17 January 2004

The Logic of Warfare (a selective history)

Charles Tilly is credited with reading the history of Europe since 1000 AD as the history of uninterrupted, ever-intensifying, rational warfare, going so far as insisting that "wars make states as much as states make war". Yet uninterrupted warfare was practised much earlier in China (which incidentally has the same area as Europe), during the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods of its history. For 550 continuous years, from 770 BCE to 221 BCE, over 150 kingdoms fought each other, annexed each other, and dwindled to a single polity, the State of Chin.

One does not battle for 550 years without the invention of universal conscription, more efficient economic models, agricultural reforms, and of course, harsher and more complete extraction of taxes from farmers (which would reach an unprecedented 25% in Shogunate Japan later) - hence, the invention of serfdom...

The invention of maiming is tied to serfdom. Norbert Elias reports that less than a millennia later in continental Europe, the barons of Europe regularly tortured 'civilians' as they raided their rivals. Why the disjuncture between the mediaeval celebration of chivalric combat between soldiers, and the torture of non-combatants? Rational calculation: everything the serfs produce, as long as they are productive, will benefit the baron.

Elias unearths diaries of noblewomen, wives of barons, who describe their delight as they joined their husbands in the torture of enemies' serfs and farmers. A certain noblelady personally cut off the breasts of a milkmaid, poured tar on the stumps, and sent the girl back to her enemy, alive. Today, warlords and soldiers in Africa maim civilians as part of a rational "denial of resources" strategy against their opponents.

Over in England, the invention of the longbow in the 14th century finishes off the ideal of 'chivalry' of melee combat between noblemen. Exceptionally efficient long-range bombardment from longbows decimated the French armies even before they could come close to combat, in Crecy, Poiters, and Agincourt. The lesson: Decimate your enemies...

The calvary charge, as popularised by Napoleon's military campaigns, then romanticised by adoptors, effectively ended in Crimea when the Light Brigade fell to "canon to the left of them, canon to the right of them, canon in front of them". From then onwards, we learn to pulverise the enemy with artillery fire, bomb them to bits from planes...

Nerve gas? The subtle art of poisoning and germ warfare didn't just end there. Not when, as part of the terms of surrender, Japanese researchers in the notorious Unit 731 were transfered to the United States to continue their research.

Which of course won the war by dropping 2 atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. To date, no war crimes tribunal has been set for the men who planned the attacks. Last year, the Pentagon started research on small-scale nuclear bombs that could penetrate underground bunkers.

Guerilla warfare is strangely justified from the results it produces. It does the job, as just well as any weapon, any method of war.

A morality of war is non-existent, as long as we listen to the logic of warfare. How else do you win a war, except by destroying your opponent? Maim them, decimate them, pulverise them, blow them to bits, launch a megaton bomb, blow yourself up in their public places. They all work, and none of them are more or less morally reprehensible than the rest.

This is the logic of war, and I'm afraid there's no moral standard inherent to warfare; warfare does NOT have morality as its first principle.

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