“We are not fighting armies but a hostile people, and must make young and old, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war…. I would make this war as severe as possible, and show no symptom of tiring till the South begs for mercy.”
This is precisely what Sherman was talking about when he famously said that “War is hell.” He was a decent, honorable man and he hated doing what he knew must be done to end the war and stop the killing. Here’s one Sherman quote about waging war you won’t see in a New York Times editorial: “The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.” In other words, to end a war you must crush not only the opposing army but also the population in whose name it fights; that sometimes you must act inhumanely to save humanity.
Is Sherman Wrong – or Right?
Of course, it’s possible that Sherman is wrong or that his wisdom isn’t relevant to our times. Perhaps we really can win the war in Iraq without mercilessly crushing that part of Iraq’s population that continues to support the insurgency. I hope so, because this is precisely what we are attempting to do.
On the other hand, what if Sherman is right? Are we not following his advice because we no longer have the stomach to fight as he did? In an age of photos, of videotapes, of embedded reporters and 24/7 television coverage, has it become politically impossible to impose the level of pain and hardship on an enemy population that is necessary to end a war?
Or are we not following Sherman’s advice because our current military leaders have forgotten it, or never learned it in the first place? Certainly this is the impression they give, with their endless talk of spreadsheets and matrices and statistics that “prove” we’re making progress. From what I can see, a high percentage of our generals hold advanced degrees. That’s nice, but in the real world there is such a thing as being too sophisticated. Perhaps our generals should spend less time learning the intricacies of Excel and PowerPoint, and more time studying how Sherman’s brutal march through the South helped end the Civil War.
And perhaps our political leaders, in both parties, should shut up long enough to read Sherman’s memoirs. They just might learn something about how to end a war.
Monday, November 28, 2005
The former Reagan-era CIA official says to follow General Sherman's advice: