Monday, January 11, 2010

Excerpt Of The Day

This is from Hew Strachan's European Armies and the Conduct of War. This passage is about the dichotomy between military technology in the eighteenth century on the one hand, which didn't really allow for total war, and the desires and objectives of military commanders on the other.
The desire to force the issue was reinforced by the economic pressures which demanded a short war. The means were not limited if they were consonant with the objectives. In these circumstances, the arguments of Grotius and Vattel for moderation in war's conduct held little sway. In 1704 Marlborough burnt farms in order to bring the Elector of Bavaria to terms. In 1760, at the siege of Breslau, the Austrians demanded its surrender or, they said, they would pluck the babies from their mothers' wombs. The Prussian commander replied, 'I am not pregnant, nor are my soldiers.'



takhalus said...

haha brilliant line, up there with "nuts"..interesting correlation with modern wars nowadays..they are more like the 18th and early 19th century in type.

Cities are beseiged ..war is not total large areas continue with life as normal and so can pretty much mark the period of total war stretching from the Napoleanic wars to World war 2..with the advent of the space age and nuclear age, traditional attiration(sp?) battles can generally no longer be fought.

Ahsan said...

Well the interesting thing is that many civil wars are now "total" in that they require the near-extermination of the enemy to be over. Yugoslavia, Cambodia in the 70s, Rwanda etc.

It is a good point you make though -- wars have stopped being total. I mean even India and Pakistan have never killed more than 5000 of each others' soldiers in any war. Compare it to some of the European wars in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries...yikes.

Couple of reasons for this, methinks:

1. Nuclear weapons
2. Norms against war and its desirability
3. Structural changes in state-society relations that makes war less attractive for leaders
4. Decreasing benefits of conquest

Butterscotch said...


Wars during or before medieval times were mostly ideological, fanatically based on religious beliefs, personal glories, personal ambitions and Huntington’s theory; clash of civilization probably had more application thn if being compared to the modern warfare. Crusades, expansion of ummiyads, Abbasids, ottomans could be quoted as perfect examples. Complete and utter annihilation of the enemy remained the supreme task. However as you just suggested, the dynamics of modern diplomacy, the concept of globalization, nuclear weaponry (although 3 indo-pak wars were before their nuclear status) has changed the concept of war. Also the concept of military-industrial complex has drastically changed the rules of engagement. Limited warfare is deemed essential in keeping even the weak party alive so they too remain engaged in strengthening/expanding their militaries.
Hope I don’t sound like a conspiracy theorist:)

icarus said...

shudder-inducing excerpt, though i have to agree with butterscotch that wars have been ruthless through time. it's just the history of "modern" warfare, say between westphalia and versailles, that the rules of limited warfare apply.

takhalus said...

ebbs and flows guys, there are periods of history of total war and others where there are limited war. Ahsan has highlighted what circumstances help create limited war.

Brett said...

1. Nuclear weapons

Oh yes. This is probably the biggest reason why there were only a few "Great Power" wars instead of the massive, ultra-destructive conflicts of the past - most of the Great Powers have nukes now (or are clients of a state that has them), so they always have to be weighing that when considering military options.

On a side-note, nukes really saved America's ass after World War 2. Considering that the US had 127% of its GDP in debt and a post-war recession in the 1940s, can you imagine them trying to make a commitment to western Europe like NATO without at least the threat of being able to turn the Soviet Union into a glowing parking lot?

2. Norms against war and its desirability

Some of them, for sure. I for one am not weeping about norms mandating conflict as the last available choice.

My only concern is that we've started to thinking that we can somehow fight a "clean" war, with no collateral damage. In such an environment, almost every mistake gets mistaken for a deliberate action, even though "precision" weaponry is never perfectly accurate.

Ahsan said...

Good comments, all. Some points.

1. You can hardly say that the wars of the late 19th and early 20th century were the same as that in the 17th and 18th centuries. Military tactics, technology, and nationalism (thus allowing for the exclusion of mercenaries) all made war a deadlier affair starting from Napoleon until the end of WW2.

2. Brett, on the norms thing, yes you are right. But overall, consider the fact that war, for the most part, is considered less romantic now than it was 150 years ago. That makes a big difference.

Ammar said...

The case of Yemen presents us the case that extremists forces will try to topple regimes wherever the grounds are conducive. This should come as a lesson to Pakistan which needs further strengthen the efforts to curtail the spread of extremism