“Plundering and devastating the enemy’s country, which play such an important part with the Tartars, with ancient nations, and even in the Middle Ages, were no longer in accordance with the spirit of the age. They were justly looked upon as unnecessary barbarity, which might easily induce reprisals, and which did more injury to the enemy’s subjects than the enemy’s Government, therefore, produced no effect beyond throwing the Nation back many stages in all that relates to the peaceful arts and civilization. War, therefore, confined itself more and more, both as regards means and end, to the Army itself.” Carl von Clausewitz "On War" pp383 Anatol Rapoport translation
So- this is the basis of the concepts of proportionate force and attempting to limit civilian casualties (cf Israeli warnings to neighborhoods about exactly when and where they would strike.)
This seems obvious and right, yet what happens when you face an enemy who deliberately uses your feelings, beliefs, protocols, customs and laws to harm you and conserve his own strength? When he deliberately hides his firing positions in civilian areas, or hospitals or schools?
It’s a great soundbite- once you have the media on your side you can be confident that they will not show the damage or bodies of that you have inflicted, but they will film in loving detail the shattered bodies of the children that you used for a shield. You targeted bus stops, but you were never so evil as to target schools...and yet you hid your weapons in schools and fired from them. No matter, roll the cameras and show the broken children and cry for restraint.
Very neat, very effective, but it presages another sea change in the art of war. It is time for a different spirit for a new age.
More from Clasuewitz- paraphrased. For a time, war was seen as a political thing involving mostly the cabinet and the army. With the rise of the French Republic, everyone felt that they were part of the State, not the subjects of a State. War became everyone’s business and we wound up with the entire weight of a nation on the French side versus only the army and the politicians on the other. Wherever Napoleon met this old way, he crushed them.
Not until Spain had its citizen’s insurgency; Austria made the extraordinary step of activating many of its citizens for war and Russia deliberately followed the Spanish lead- only then did the Grande Armee begin to lose.
Someone said (and I wish I knew who) that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.
So we live in a country where most citizens have never served in the Armed Forces and some citizens openly show contempt for those who do; where people vote as if the primary purpose of the government were to ensure that the voters have enough possessions; where decisions about war are made not by the popularly elected legislative branch (as required by the constitution) but by the largely appointed executive branch… have we regressed to the model described by Clausewitz? Tradition (policy, procedure) and equipment against people? People adapt very fast, bureaucracies less so.
And so another point. Winners always lose. The problem with being a winner is that there is little incentive to get better and the previous losers and people that feel they are going to lose have nothing better to do than to harness all of their creativity, all of their resources and study the winner for weaknesses. They eventually find a way… and the erstwhile winner cries that it wasn’t fair. ‘They’ changed the rules. Changing the rules is one of the best ways to win. And winners are terrified to change the rules that they have won by in the past.
We are in the midst of a sea-change in international conflict, even a change in what international means. That’s not true. It’s not ‘the midst’. The change has happened. I am not even sure that we are trying to play catch-up or trying to adapt in any meaningful way. Rules that were taken for the very highest of ideals are being used by ruthless men to make better men seem careless or even vicious. One group is fighting, or trying to fight, against ‘armies’ and reduce, even eliminate harm to civilians. The other group is deliberately blurring the line- no uniformed armies, civilians exploited to perform military functions including acting as shields, no nations to conquer or negotiate with in many cases.
Eerie parallels with the world that Clausewitz described. The old ways did not survive the crisis of Napoleon. What will change now, and who will adapt?