The Future of War
By Andrew Kostanecki
In 1898 my Great Grandfather, Jan de Bloch, who every visitor to the Bloch Foundation website knows, wrote his famous six-volume work on the future of war and became the inspiration for the First Peace Conference at the Hague and a nominee for the First Nobel Peace Prize in 1901.
My Grandfather, Kazimierz Kostanecki, married Janina Bloch, one of Jan de Bloch’s four daughters. As Rektor of the Jagielonian University in Krakow, he was considered a martyr for the Polish cause after being seized by the Nazis along with thirty other Polish intellectual leaders in 1940. He was held in the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp where he died in 1941.
My Mother, Dorothy Adams, a distant relative of the second President of the United States, John Adams, was something of a political free spirit when she graduated from Goucher College in 1921. As soon as she could, she jumped on a boat to Europe, took a train to Geneva, talked her way into a job working in the Secretariat of the League of Nations, went on a mission to Poland, met a young Polish diplomat, my father, Jan Kostanecki, fell in love and married. She lived in Poland for fourteen years. During that time, she became a passionate champion of Poland and things Polish.
In 1938, my Father was killed in an airplane accident. In August 1939 Mother and I returned to the United States, just in time to escape the German invasion. I was four years old. Had Father not died, we never would have left. In 1946 she wrote a best selling book, We Stood Alone, about her time in Poland, the indifference of the West to Germany’s ambitions, the rise of Nazism and the onset of World War II. Mother’s book was a perfect epilogue to the works of Jan de Bloch. In 1947, Mother and Helen Keller, the extraordinary woman who overcame deafness and blindness from birth, were named Catholic Women-of-the-Year.
The experience of being born Polish, growing up American and listening to Mother gave me a slightly different perspective on the War than that of my friends. It also left me with an urge to write about World War II, to try to express what it was that distinguished that war from all others and, like my Great Grandfather, to speculate about the future of war.
What follows is material from the Foreword and Epilogue of My book, Whatever Happened to War? It is, admittedly, my point of view as an American, but it is not an apology or justification for American foreign policy or military strategy. Little, if anything that I tell about Jan de Bloch will be new to visitors to this website, but the conclusions I draw concerning the future of war and warfare may be.
Any American too young to fight in the Second World War, but old enough to remember it, thinks of it as a magical period in their lives. It was a time when everyone understood the reasons for being at war. The enemies were villains, heroes were bigger than life and patriotism was a part of day-to-day life. If you were a boy, you probably played in your school’s Bugle and Drum Corps and knocked on doors selling $18.75 “Victory” bonds that paid back $25 ten years later. If you were a girl, you probably knitted six-inch squares that turned into blankets for our soldiers. When the paper shortage became critical, you rolled cigarettes for your parents using raw tobacco and pre gummed tissue that you wrapped around pencils to shape them. For this and for carrying out the ashes from the furnace you earned your twenty-five cent weekly allowance.
You collected paper, tin foil and tin cans for the “War Effort” and made butter out of the cream sitting on top of the hourglass shaped milk bottles that the milkman delivered every other day. Your parents saved their ration cards so that you could have the sugar and butter needed to make the real frosting on your birthday cake. The chances were that your father walked to the train station every day so that you and your family had enough gas to drive twenty miles inland to visit your cousins over the weekend.
Your father might have been an “Air Raid Warden” wearing his olive drab gas mask while he walked up and down the street every night making sure no telltale light peeked out from any of your neighbor’s windows. The headlights on the prewar family car were painted black from top to midpoint so that they could not be spotted from above.
When there was snow, you could safely sled down the local streets. You walked to school. You walked to the movies. In spring you would roller skate down the middle of the road. No cars were likely to interfere. If you were going a long distance, you would ride your bike. The idea of being driven or “dropped off” was unthinkable.
In Assembly, you learned “Over There,” “Wild Blue Yonder,” “Anchors Away,” the anthems of the armed forces and you sang oldies like “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” Your heroes were the older brothers of your schoolmates who had enlisted and from time to time came home on leave. They never considered changing out of their uniforms. They were proud to be wearing them and you were proud to be near them.
