June 4, 2013

The Cost of Limited War

Carl von Clausewitz defined war as: An act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will. He goes on to say, “Violence, that is to say, physical force (for there is no moral force without the conception of States and Law), is therefore the means; the compulsory submission of the enemy to our will is the ultimate object.” Most telling for the purpose of this essay, he goes on to point out that, “…for in such dangerous things as War, the errors which proceed from a spirit of benevolence are the worst.”

The United States, and the West as a whole, finds itself in an age where the “errors which proceed from a spirit of benevolence” have overtaken every facet of our warfighting capability. Commanders are not making battlefield decisions based on combat necessity, they are making them based on the instructions of lawyers who endeavor to make war more ‘humane.’

War is, by its very nature, inhumane. War is violence, death and horror. It is serious business. Unfortunately, we have not engaged in it seriously for a very long time, and the costs of that fact have been largely glossed over.

The obsession with ‘limited war’ began during the Cold War. The fear of nuclear annihilation (often overstated for propaganda purposes) led to a series of proxy wars across Africa, South America and Southeast Asia in lieu of a direct confrontation with the Communist Bloc. Due to the fears of those in power, and the even less informed fears of many of their constituents, the goals of war, most evidently in Vietnam, began to change from victory to… something else. Murky, limited and ultimately indecisive objectives have been cited, ultimately boiling down to a stalemate at best, defeat at worst.


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About the Author

is a former Reconnaissance Marine and veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. He deployed to Iraq in 2005-2006, and again in 2007, with 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Recon Bn. After two years of schools and workups, including Scout/Sniper Basic and Team Leader's Courses, he deployed to Afghanistan with 4th Platoon, Force Reconnaissance Company, I MEF. He is now a tactical tracking instructor and the author of the military thrillers Task Force Desperate and Hunting in the Shadows.

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  • RW11

    I'm glad you wrote this article. There are so many violations of war fundamentals that fighting a war, by not fighting a 'war,' has become the norm.  How many objectives have lost because of restrictive ROE? Incalculable.

  • aezino

    YankeePapa  Yes that is a good book.  I have not read it, but It was referenced by a a writer who submitted an article to Strategy and Tactics"  So I guess I got the Cliff Notes version.  I will definitely read it.

  • Tango9

    055 PeteN careful pete.  UAH tag on 055.

  • 055

    PeteN Email sent -- "I'm in".

  • AUNITEDPEOPLE

    PeteN Livefyre screwed it all up when I got the email message, so you should have it now. Thanks!