Noahvose: Nea'ese


Wisconsin, USA
February 21
History Teacher
A Great Plains guy living in the Great Northwoods and feeling Claustrophobic.-- Masters in Anthropology (I thought we could use some Indians digging up white people).-- I have an amazing wife and two beautiful boys.-- I teach high school history and at an Alternative School for at-risk youth.-- ...and I have a serious Jelly Belly problem


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APRIL 2, 2009 3:43PM

MY TWO CENTS: When Did War Change?

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Two Cents

When did war change?


To me, it’s an interesting question. Armies used to meet on the field, all having pretty much the same weapons, and the better men won. At some point, the leader of one of the armies walked down into the valley and called out the other leader. But this time, instead of that leader meeting him, he shot him from the hill. Did all of his men cheer or stare at him in disbelief? When did war become about fighting smart rather than fair?


Believe me, I’m not judging…or if I am, then I’m judging myself equally. I applauded my approval as loud as everyone else when Indiana Jones faced off with that huge Middle Eastern man with the swords. You remember…Indy gave that smirk, pulled out his pistol, and shot the man dead. Why did we cheer? If I had watched that in a theater in Tehran, would they have cheered?


Shortly after the Iraq war started, U.S. soldiers were racing toward Baghdad. There were several instances when Iraqi insurgents came out waving a white flag to surrender. When U.S. troops approached, the man would drop the flag and open fire. The news covered the story, and the American people went nuts. “That’s against the rules of war!” But soon after, those same U.S. troops approached the city and found Iraqi troops dug in. Stealth bombers took out those trenches and at night, from high altitude (out of range of anti-aircraft fire) with laser-guided missiles. That was completely legal according to the rules of war…any guesses as to who wrote those rules?


Anyone remember Bill Maher’s mistake on his old show “Politically Incorrect”? When one of his guests said that the terrorists on 9/11 were cowards, Bill disagreed. He said that he’d call them a lot of things, but not cowards. After all, he reminded his guest that they had at least gone down with the plane. Then, his mistake. He compared them to U.S. pilots who often bombed with little risk to themselves with far superior technology. He lost his show days after due to the fallout.


Now, we practice targeted assassinations from drone planes, flown by a soldier using a mouse, completely away from the battlefield. Will it be considered war anymore, if we don’t even have to send troops? What is that called? After all, the game is called “Risk”.


A conservative colleague cornered me in the teacher’s lounge one day, as he loves to do. He confirmed what he had heard from students, that we were studying WWII. He then went into an interesting History Channel show he had recently seen that convinced him that the U.S. really did have to drop the A-bomb. He echoed the common defense, that dropping the bomb saved so many American soldiers’ lives. He asked what I thought (always a trap with him). I said, “Since when, in war, are civilians killed to save the lives of soldiers? I thought the purpose of war was for soldiers to sacrifice their lives for civilians.”


When did it change?


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war sucks, plain and simple. drones are just the new toys of the military industrial complex. in vietnam, the NVA would booby-trap women and children. soldiers when searching these individuals, would tie ropes to their ankles, and yank from afar. war sucks. --rated--
Mr. Mustard - I agree with you, but does it have to be that way? Weren't there times, maybe cultures, where how the war was fought was as important as the end result?

Blue Eyes - Believe me, I don't kid myself. I realize that when it comes to life and death, most people will pinch, poke eyes, and kick in the groin. Maybe the difference I see today is in degrees. But why do we now so easily accept those things that seem so obviously unethical? War doesn't have to mean we leave behind all principle. Aren't principles supposed to be with us, even when it's invonvenient?
This is an excellent post with excellent questions. As Mr. Mustard and BBE have said, war is hell, no matter what. I'm too much of a believer in non-violence to offer much here. It seems that we have become more and more a people who have accepted many unethical things across the board. For me, linking war and principles are like oil and water.
Mary - Thanks, as always, for stopping by. I agree with you that they don't seem to match, but imagine if we stopped trying altogether. Maybe that's the answer; we have to keep up the futile struggle to impose some rule, because the possibility of war without any is too ugly.
the atom bomb was a demonstration to the soviet union.

automated warfare is the logical next step, if you regard winning as more important than playing fair. but it may be a tactical victory, rather than strategic. the response of less technological societies will be terror, since overt war is not effective.

the fundamental problem is this: the person who says, " go there, kill them!" is not at risk, nor his friends or family. the people he sends, initially volunteer defenders of the nation, quickly evolve into professional killers. in extreme form, the 'game players' driving the drone bombers. war now depends only on industrial capacity.

the response to asymmetrical war of aggression by 'advanced' societies is 'terror' as the advanced societies term it. their enemies are 'terrorists', since they don't use 'moral' tactics like drone bombs.

allowing national leaders to make war unhindered by personal risk is insane. they will start wars they cannot finish, impoverish the nation, and create hatred around the world. they do not suffer, but those chickens come eventually.
War, historically, was often not between armies equipped much the same. The preoccupation in the US with its own Civil War may give that impression. Wars are often won by the least trustworthy rather than the best equipped or bravest. And civilians have always suffered, only the wars of the 20th century, especially WWII, were worse.

The nuclear bombs dropped on Japan may actually have saved civilian lives in total. Those who died at Hiroshima and Nagasaki may have replaced up to a million civilian casualties who didn't die in an invasion of the Japanese mainland, a point historians will debate for a long time.
al loomis - I'm glad others are well versed in the alterior motives behind Hiroshima & Nagasaki (the least of which was fear of Japan). Winning has always been important to any side, who is desperate or angry enough to engage in war. However, winning has not always, to all people, been worth the price of dishonor. Of course, the A bomb is one of those moments when the winner used an act of terrorism (unless you define terrorism as only being committed by a non-government). Thanks for your insights

GeeBee - My understanding of "honorable" warfare goes well before the Civil War. Every age and society have had those who refused to follow the rules, but there have, in fact, been societies that held honorable warfare as high, if not higher, than winning. I think people are naive on both sides of this argument. I'm afraid that some hold a rather ethnocentric view of warfare and think that all societies held the same view of war: "All is fair in love and war". This isn't the case, nor is it the case that there was any perfect utopian society where everyone followed the code.

I'm afraid that when we assume that there has never been honor and will never be honor, we use that as an excuse not to demand it from others and ourselves. Like I said to Mary, the struggle might seem futile, but the alternative would be far more horrifying.

As to the A-bombs saving civilian lives...that's a pretty far-fetched pragmatist justification. Kill civilians to save civilians. We could have targeted far smaller cities, in that case, to make our point. Besides, there had already been 200,000 killed in the entire war by U.S. conventional bombing, and Japan was on its last leg (the Emperor and Prime Minister were pushing for surrender). I can't point to any invasion where more than 200,000 civilians were killed.
For some reason I can't state this enough, so...

There is no "moral" justification for dropping the A-bombs on Japan. We would never allow anyone to do that to us. We would never allow any country to practice that same strategy toward its enemies. Since those are the moral questions required of any action, it cannot be justified on moral grounds.
I believe that the statistics altered somewhere between WWI and WWII. Before, one civilian was killed for every ten soldiers. A few years ago, that was reversed with 10 civilians for every soldier. Now it has increased even more.
War has evolved.
Even sanctions, which are supposed to be non-violent, kill more civilians without even touching the bank accounts of their leaders.
And, even more, it is now women and children who make up the majority of casualities and displaced persons.
OSteph - Thank you for coming by. You're right. It was during WWI when civilians became legitimized as targets. The argument went: as long as those civilians are working in war industries and making weapons and rations that go to the war effort, then they are legitimate targets. That might have been practiced before in history (like O'Sullivan against the Iroquois and Sherman through the South) but it hadn't been formally recognized and accepted as legitimate. As we continue to relax our morals and what we'll accept from our leaders and military, the more those statistics will climb.
Hence the saying "all is fair in love and war." Everything else is disinformation, makeup and pretense. War is usually about real estate. How much of your real estate can I take if I kill as many of your people as I can. Americans "win" in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere by co-opting as much of the "enemy territory" as they can.

