the numerous defenders of Total War, no means of breaking
an enemy's will can be forsworn under the conditions
of modern warfare. The enemy includes every member
of the "enemy society," regardless of age, gender,
occupation, etc. Any vestiges of 18th-
or 19th-century practices which aimed at
limiting the destructiveness of war and at preserving
as much as possible of normal life during war reflect
mere sentimentality or obsolete punctilio.
Warriors like to recommend General Sherman's cute
little saying that "war is hell." You can see Sherman
quoted about once a day at NRO and other such places.
Of course as a Confederate officer retorted at the
time, "it depends somewhat on the warrior."(1)
fact that so many states knowingly chose to
abandon older limitations and rules during the 20th
century does not go very far toward proving that circumstances
beyond their control drove them to their decisions
and that they could not have made different decisions.
otherwise sane military historians of the Boer War,
for example, will say that British policy-makers "had
no choice" but to begin burning farms and putting
Afrikaner women and children into concentration camps
where 27,000 of them died. They had to do so, once
their opponents resorted to unconventional warfare.
the British would not have won.
this, one may say So what? Is anyone outside the British
state apparatus required to care about that? Is there
any reason to suppose that British forces had some
kind of right to prevail, a right so overriding
as to sanctify any means that could contribute to
put it another way, does it necessarily follow, even
if Britain did embody the cause of civilization and
enlightenment in the Boer War an extreme hypothesis,
I admit that it would therefore have been moral
for the British commanders to use any means at all?
THE WAR OVER WITH, 'ON SCHEDULE'
from general name-calling and the unproven but popular
claim that the Good may use means that the Bad may
not, Total Warriors have a few other arguments up
their sleeve. One is that Total
War the policy of making war on the enemy's
entire society is defensible, even humane, because
it "shortens the war." There are some problems with
this argument, the first of which is that one would
like to see some proof that Total War tactics have
shortened all wars, most wars, or even any war in
which they were used.
next question is What is so great about shortening
the war? A war carried on with old-fashioned restraint
and respect for civilian lives and property would
not obviously be worse, if it lasted beyond some arbitrary
time, than a shorter war carried on with every possible
weapon available to imaginative Total Warriors. I
think this may go part of the way towards answering
the Total Warrior's claim that shortening the war
merely "saving lives" were the point, then the quickest
way to fulfill that goal would be to end the war.
learn little enough from the claim that Total War
saves lives; we don't know whose lives are
being saved, nor do we get an estimate of how many
will be saved, proportionately, by carrying on Total
War instead of some other kind of war that might last
longer on the calendar. I am not sure that we know
if any lives will be saved at all by Total
War. More might well be killed. The most we might
say is that there will be a different distribution
if contending powers actually wanted to shorten a
war, they had other means, such as negotiating and
making peace. I suppose that was silly of them, but
it was a choice to which the powers sometimes recurred.
I see no reason to dismiss it out of hand in favor
of flattening the enemy's entire society.
INCONVENIENCES OF BEHAVING RIGHTLY
any case, it does not at all follow even if Total
War brings with it such benefits as shortening the
war and saving unspecified people's lives
that it could ever be moral to use the means to which
Total Warriors are addicted. They will naturally say
that with mass conscription, complex industrial economies,
and the rest, no one can be asked to make a strict
distinction between combatants and noncombatants or
between military and civil production. As one authority
put it in the 1920s: "To require aviators to single
out the one class of persons and things from the other
and to confine their attacks 'exclusively' to one
of them will in many cases amount to an absolute
prohibition of all bombardment" [my italics].(2)
And where's the problem?
course the early exponents of air power reasoned that
it would be "inconvenient" not to bomb and that, therefore,
bombing must be done, and any rules limiting
the use of this wonderful tool should be set aside.
