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By Paul Brown

Throughout most of history it has been up to small communities, even heads of households, to provide for their own defense. This was just the natural order of things. With smaller nation states or tribal groups, inferior systems of communication, little-to-no roads, and scarcity of land and other resources, conditions have almost always been ripe for organized violence between neighbors (both near and far). But over time nation states grew larger. Technology and better forms or organization led to police forces and large, national militaries that protected entire nations, allowing smaller communities and households to let their guard down. If roving bands of armed men are unlikely to come to your town to pillage (such as Vikings, or warring Greek city-states), then what’s the point of spending time, money, sweat, blood, and tears on preparing for pitched combat? Swords, spears, guns, and training were put on the backburner or dispossessed altogether by people in most regions . . .

And thus you have our current condition. The average American relies on the US military to protect them from any large groups of combatants (foreign and domestic), and relies on the police to protect them from most other violence. But how much should we rely on these mechanisms?

It is no secret that the United States has an aversion to total war, the concept that any and all means should be used to win a war. It hasn’t always been that way. World War II is the most recent example of the employment of total war by the US. World War I, and even the US Civil War are also good examples.

But for the last 70 years we have been thoroughly committed to fighting limited warfare: In Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iraq again…we set very limited objectives, and we no longer commit to winning. Clearly this has been problematic for our win/loss record, and I contend that it will continue to be problematic well into the future.

Certainly, the US could change its stance on warfare. From a policy standpoint it wouldn’t be that difficult. But it seems to me that our system of creating policy is broken, and as a result we are unlikely to change in that arena any time soon.

As a result of our reluctance to change, the US will continue to experience less than stellar results in war. This isn’t because we don’t have a capable military. It’s not due to lack of funding, poor equipment, or poor training. It is due solely to the decisions made by politicians, and by extension generals.

Changing that may take decades, or even a century or more. That means America’s enemies will grow stronger while the US grows weaker. Given our closest neighbors and other geographical strengths, the possibility of foreign invasion will still be slim, but over time such an event will become more possible. Internal violence as a result of a weakened state, possibly due to provocations by external states is certainly a possibility.

That is why I advocate for a major change in policy in my book, Total War: America’s Roadmap to Victory (free on Amazon until 11:59 pm today only). If the US doesn’t put total war back on the table, we are doomed to losing conflicts for the foreseeable future.

But expecting our politicians to make the right, sensible decision in this situation (or most others) is something of a pipe dream. So until then, keep and bear arms.

Paul Brown is the author of Total War: America’s Roadmap to Victory, and has written several articles for The Washington Times and for TTAG. He served in the Marine Corps as an intelligence analyst in Iraq, and he is a fervent advocate for gun rights.

86 Responses to Total War: America’s Roadmap to Victory

  1. Thanks much; I hear your points loud and clear and your book was just now wired to my Kindle. I look forward to reading it as these issues have also been on my mind of late. (Two-tour ‘Nam vet and former police officer).

  2. Tensions rising within the republic making it weak and vulnerable to foreign enemies… No not Rome ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to America.

  3. If the book is half as well-written as the post…

    Think I’ll mosey over to Amazon tomorrow rather than tonight, as I’d like to make a contribution to Mr. Brown’s revenue stream.

    • Seconded.

      However, I’m still not quite on board with the digital age; is there a way I can purchase a hard copy of this?

  4. Total war is a valid strategy against a well-defined enemy. The problem with pretty much all the conflicts that US has engaged in since 9/11 is that they do not have such a thing. Daesh Caliphate might be the first time that is different, but even that is a dubious assessment (arguably, the territory that they claim is really occupied in its entirety, and has to be liberated, not conquered).

    • While I agree that the details of total war in WWII (carpet bombing, nukes, etc.) won’t be as effective against our non-conventional enemies, the mindset will be. The ridiculous ROEs and political-correctness forced upon our military by politicians (no matter the suit they wear) in charge of things they know nothing of is destroying our ability to wage war and win. Waterboard, interrogate, relentless pursuit, allowing soldiers to make decisions on their own, these are the things that will allow us to win wars, not just drag them out for decades like we have been.

      • >> Waterboard, interrogate, relentless pursuit, allowing soldiers to make decisions on their own, these are the things that will allow us to win wars,

        If you’re going to torture people with a 20% rate of them turning out to be innocent (which is the rate for Guantanamo so far), you’re going to make a lot more enemies. Granted, if your goal is to win wars, it’ll work. But if it’s to not have to wage wars in the first place, it’s not a good strategy.