Of course, international law says this is illegal (no territory can be gained through war), but the US in particular mostly ignores international law. What follows the loss of the rule of law is chaos.
This post was great, some of the responses however, disheartened me. Bin Laden excused the killing of thousands of our civilians because he claimed that all Americans are culpable because we vote and mandate our leaders. If we stop questioning them because “don’t kid yourself, war has always been ugly” or “all is fair in love and war” sentiments then he is proving his point. Furthermore, this is precisely the apathetic attitude that Western war leaders would have all their fellow citizens adopt. Then they will be allowed to do whatever the hell they want.

The powerful and the least powerful should be held to different standards. For example, the same reasons that we now judge early settlers for killing Native Americans with small pox infected blankets when they could have simply honored treaties instead, is the same reason that I will speak out against Western World policy of convenient war when the billions of dollars spent on this war could have bought peace instead. We have power and resources, others don’t. They will use whatever means possible, including killing. If we don’t have to kill, then good logic and morals suggest that we shouldn’t kill. Period. Sharing money, power, and resources will help other rise up so they too can more easily choose not to kill because they have a piece of the pie and less malevolent feelings against their enemies. Our current war has done exactly the opposite.

To those who have much, much will be expected.
Sad to say, civilians have long been victims of war, though not necessarily targets. Rape, murder, and pillaging of civilians have always accompanied war.

If I may play Devil's advocate, it was Sherman who proposed as policy making war absolute hell for civilians in the hope of disabusing them of the notion that there was anything "noble" about it. As I remember the quote, "It is good the war is hell lest we grow too fond of it."

Well, he certainly succeeded in making it hell. But he did not succeed so well with the conquered population, however, which a century and a half later still reviles Sherman.

Of course, that kind of thinking didn't start with Sherman. The Romans used tactics like decimation, crucifixion and other terrorist methods to control the conquered and succeeded only in making war a permanent state in most of the conquered lands.

As we have all too plainly seen, the consequence of a scorched earth policy and "collateral damage" has the opposite effect. It hardens the hearts and renews the resolve to die rather than to submit to an enemy so awful. That's why Shock and Awe was dropped in favor of "winning hearts and minds."
I should also add for those who may not be aware, the stated policy of this country in regard to Indians, as voiced by Sherman, was not just victory, but extermination if that was necessary. It was Sherman who coined the phrase The Final Solution, and it wasn't just warriors Sherman had in mind.

It is likely that many, if not most, of the Plains Indian warriors would have fought to the bitter end, preferring to die in battle. But by slaughtering the buffalo nearly to extinction, Sherman forced them to surrender rather than see their women and children starve to death.

So let no one imagine that war got to be hell for civilians only in the 20th Century. And by the way, Hitler studied our Indian policy of "ethnic cleansing" and copied it for the Holocaust.
War. Whether fought fairly or unfairly still embraces the idea of necessary casualties, loss of life. It allows one nation or group of people to impose the sense of superiority over another. By very definition, it creates a milieu whereby one group of human beings possess the sense of entitlement that allows loss of life, massive upheaval and destruction to happen to another group of people. All in the name of religious intolerances, seizure of land/resources (underlying dynamic - greed) and moral/philosophical differences.

Are there a set of theoretical allowances that, once applied, make war an acceptable solution? I don't think so. I know this statement will incense some. I know... impending nuclear threat, madmen ruling countries out there who wish to annhilate...starvation; the considered need to appropriate another country's natural resources...The list goes on. Yet, every single act of war has inevitably, only begotten the same.

The whole concept of war is a travesty. It has not created lasting solutions, but merely staved off the inevitablity of it's consequence: more agression.

Someone once observed that the definition of insanity was the repeated exhibition of a destructive behavior without ever gaining insight into its repeated pattern.