This reflects a view which, as Thomas Nagel noted
in 1972, is "widely accepted in the civilized world,"
namely, that "any means can in principle be justified
if it leads to a sufficiently worthy end." He comments
that "If it is not allowable to do certain
things, such as killing unarmed prisoners or civilians,
then no argument about what will happen if one doesn't
do them can show that doing them would be all right."(3)
is not such a difficult proposition. Imagine, for
instance, that most people believed that Fred Smith
should be wealthy. Fred Smith might decide that killing
his six wealthiest neighbors and taking their stuff
was an acceptable way to reach this widely approved
goal. But, now, most would say they agreed with the
goal but not his chosen means. This would not be because
murder was wrong only in close connection with that
particular end. The end does not come into it at all.
Murder was wrong as such before Smith's goal was formed
and his program announced. Its wrongness has no relation
to its possible place in Smith's, or anyone's, complex
chain of ends and means.
to US strategy in Vietnam, Nagel writes: "Once the
door is opened to calculations of utility and national
interest, the usual speculations about the future
of freedom, peace, and economic prosperity can be
brought to bear to ease the consciences of those responsible
for a certain number of charred babies."(4)
It is important to see what Nagel is saying here.
He is not saying that there are no such
things as utility and national interest.
is saying that if there is an overarching moral framework,
considerations of utility and national interest (whatever
that might be) cannot decide questions that
are essentially moral, that is, questions of what
it is right to do. Within the moral framework, we
can and do make decisions about utility and the like
all day long. But notions about utility and national
interest if the latter even exists apart from the
interest of actual people living under some state,
and this is my question, not Nagel's cannot take
the place of moral reasoning.
all this is "extremist" stuff, to be sure, and I am
glad that Nagel is carrying some of the burden here.
His approach, if anyone cared to take it up, would
tend to render Total War impossible. Under this strict
standard, Total War appears as the highest stage of
and their intellectual apologists have, since the
16th century, gotten away with a great
deal of imposture in the area of morality. States,
it has been said, are not like other human associations.
They must make the really tough decisions, create
peoples, pursue Hegelian missions, and so on, unfettered
by the petty, everyday rules of mere morality. The
state, indeed, is the source of law, and there
is not the only way in which to view these things,
and may well be the worst way to do so.(5)
goes on to address "the widely imagined difficulty
of making a division, in modern warfare, between combatants
and noncombatants," as well as "problems deriving
from the connotation of the word 'innocence.'"(6)
he means by "innocence" is "currently harmless," i.e.,
that someone is not presently aiming a gun at you,
for example. This is helpful because it gets us beyond
those high-flown constructs wherein the failure of
the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker
to overthrow the government under which they live,
which happens to be at war, makes them "guilty" of
whatever that government did or did not do to bring
about the war or of whatever that government is doing
in the course of the war. Under the other, more popular
notion of innocence and guilt, everyone in the enemy
society is guilty of not overthrowing the government,
of living there, or what? and is therefore a target.
the shoemaker, who repairs the shoes of the farmer
who grows crops which might, some of them, be used
to feed the army, members of which might actually
do current harm to some actual combatant on the other
side, does not automatically become a "legitimate
target" just for doing what he would be doing anyway,
if there were no war. Nagel writes: "The threat presented
by an army and its members does not consist merely
in the fact that they are men, but in the fact that
they are armed and are using their arms in the pursuit
of certain objectives. Contributions to their arms
and logistics are contributions to this threat; contributions
to their mere existence as men are not. It is
therefore wrong to direct an attack against those
who merely serve the combatants' needs as human beings,
such as farmers and food suppliers, even though survival
as a human being is a necessary condition of efficient
functioning as a soldier" [my italics].(7)
Nagel harks back to the position of such radical 19th-century
laissez faire liberals as Gustave
de Molinari, who argued that the rules of warfare
ought to be reformed to separate as completely as
possible the enterprises connected with war from those
of commerce. The latter ought to be allowed to proceed,
as much as possible, as they would in the absence
of war. Indeed, I think that Nagel's conclusion could
be stated even more radically, but I would not want
to outflank him on the right, or left, or whatever
it is these days.