There were parades on Memorial Day and July 4. As a Cub Scout, you would march wearing your uniform as if in the Army, yourself. You followed the news of the campaigns in Europe and the Pacific and you learned the names of exotic sounding places as the Marines slowly burned the “Nips” out of their bunkers in one Pacific atoll after another. It was a great war.
Perhaps most important, nobody ever dropped a bomb on your house. You never went hungry and you never felt endangered. These were not things you really considered. You were asked to “Do Your Part,” and no matter how old, everyone did. It may have been the last time in the history of the United States that virtually all Americans pulled together.
Then one day, a bomb was dropped on a Japanese city that was so powerful that it destroyed the entire city and killed almost everyone in it. A couple of days later another one was dropped on another city. Within a week, the War was over.
It took months before the cheering subsided and our soldiers returned home full of the flush of victory. A year passed before reports and photographs from the Red Cross and others emerged telling the world about the Holocaust, the German extermination camps and the after effects of radiation poisoning from the atomic bombs. As we learned more about the real price that both the winners and the losers had paid and the horrible things that had happened to millions of people, the greatness of the War began to wear off.
In less than five years, the last remaining feelings of security wore off in the face of hysteria about the spread of communism and a series of conflicts involving our former Allies, the Soviet Union and China. The Blockade of Berlin and the Korean War destroyed any ideas that World War II was going to be the last war, great or small.
More than fifty years have passed since the end of World War II and war has certainly not disappeared from the face of the earth. But as anyone alive is painfully aware, there is a character to war today that has a different cast to it, not only in the way it is being fought, but also between whom.
World War II had its share of villains and more than its share of heroes. It might have been that the nature of the 1940’s technology of radio, the movies and the press led to stories with a sweep that left us feeling better about “our boys” than do today’s TV images with their grizzly immediacy.
More than anything, World War II was about people, its leaders and its followers. It was about those characteristics we admire, courage, kindness, forgiveness and loyalty. It was about those characteristics that reflect man’s incredible ingenuity, inventiveness and perseverance. Sadly, it was also about the evil that man can commit.
All of these attributes of human behavior, singly or as a group, good and bad, existed during the Second World War and keynote the stories in this book. Were they unique to World War II? The answer is for posterity to gauge, but one measure at this moment in 2007 is that after five years of fighting in Iraq only two Congressional Medals of Honor have been awarded to our soldiers. During the same period of time during World War II, there were two hundred and forty-two. It almost surely has nothing to do with any defect in the character of our soldiers today, but rather with the character of the war they are fighting.
World War II was tragic enough in the way it caused destruction, cost lives and changed the culture of the world. As much as people hoped and prayed that it would, World War II did not signal the end of War. The real tragedy was that despite the sacrifices that people made so that there never would be another war like it, the seeds of the kind of warfare that surrounds us today were sown in World War II. Weapons of mass destruction (the atomic bomb), suicide bombing (kamikaze raids), ethnic cleansing (the Holocaust) and weapons launched miles away from the victims led to changes in warfare that threaten the very foundations of civilization today.
Epilogue – The Future of War
In the sixth century BC during the era of Confucius, Sun Tzu, a brilliant Chinese General and philosopher wrote “The Art of War”, a work that affected the way wars have been fought for over two thousand years. The principles outlined by Sun Tzu influenced a mix of military leaders as diverse as Napoleon Bonaparte, the German General Staff, Generals Carl von Clausewitz, George Patton, Douglas MacArthur and Mao Tse-Tung.
“The Art of War” has probably been the most widely read book on Warfare, yet it comes to an apparently contradictory conclusion considering that it is a book on how to wage war. It was Sun Tzu’s feeling that the best war was no war, a sentiment he repeated time and again in his work.
“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”
Better than anyone, Sun Tzu understood that in war no matter how good one’s plans and no matter what the reasons for going to war in the first place, wars never turned out the way one expected.
Wars have always been the worst of all possible ways to resolve disputes. Wars have been fought for every conceivable reason: acquisition of land, lust for power, ethnic hatred, governmental politics, religious beliefs and independence from occupation. There even were times when wars were considered entertainment, when Kings went to war with other Kings and the courts of both camps watched from the sidelines. For thousands of years wars were fought face to face, one man against another doing his best to beat his opponent into the ground using lances, swords, cudgels, daggers and his own fists.
Each of the “Ages” brought changes in the way wars were fought. During the Roman Empire, the tactics and strategy of twentieth century war were already in place. Modern ideas about transport, logistics, mobility, artillery, organization and training had been set. Moreover, no one understood better than the Greeks and Romans that the most important part of warfare was not the size of the army and its destructive power. It was the endurance of the State and its willingness to commit its entire social, economic, and political resources to the support of military operations.
Greece, for example, lost almost every battle against Persia for two hundred years with little consequence. Greece survived and prospered. Rome prevailed over Carthage through the endurance and will of its people. In 255 B.C. a Roman fleet of 248 ships was sunk in a storm with a loss of over 100,000 men, a number equal to fifteen percent of all men of military age in Rome. Rome's response was to build another fleet. Considering the percentage of people lost on both sides, the Carthaginian War may have been the bloodiest and costliest in history. Roman losses alone approached 400,000 men, and still Rome fought on. In all of its years of fighting with Carthage, like the Greeks before them, Rome lost every battle and yet, in the end, survived.
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, however, the tools of war began to evolve rapidly. The canon and more powerful gunpowder began to change the rules of combat and during the ensuing two hundred years war went through a profound change.
The muskets and canons of the Napoleonic wars and the American Revolution fired round cannonballs and bullets without the likelihood of actually hitting a specific target. The original purpose of the musket was to keep an enemy’s head down until he could be attacked by bayonet. By the time of the American Civil war in the 1850’s, however, improved metallurgy and machine tools that put rifling grooves in the barrels of canons and rifles and opened the door to bullets and shells with increased range and deadly accuracy.
The American Civil War, the bloodiest in American history, provided a hint of what war might look like in the future. Sherman’s March to the Sea, burning crops and towns in his army’s wake suggested that future wars would involve everyone, civilian as well as soldier. It was a precursor to the wholesale destruction of cities in World War II. Nobody studied the lessons of the American Civil War with greater interest than the German General Staff.
Thirty years after the Civil War, the machine gun made its appearance in the Boer War between the British and the two Boer Republics, the Orange Free State and the South African Republic. The machine gun, advances in the range of the canon, smokeless gunpowder and the accuracy of the rifle made the trench warfare of World War I inevitable.
The Gatling machine gun, first used in the Boer War – 1880’s
Jan de Bloch, a Polish railway tycoon, philanthropist, polymath and, by coincidence, my Great Grandfather, spent the first half of his life amassing a fortune financing the railroads between Poland, Austria and Russia and building the major bank in Poland. However, historians know him better as one who committed his later life to peace, correctly anticipating the horror of modern warfare. Jan de Bloch’s six-volume work, The Future of War, written during the 1890’s, deeply influenced the First Peace Conference at The Hague in 1898 and played a major role in its agenda. He was called the “Spiritual Father” of the Conference. As a result of his writing and the founding of the world's first Peace Museum in Lucerne, Switzerland, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1901, but died before the award was made.
Jan de Bloch
Jan de Bloch’s basic argument was that advances in weaponry had made the consequences of war so devastating that in the future, war would be unacceptable as a way of resolving disputes.
“War, instead of being a hand-to-hand contest in which the combatants measure their physical and moral superiority, will become a kind of stalemate….It will be simply the natural evolution of armed peace on an aggravated scale… That is the future of war. Not fighting, but famine; not the slaying of men, but the bankruptcy of nations and the breakup of the whole social organization.
Industrial societies will have to commit armies numbering in the millions, as opposed to the tens of thousands of preceding wars. Enormous battlefronts will develop. Wars of this type will not be resolved quickly.
Wars will become a duel of industrial might, a matter of total economic attrition.
Severe economic and social dislocations will result in famine, disease, the "break-up of the whole social organization” and revolution from below.”
Jan de Bloch took the American Civil War and the Boer War as forebodings of just how terrible things could become. He predicted that future wars would demand the full use of a State’s resources in support of the combat armies in the field. The message was lost on nobody. He was right, especially about World War II. Both the Allies and the Axis powers understood that everything supporting a State’s infrastructure would become a target.
Within fifty years of Jan de Bloch’s analysis, the world saw the development of tanks, airplanes, submarines, battleships, poison gasses and weapons that were capable of killing thousands of people at a time. The Germans first used Mustard Gas, the cruelest weapon of all, in 1917. The Industrial Revolution had made it all possible.
British soldiers blinded by mustard gas
There were those who, like Bloch, were alarmed about these developments and argued as forcefully as they could that the world was on a course, that, if not stopped, would be a threat to civilization itself. Unfortunately, neither Generals nor Heads of State paid much heed.
Twenty years after Bloch’s prophecies, 15,700,000 people died in World War I, a war that never should have happened. Of those, 6,750,000 were civilians and 8,950,000 served in the military. Neither side surrendered. The belligerents agreed to an Armistice and after acrimonious negotiations signed the Treaty of Versailles that demanded that the Germans compensate the Allies for war damages. It bankrupted Germany, helped drive the world into the financial depression of the 1930’s and gave rise to Nazism and World War II. While they were at it, the architects of the Treaty, including the American President, Woodrow Wilson, British Prime Minister, Lloyd George and French Minister of War, Georges Clemenceau, were determined to bring order to the Muslim world by reshaping the borders of Mesopotamia. Those boundaries and decisions haunt us today.
The Austro-Hungarian, German, Ottoman, and Russian empires all disintegrated. Germany lost its overseas colonies. The new states of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia were created and Poland, which had lain dormant for one hundred years, was brought back to life.
The weapons of World War I
World War I was the prelude to the greater catastrophe that was World War II in which the number of people killed was roughly 62,000,000. Approximately 37,000,000 were civilians and about 25,000,000 were military. Of those, the Allies lost around 51,000,000 people, and the Axis lost 11,000,000. Interestingly, in both World Wars, those that “won” suffered far greater casualties.
Europe, China and Japan were in ruins. The worst of the fighting and destruction had been borne by the Soviet Union where 23,000,000 people, half of whom were civilians, died. The battles that raged on the Eastern front were like nothing seen before or since. Between 1,700,000 and 2,000,000 Soviet and German lives were lost in the battle for Stalingrad alone.
German soldiers amid the rubble of Stalingrad
In order to transport their supplies to the Eastern front, the Germans had employed 1,500,000 horses that ate the wheat the Soviets had failed to burn as they retreated towards Moscow. After Stalingrad and failures at Moscow and Kursk, the German army stalled. Facing the Russian winter, the Germans began to retreat, in turn eating their own horses for survival. With the Soviets pushing them back in the east and the Allies pushing them back in the West, Germany was finished. The price that the Soviet Union had paid by persevering was almost incalculable. Jan de Bloch was correct. Modern war would be destructive beyond measure.
Cologne in ruins after Allied air raids
It seems that “Staying power,” endurance and the will of the people to accept greater losses than the enemy has always been more important than simply tallying up the cost in lives or number of battles won. In its war with Germany in World War II, for example, more than three times as many soldiers and citizens of the Soviet Union were lost as were Germans, some 23,000,000 against 7,500,000. Yet the Soviet Union survived.
In almost every sense, the prophecies of Jan de Bloch have proven correct.
Bloch argued that the consequences of future war should be unacceptable to a rational world even though in the closing moments of the nineteenth century there were limits to imagining how far man might go in waging war. In 1896 it was surely difficult to conceive of the losses that would be experienced by the Soviet Union and the almost limitless cruelty that would be required to gas millions of Jews to death during the Holocaust. It would have been difficult, too, to imagine a weapon such as the atomic bomb laying waste to an entire city in the flash of a second.
One idea that Jan de Bloch did not anticipate was the insight that after a war was over, it might not be in the best interest of the winners to punish the losers. The consequence of the Treaty of Versailles driving Germany into bankruptcy and setting in motion the conditions for another horrific war was not lost on the United States. Sitting on an island five thousand miles from the fighting on both fronts, America emerged relatively unscathed after the War. It had learned from the past and was not going to repeat the mistakes made after World War I. The Marshall Plan helped Europe and Germany rebuild itself from the ashes of war into a stronger economic entity than it had been before the fighting. With the guidance of General MacArthur and American financial support, Japan, also recovered and became an economic powerhouse. It took less than a decade.
The finest moment in the history of the United States might well have occurred when it held out its hand with a combination of forgiveness and generosity to Germany and Japan and helped those that it had beaten into the ground get back on their feet. For one shining moment, the country that had been invented by immigrants in 1776, fortress America, was Camelot.
