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"War is at best barbarism...Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot, nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation." --General WIlliam T. Sherman--

Whatever one's politics, religion, or station in life, the many societies on earth mostly agree that war is an abomination, a destruction or resources and a blight on humankind.

Whose game was empires and whose stakes were thrones.
Whose table, Earth whose dice were human bones.
Lord Byron "The Age of Bronze"

The arts of war have long been known. But they are too easily forgotten. One of the most coherent and cogent of theses is that of Sun Tzu. He said in 500 BCE:

"The art of war is of vital importance to the state. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence under no circumstances can it be neglected.

Hence it is only the enlightened ruler and the wise general who will use the highest intelligence of the army for purposes of spying, and thereby they achieve great results. Spies are the most important element in war, because upon them depends an army's ability to move."

Information and intelligence are indeed critical to survival. In between these gems of wisdom, Sun Tzu had a few more things to say.

"Pretend to be weak, that the enemy may grow arrogant."

Human psychology has not changed.

"Attack him where he is unprepared; appear where you are not expected."

The fundamental rule of al Qa'ida, the Islamic jihad and others.

"The general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought."

Add technology and economic strength to this equation.

"All warfare is based on deception."

This is what makes the first two strategies work.

"In all history, there is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare."

Modern history agrees; witness Vietnam and the Thirty Years' War.

"supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting. In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy's country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good."

The phrase: "In the practical art..." catches it all. A corollary would be to bring about political collapse and offer a better deal as NATO did Russia and the Balkan nations. So why is war necessary?

"We cannot enter into alliances until we are acquainted with the designs of our neighbors."

True again. So why do we persist in supporting despots and others who would do us in if they could?

"being a little ahead of your opponent has counted for more than either numerical superiority or the nicest calculations with regard to the commissariat."

Bin Laden was ahead in the terror game and still may be. What Sun Tzu had to say is timeless.

"Contributing to an army at a distance causes the people to be impoverished."

A basic economic principle, and one reason why we left Vietnam.

"To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself. Hence the saying: 'One may know how to conquer the enemy without being able to do it.'"

Technology has changed this equation, at least in context -- for the big wars. For the war on terror it is as true today as it was 100 generations ago! In the sense that Islam has not moved forward with innovation, then Sun Tzu words are still true, however you look at it.

Reference for the above: The Art of War by Sun Tzu, Edited by James Clavell.

It is more than a little astonishing to see these themes replayed in our times. And more sadly, that Sun Tzu's advice is so often ignoredVietnam and Iraq are prime examples.

Certainly war is to be avoided if possible. Clearly also, wars tend to beget wars.

Winston Churchill provided useful wisdom:

"Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events."

By one definition, war is a conflict between states or factions within a state. Churchill had the former in mind. The word is also used in another sense as in war against poverty or drugs. So it is legitimate to say "war against terror." But this is only a superficial description; what we are looking for are the roots of war and terror and to find ways to eliminate them.

George Washington (1732-1799), letter to David Humphreys, 25 July 1785:

"My first wish is to see this plague to mankind [war] banished from off the Earth, and the sons and daughters of this world employed in more pleasing and innocent amusements than in preparing implements and exercising them for the destruction of mankind."

George C. Marshall

Credited with reorganizing the American military program because of his assertion that the country was not ready for war, Marshall was called upon to advise in two presidential cabinets. Said TIME in naming Marshall its Man of the Year for 1943:

"He is regarded as the man, more than any other, who could be said to have armed the Republic as he oversaw the growth of the US Army personnel from under 200,000 to over 8 million."

What is paradoxical is the fact that General Marshall hates war. The secret is that American democracy is the stuff Marshall is made of. Hired by the US people to do a job, he was as good, as ruthless, as tough, as the job requires. There his ambitions stop. 'He has only one interest,' said one of his intimates, 'to win this damned war as quick as he can, with the fewest lives lost and money expended, and get the hell down to Leesburg, Va., and enjoy life.'"

Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969), speech, Ottawa, Canada, 10 January 1946

"I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, and its stupidity."

Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964), address to congress, 19 April 1951

"I know war as few other men now living know it, and nothing to me is more revolting. I have long advocated its complete abolition, as its very destructiveness on both friend and foe has rendered it useless as a method of settling international disputes."

John Foster Dulles (1888-1959), 9 March 1955

"The world will never have lasting peace so long as men reserve for war the finest human qualities. Peace, no less than war, requires idealism and self-sacrifice and a righteous and dynamic faith."

Ronald Reagan (1911 - ), United Nations address, New York City, 22 September 1986

"Nations do not mistrust each other because they are armed; they are armed because they mistrust each other."

For some living history, endless information for quotes, and what is going on in Iraq, see: Informed Comment by Juan Cole, Blogger par excellence.


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