberation of South Africa from the oppression of apartheid.
Gandhian nonviolence presents a whole other range of possibilities different from the pacifist refusal to take part in war. A determination to use nonviolent means to resolve international conflicts could involve a nonviolent defense force in which people would be trained in ways of resisting an aggressor through noncooperation and direct, unarmed confrontation. In his 1971 book, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, peace researcher Gene Sharp identified more than 146 specific techniques of nonviolent action, ranging from general strikes and boycotts to nonpayment of taxes.
Active nonviolence offers for many a fruitful alternative to the ethical positions of realism, pacifism, and the just war. It does not aim simply at achieving a more effective national defense, but also at establishing a system of human and international relationships that would eventually do away with the need for war altogether. Active nonviolence seeks to address the underlying causes of war by working for the establishment of social justice, environmental protection, and the defense of human rights.
In the reality of the contemporary world, where warfare remains an ongoing possibility, each individual is involved in some way. Wars are made possible not only by political leaders who launch them and military personnel who fight them but also by those who design and produce the weapons, those who arouse citizen support, those who pay for war through their taxes, and those who form a chorus of patriotic approval.
Once a decision has been made for whatever reason to go to war, leaders try to mobilize popular support through communication verging on propaganda, by attempting to withhold negative information, and by discouraging public debate. It is hard to resist the groundswell of nationalistic fervor, hard to find the truth, and hard to see what is really going on, what are the causes, and where real justice lies. Hence the importance of looking at these issues ahead of time, getting information about international trouble spots and likely scenarios before hostilities break out, assessing it all according to what one knows and believes, and exploring realistic nonviolent alternatives.
Warfare is a troubling, vexing question. In the end, each person must make a decision about approving of, participating in, or supporting a war based on one's own personal integrity, which is to say, one's conscience.
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