On the other hand, the Soviet Union drew an Iron Curtain around the countries it had overrun and licked its own wounds. Its sphere of influence staggered on for thirty years before collapsing.
The ideas of Jan de Bloch were finally taken seriously by the world’s major War Colleges and are quoted frequently in texts on war. In his War memoir, the British Chief of Staff, Field Marshall Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, credited Jan de Bloch with “chilling foresight in predicting the enormous economic and social price to be paid by both the victors and the vanquished in any future war.”
On the one hundred year anniversary of the publication of Jan de Bloch’s work, a group of leading statesmen, diplomats and military figures, as well as prominent academics and writers on war and peace met in St. Petersburg in 1999 to revisit Bloch's ideas in light of the experience of the last bloody century.
Centenary re-issue and commentary on the works of Jan de Bloch
What will be the future of war, they asked? Has it been abolished or has it undergone a grim metamorphosis? The same questions were asked 100 years ago by world leaders as they gathered at the first Peace Conference at The Hague to try to abolish war. They failed, just as Jan de Bloch said that they would. On the occasion of its centenary, his book, The Future of War, was re-examined and re-issued in a book of the same name. It revisited Bloch's ideas in light of the experience of World Wars I and II. The book was re-written as a primer for world political leaders who would carry on the same responsibilities as those who gathered and failed in 1899.
Neither World War I, the “War to End all Wars,” nor World War II, “The Last Great War,” lived up to its promise. The real tragedy of World War II was that the seeds of the wars that surround us today were sown in that last horrifying conflagration. Yet, despite the carnage from the colossal battles that were fought during the five-year span of World War II, more innocent non-combatants were killed than those doing the fighting. Had they been asked, surely those civilians would have concluded that in the future, war would be too serious a matter to leave to the soldiers. It seems that they have done just that. They have taken matters into their own hands.
Jan de Bloch argued that the weapons of war had become so horrific that war was “impossible.” Peter van den Dungen, one of the authors of the Centenary Book says, “He didn’t mean that war could no longer take place physically, but that it could no longer be seen as a rational instrument of statecraft.” War had become impossible in the way that Carl von Clausewitz, the Prussian Military theorist, meant when he said "War is merely a continuation of politics by other means."
World Wars I and II both occurred well after the predictions of Jan de Bloch. Moreover, since the end of World War II in 1945, over fifty million people have died in some two hundred eighty (mostly) internal struggles over political, religious or ethnic beliefs. Officially, the world has not been at war, but fighting within states has continued anyway. Aside from the reality that grievances have not disappeared, the reasons for these staggering losses are many and the prognosis for the future is not good. Instead of a world at peace, today we are living in a world surrounded by insurgency, counter insurgency and terrorism that threaten to tear us apart. Could this, too, have been predicted?
The immensity and horror of World War II was like nothing seen before or since. The world has been spared another World War primarily because the United States, originally the sole possessor of the atomic bomb, has become so powerful that even without resorting to the bomb it has been able to overwhelm any enemy foolish enough to confront it using conventional tactics and conventional weapons in a matter of days. That superiority alone has resulted in a rethinking by the weak about how best to fight the powerful. It has changed the world.
From the beginning, the atomic bomb was a weapon whose mere possession affected the relationships between those states that had it and those that did not. When the Soviet Union acquired the bomb in 1957, the effect on both the United States and the Soviet Union was immediate. An unspoken doctrine of “mutually assured destruction” virtually guaranteed that neither country would ever use the weapon.
Minutes after the atomic bomb was dropped over Nagasaki
The major Western countries, in particular the United States, now possess stealth bombers that can evade radar screens, infra-red technology that lets you “see” at night, spy satellites that let you watch an enemy’s movements from afar and guided missiles that can pinpoint a target over a thousand miles away without fear of retaliation. How dehumanizing war must seem when those being attacked never see their attacker. It has changed the character of war at its most fundamental level. How?
The way that war is being fought has changed.
The targets of war are no longer only the military.
Insurrection and terrorism has become the most successful way to counter the conventional tactics of a powerful modern enemy.