the basis of the view that war establishes "personal
relations" between those involved, relations which
have their proper "target,"(8) and
that soldiers are to be attacked in their capacity
as soldiers and not as men, Nagel rejects as
barbaric and atrocious such weapons as flamethrowers
and napalm, which do far more than stop, incapacitate,
or kill the man-as-soldier but inflict unneeded harm
on him as a man.(9) Total Warriors,
I am sure, can only shake their heads at such utter
sentimentality. And yet Nagel has a point.
the same part of the discussion, Nagel suggests that
the existing "laws" of war may be entirely too permissive,
having been drawn up by cynical state functionaries,
and thus may not constitute any moral framework at
all. I would add that state actors have chosen
to adopt the assumptions of Total War. As international
law goes, however, the 1977
Protocol to the Geneva Conventions, Part IV: Civilian
Population, is a pretty good attempt at stating
rules that would re-establish some distinction between
combatants and noncombatants.
should come as no surprise that the United States
has not bothered to ratify the 1977 Protocol.
than acknowledge the possibility of a larger moral
framework, the United States prefers a sort of utilitarianism,
described by Nagel as "a view of oneself as a benevolent
bureaucrat distributing such benefits as one can control
to countless other beings, with whom one may have
relations or none. The justifications it requires
are primarily administrative."(10)
would never do for the One Remaining Super Power to
admit that ethical norms might exist norms that
were not mere derivatives of policy, and that were
not instrumental and manipulative rationalizations
of whatever the empire's leaders wish to do anyway.
It would cramp their style and hamper their flexibility.
We should not even ask them to look into it.
may expect to see a lot of new moral slogans under
the empire's present management, but you may not expect
to see much actual morality. This is only an empirical
judgment. Nevertheless, I expect it has high predictive
last thing: Why raise the issue of Total War now?
For one simple reason if the reigning US leadership
are really bent on war against Iraq or any other state,
any war they launch will be a Total War. It is a US
tradition since at least 1862. They know no other.
shall hear all about "precision" weaponry and bombs
so smart that they can recite passages from Immanuel
some things are subject to empirical study. The US
authorities learned one thing in Indo-China: foreigners,
and even a handful of Americans, get a little edgy
at these ongoing displays of massive explosive overkill.
US spokesmen certainly talk a good game of precision
these days. Maybe they will kill fewer enemy
civilians per square foot than has been their habit
in the past.
they can manage that, we can acknowledge the achievement
without undue rancor. It will still not establish
their right to have killed however many civilians
they actually do kill. It will not establish much
of anything except an aptitude for applied science
and new advances in propaganda. Nor will it justify
the large number of Iraqi deaths, over the ten years
of non-war and non-peace of recent memory, deaths
with which a late US Secretary State could live.
Richard M. Weaver, "Southern Chivalry and Total War,"
in George M. Curtis, III and James J. Thompson, Jr.,
eds., The Southern Essays of Richard M. Weaver
(Indianapolis: LibertyPress, 1987), p. 167.
J. W. Garner, quoted in Elbridge Colby, Capt. US Army,
"Aerial Law and War Targets," American Journal
of International Law, 19, 4 (October 1925), p.
Thomas Nagel, "War and Massacre," Philosophy and
Public Affairs, 1, 2 (Winter 1972), p. 127.
Ibid., p. 129.
For an excellent reconstructions of the grounds of
political ethics, see Frank van Dun, "Philosophical
Statism and the Illusions of Citizenship: Reflections
on the Neutral State," in Boudewijn Bouckaert and
Annette Godart-van der Kroon, Hayek Revisited
(Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2000), pp. 89-108, and
Murray N. Rothbard, "War, Peace, and the State," in
Egalitarianism As A Revolt Against Nature (Auburn,
AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2000), pp. 115-132,
and The Ethics of Liberty (New York: New York
Nagel, "War and Massacre," p. 139.
Ibid., p. 140.
Ibid., pp. 133-134.
Ibid., p. 141-142.
Ibid., pp. 137-138.