Where, when do we learn to orchestrate peaceful solutions to diverse ideologies? I understand this would require global cooperation.

What might be required in order for this to occur?

Is it "too late?" Unreasonable? If so, why?
War has always been about minimizing your own casualties. There's no rule that says you have to face your enemy. Even before WWII, which you've referenced, there were chemical weapons in the form of mustard gas. There is no skill involved. Just gas the enemy.

A friend of mine's dad used to triangulate the position of enemy soldiers in Vietnam using their communications and order air strikes on their location. He never even had to see them. If one side could have killed the other remotely in the civil war, they probably would have done it then too.

It's a cowardly cliche, but it can be applied here. History is written by the victors. Furthermore, People remember who won, not who played fair. When the goal is to win at all costs, people will do whatever it takes. Even if they look like a dick for doing it.
I think war stinks! Once drafted ... (never mind) ... huh
A Grunts (compliment to ground-pounder foot-troops),
will tell you. Ask the wounded. A Metaphysical Realization?
I am you. You are me. The dead? A West Point indoctrination?
My Deceased Grandfather graduated from that military school.
On Thanksgiving Day, my Fathers Brother was killed in a plane crash.
I believe in a military defense.
There are predator people/nations.

WW2 war was over. W.P. grad, Uncle Bernard James was in a 'freak' accident on a foggy day (Thanksgiving Morning Day) at Andrews Air (named- Air Force Base, today) Field, Maryland in 1948. I was born in October, and in my Fathers arms when the family went to greet my Dad's brother) Uncle Bernard was killed instantly. Another plane slammed into my Uncle's plane. There are many newspaper clips saved on a disk, thanks to my Cousin William (Bill) James. O, well.
I have the chipped West Point ring that sits in a dresser drawer. My Father was always extra agitated on Thanksgiving. The stuffing had to be salt and peppered perfectly. He used his Moms, my Granny, GrandMothers recipe. Grand Mom was killed two weeks later on a trip to West Point to retrieve Bernard's personal belongings. Bernard was Dad's brother. I never met him. Dad's Mother was killed from a severed arterial flow. On a icy road, My Lt. Col. A.V.L. James, my Grandfather, lost control of a Oldsmobile. We called Grand Pa. Bebop. Bebop skid and hit a tree. GrandMa died in their arms on a icy New York rural road.
These sad events all occur within two weeks.
I'm rambling. At Andrews Air Force Base, My Father held me in his arms when Uncle Bernard's plane crashed. 1948. I was there. I forget the experience.

Oh, one month young.
On Thanksgiving morn.
Thanks for the venting?
And Thanks, Novavose.

Fate? Mystery? Insanity!

The plundering into the former Persian Lands will surely bring karmic disaster and upheavals. Friends who know, inform me that camels were saddled. Sword wielding men tried to defend their Father/Mother Land from Imperial Invasions. American military arsenals 'mowed' the camels and riders down. Woe.

Nothing new under the sun.
No 'say' all you' like @ OS?
Hush. I share to convey ...

Thanks again.
I appreciate everyone's well-thought out responses. However, I'm afraid that I've either misrepresented what I believe in my original post, or many of you are missing the larger point.

So, let me clarify my standing:

1. War is hell and always has been
2. As long as there have been "rules", there have been those who broke them.
3. Placing rules on warfare may be a futile exercise.
4. People targeted civilians and terrorized their enemies long before WWII.

I realize all of the above. However, I will point out that the main point of my piece is that it is getting worse and dangerously accepted. I'm afraid that when we take the attitude of "Oh well, it's always been this bad" we do two things: 1) incorrectly analyze warfare across different cultures (falsely believing they all saw war the same way as western nations) and 2) further justify and accept the conditions as they are. Neither of these is correct.

I'll be more clear next time in my argument. However, let's not argue so much about the trees that we miss the forrest.
My apologies...the response above was supposed to be under my name, not my wife's. Sorry