World Wars I and II, the Napoleonic Wars and the American Civil War were what the American War College consider to have been “linear” wars, essentially extensions of the tactics of warfare practiced for four thousand years. Even though the lines of battle became stretched wider and thinner as the sizes of armies grew larger, wars (with a few notable exceptions) have been fought face to face in the battlefield. Although the advances in the design of airplanes, tanks, ships, guns and bombs used in the two World Wars allowed the attack of the enemy’s infrastructure behind his lines, the real fighting remained in the lines of battle.
Twenty-first century military strategy is beginning to change as a result of even greater advances in every area of equipment and weaponry. Helicopters and armed personnel carriers which can deliver immensely powerful strike forces anywhere they choose and “smart” bombs which can be delivered with pin-point accuracy have led to what the American Military calls “swirling” tactics designed to encircle, envelop and destroy enemy forces. The gigantic armies of the past are giving way to smaller highly armed tactical groups that can move quickly and strike day and night with almost unthinkable destructive power. Their deployment anywhere on moment’s notice is the hallmark of the modern army. The United States forces deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq reflect current American military thinking.
The most advanced weaponry of World War II, the V-2 Rockets that the Germans used to bomb London from afar, the balloons that Japan launched against the United States and, most of all, the atomic bomb that the United States used against Japan made the end of the classical linear war inevitable. They are what I think of as ” remote weapons of destruction.” When a belligerent has the ability to push a button in one part of the world and indiscriminately cause havoc to his enemy in another, the psychology of war changes. When the powerful can dominate the weak with technological superiority, the mindset, tactics and strategy of those being attacked changes. It has changed already and it will continue to change in the future.
In retrospect, it is difficult not to conclude that one consequence of the overwhelming technological superiority of the superpowers is insurrection and terrorism. When a Superpower bombs a target there is inevitable killing of unwitting civilians. When people, not the military, are those who suffer the most, the only strategic alternative for those being attacked is a tactic that embraces decentralization of power, individual action, commitment and personal sacrifice, in other words, insurgency. The world should have known. There were lessons from the past that suggested that insurgency and guerilla warfare might become the ultimate form of warfare because of the way in which it neutralizes the strong.
All through the height of the Roman Empire, the Romans dealt with border clashes by military conquest and the “Romanization” of the conquered. For nearly one thousand years, Rome extended its territories from the Middle East to North Africa and throughout Britain, Spain and Gaul (France). The German frontier created a stumbling block, however, not only because the terrain was densely forested, mountainous and criss-crossed with rivers and streams, but also because of the culturally warlike Germanic tribes, the “Barbarians,” who operated independently of each other. The territory was difficult to occupy and impossible to control. In the ninth century, Armenius, a tribal Chieftain, massacred three Roman legions in the Teutoberg Forest using what we think of as independent decentralized guerilla tactics. It was the last attempt at conquest by the Romans and from that moment on Roman military strategy changed entirely to defensive action.
Over a period of two hundred and fifty years, first the colonial settlers and, later, the United States Army fought with the American Indians. The Library of Congress records that at one time there were one hundred seven Indian Tribes in North America. Each tribe was fiercely loyal to its own people. So was its leadership. At the risk of oversimplification, Each Brave was his own General. The formal forty-six-year war with the Indians was the longest war in which the United States was ever officially engaged ending only after the final massacre of the Lakotas at Wounded Knee in 1890. But, just as the Romans outlasted the Carthaginians, The Indians are still here and they are an important part of the culture of the United States.
Seventy-five years after Wounded Knee, the Algerian insurrection in Algiers showed the world how a modern fight for independence could be won by what was almost entirely an underground operation. The 1954-1962 conflict provided lessons on two levels, one political and one military.
Algiers 1960 – Insurgents battling the French
Algeria, a French colony since 1830 had been a problem from the beginning. The Algerians chafed at their treatment as underclass citizens of France. It led to a grass roots insurrection that the French strove to put down. During the course of the counterinsurgency, the French government and the military abandoned the principles that had originally distinguished them from the terrorists they were fighting. When that happened, the French lost the legitimacy of their cause and political and military defeat became inevitable. Any remnants of popular support waned following the tolerance, if not the encouragement, of torture, assassination, and violent intimidation by the French Army. The government of the Fourth Republic lost its credibility with the French as well as with those Algerians who had always been supportive of French involvement. Its ruthless counterterrorist campaign in Algiers was a classic Pyrrhic victory. The French Army eventually crushed the insurgency in the city, but the methods it used caused an international outcry that led to the end of any real hope for a French Algeria.
The fighting resulted in thousands of military and civilian casualties on both sides. The Algerian situation became so unpopular in France that the Fourth French Republic collapsed. A new republican government headed by Charles de Gaulle, who did not support the war, replaced it. In 1962, the French Army left in defeat and Algeria became independent.
Historians may well look at the Battle for Algiers as the first modern war, the model war of the twenty-first century.
With respect to the two hundred eighty armed conflicts since 1945 there have been fights between soldiers, civilians and competing civilian groups. There has been fighting in country villages and urban streets where the enemy camp was everywhere and the distinctions between soldier and civilian melted away into the fear and confusion of daily life under fire.
When fighting breaks out between different ethnic groups in the same country, ethnic loyalties take over and moral codes tend to disintegrate. Local hostilities turn easily to genocide. When that happens, the killing of civilians is not enough. The children of the enemy and the bearers of the future generation become the enemy and must be eliminated as well. In this nightmare scenario, women and children are not just accidents of crossfire, they are prime targets. In a 1994 broadcast before violence erupted in Rwanda, one political commentator put it this way, “To kill the big rats, you have to kill the little rats.”
Behind most recent armed conflicts lies a long history of wars that rarely have ended with solutions to the problems that caused war in the first place. The fighting in former Yugoslavia and in the territories that once were part of the Soviet Union are obvious examples.
“That war will finally become impracticable is apparent. The question is more the opposite—when will the recognition of this inevitable truth be spread among governments and the people? When the impossibility of resorting to war for the settling of international quarrels is apparent to all, other means will be devised.”
Jan de Bloch, 1898
What were those “other means?” Jan de Bloch hoped that the world would come to its senses and that people would learn to settle their disputes peacefully. The Permanent Court of Arbitration was established as a direct outcome of the first Peace Conference at The Hague. World War I provided the impetus for the creation of the League of Nations just as World War II provided the impetus for the creation of the United Nations.
World Wars I and II didn’t lead the world to peace. Instead, they taught the victims of oppression, occupation and religious persecution as well as those enflamed by other passions that the way to neutralize the oppressors was through individual action, decentralization of command and guerilla tactics.
One might argue that there is nothing new in insurrection and decentralized guerilla tactics and that they have been around for thousands of years. The tactics of insurgency could have come from the pages of Sun Tzu. With one important exception, that is true. The Kamikaze suicide attacks carried out by the Japanese airmen in World War II delivered a powerful message that has been taken to its limits by extremists in the Middle East and elsewhere. When a person is willing to sacrifice his own life in order to kill others, to become a human bomb whose only purpose is to inflict damage indiscriminately on the innocent, there is no military formation or weapon that can effectively respond.
Might the Holocaust be repeated? Unfortunately, it already has, under the umbrella of ethnic cleansing. It will be again.
It is the natural instinct of anyone with a gun to inflict pain on the enemy with as little exposure to themselves as possible. Almost every modern weapon and device has this as its underlying premise, to kill without being killed. The one thing that military thinkers have not countered is how to neutralize a terrorist who is looking forward to dieing as a martyr to his cause by strapping explosives to himself and walking into the midst of a crowd of the most vulnerable. It is now and will be for some time, the greatest threat to civilization
The examples of kindness and forgiveness exhibited by the United States in helping Germany and Japan stand up and rebuild after World War II did not seem to have led to a world committed to living in peace. It was a brief blip on the scale of time. Instead, out of the War came the seeds of a brutal form of warfare that in the end may prove more destructive to the world at large than any ever known.
World War II did not end War, but it surely led to the wars of insurgency and terrorism that distinguish warfare today. War changed while no one was watching. What was the atomic bomb if not a “weapon of mass destruction?” What were the Japanese kamikaze raids if not “suicide bombing?” What was the Holocaust if not “ethnic cleansing?” Are these merely new labels that took sixty years to insert into our vocabulary? And did the world not realize that “remote weapons of destruction” like the German V-I and V-II rockets, would lead to changes in warfare that in the wrong hands would threaten the very foundations of civilization?
To those on the Allied side of the War, the heroic acts of selflessness of the Underground movements in the Lowlands, France and Poland in resisting the German occupation, represented man at his noblest. However, one man’s underground hero is another man’s insurgent criminal. Certainly from the perspective of Irish Catholics, the IRA were heroes. From the British perspective they were nothing but terrorists subverting authority. But one thing is certain. From the perspective of the insurgent, the revolutionary and the terrorist, underground operations “work.”
The kind of prejudice that produced the Holocaust was not new. Prejudice and anti Semitism is as old as the Bible. The Crusades fanned the flames of a conflict between Muslims and Christians that has never ceased. “The Yellow Peril” hysteria of the nineteenth century was followed in the twentieth century by pogroms against the Jews in Russia and the Turks against the Armenians. But the Holocaust gave ethnic cleansing its name; and the institutionalization of a mechanized and industrialized program for the systematic eradication of an entire race was unprecedented.
Likewise, there have been many examples of suicide in war, but they almost always were for the purpose of destroying an asset to prevent it from falling into enemy hands or to “die fighting” for a cause, whatever it was. However, the formalized Kamikaze raids of World War II were history’s first examples of suicide bombing institutionalized as a matter of fundamental military strategy.
One might argue that the mustard gas of the First World War qualified as a “weapon of mass destruction.” It really wasn’t. It was aimed at the soldiers of the enemy, not at innocent civilians who just happened to be in the way. But, in World War II, in Warsaw, London, Hamburg and Hiroshima, civilians were targeted outright in an as a matter of military strategy.
Will a future rational world find “other means” of resolving disputes? Will insurrection, insurgency and terrorism increasingly define what passes for war? We can only hope that the generals of tomorrow heed the messages of Jan de Bloch and Sun Tzu, the one because the new weapons of war make classic linear wars between nations unthinkable, and the other because for four thousand years the best advice of the greatest military strategist of all times was to avoid war at all costs.
Will the United Nations “work” as a real agency for peace and for resolving disputes or will it dissolve as the League of Nations before it? Is this crowded world destined to destroy itself in a mire of protectionism, ethnicity and self-interest? Jan de Bloch was right in the sense that using war as an instrument of foreign policy in the future would be figuratively “impossible.” He was also right in the sense that a super-power like the United States might emerge and make war with any country using conventional tactics of warfare literally “impossible.” But war has moved on, and its “impossibility” may have become a moot academic exercise.
Is there a glimmer of hope for this irrational world where people strap bombs to themselves and wander into crowded markets so they can die as martyrs? If insurgents and terrorists acting independently have learned to tear the world apart, is not the greatest hope for the future a moment in time when the very same people say, ”stop?” In the end, war will be over only when the last insurgent says it’s over.
In the 1970’s, the journalist and scholar Sydney Harris wrote, “Pessimists say that nuclear war is inevitable. Optimists say that nuclear war is impossible. Nuclear war is inevitable unless we make it impossible, say the realists.”
If I may, today, the better thought might be, “Pessimists say that war is inevitable. Optimists say that war is impossible. Realists say that war is inevitable unless we make it impossible.”
“Peace is not simply the absence of war. Peace founded on the balance of fear is but an intermission between one armed conflict and another one which follows as a result of tipping the balance. Peace, therefore, cannot be only a constellation of threat and deterrence; an unstable situation of holding those who wish to go to war “in check”. If we want the Kantian dream about “eternal peace” to come true, we must strive for something more. We must build a world where the power of law will be the only power that counts. Such a world does not exist yet, although, beyond doubt, in many regions of the globe it may seem that it does. A big part of Europe, North America and several other islands of stability and prosperity may give the illusion that peace is only to be cultivated and maintained. Nevertheless, it is enough to take a look at the freshly extinguished Balkan fire, or recall the tragedy of September 11, to realize that even on those blissful isles peace has not been given once and for all. It has to be actively sought; it takes hard work to be established, often involving putting at risk peoples' health and lives. Alfred Nobel once said: ‘Good wishes alone will not ensure peace’.”
From an address to the Nobel Institute by Aleksander Kwaśniewski, President of the Republic of Poland
September 16, 2003