        Speaking of total war, US considered waterboarding of prisoners (including irregulars, such as Philippine rebels) to be a war crime even during WW1 and WW2 – to the point where people carrying it out would be court martialed.

        • Let’s always remember that being waterboarded has been done on dozens? hundreds? of Americans who VOLUNTEERED to have it performed on them so they could understand the practice if it was done on them by a foreign enemy. If it was really torture, nobody would volunteer. I doubt anybody has volunteered to subject themselves to fingers being crushed or torn off, blowtorches to the body, or mutilations of their genitals. When you let the Left and the MFM define your ROE’s you will get the results of proven losers.

        • To remind, those Americans who volunteered to have it done on them, did so as part of training that is specifically designed to help them resist torture. So yes, it’s torture, just a milder form of it.

          And US has defined it as torture long before me or the “liberal press”. Once again, American soldiers were court martialed for waterboarding Philipino insurgents in early 1900s. Google “Edwin F. Glenn” for more. And waterboarding by Japanese and Germans was certainly considered a war crime, and prosecuted as such when evidence of it came up.

          McCain suffered what you call “real torture”, and very brutal one at that. He has made it very clear that waterboarding is torture, in his opinion. Is he a bleeding heart liberal?

        • Never seen that in any history book I’ve read…. of course, I don’t read the ones put out by current lefties, either.

        • “If you’re going to torture people with a 20% rate of them turning out to be innocent (which is the rate for Guantanamo so far), you’re going to make a lot more enemies.”

          We were discussing total war, not a luncheon. Innocent or guilty, when you’re finished interrogating, kill them. Problem solved, especially if you never acknowledged you had them in the first place. And I am not certain how you think we discover that anyone is innocent. It is my understanding that Osama has issued orders to not take further prisoners, just kill them, so he can close Gitmo. Wonderful, I don’t see much downside to my idea.

        • Even in WW2 – a “total war” if there ever was one – US didn’t torture, and prosecuted enemy who did torture for war crimes.

        • Waterboarding by the US is not the water torture of the Japanese and Vietnam due to the very fact that Japanese/Vietnamese killed many in the process. All this pantie twisting over the US performing waterboarding a grand total of 3 (three!) worst of the worst jihadists. By international conventions of war we have the right to execute these 3 at the drop of a hat.

        • Torture didn’t just involve waterboarding.

          There were way more than 3 people tortured.

          Some of them were since been found to be innocent, and for many there’s simply no sufficient evidence to actually charge them with anything.

          No matter how you twist it, the fact is that US tortured innocent people, based solely on what “informants” told about them, largely to settle scores. This is something that was previously only deemed possible in some Stalinist country. In fact, it is literally the same kind of thing you can read pages and pages about in books like The Gulag Archipelago, just on a smaller scale.

          Here’s an example of a guy who was beaten so severely that he cannot walk anymore and needs to move around in a wheelchair:
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sami_Abdul_Aziz_Salim_Allaithy

          Here’s a man who was completely innocent – not even a combatant at all – and tortured to death in American custody:
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dilawar_(torture_victim)

          Here’s a man who was waterboarded and tortured with electricity. They eventually decided that he is innocent, but kept him in a cell for 5 more years “just to be sure”.
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murat_Kurnaz

          All of these things are considered war crimes by any civilized country in the world. Including US itself, before it’s 9/11 insanity.

          And understand this. If you’re saying that all these things are okay because the victims are “terrorists” and “enemy combatants”, you’re opening the door wide open for all kinds of abuse, because the status of “terrorist” or “enemy combatant” is itself very nebulous. As of today, the President can already pretty much arbitrarily designate any person, citizen or non-citizen, as a terrorist supporter. If you think they’re going to only be using this against Muslims and Arabs, you’re a naive idiot (and a bigot). The government has already put militias and various constitutionalist groups on their “dangerous people” watch lists. When they take the next logical step and declare any domestic uniformed armed group that is not subordinate to the feds to be “enemy combatants”, you’ll find yourself and your relatives on the waterboard, with wires attached to your balls. You’ll remember this conversation then.

      • Sure they will. Do you really think the jihadists are more fanatical than the Japanese or SS? “You know, it might be a good idea not to attack us, or let any of your countrymen do so; we don’t believe in proportional response.”

    • There are plenty of things we could do, which we are not doing because of somebody’s “policy”. Just one; I understand a major source of ISIS funding is oil fields they have taken over from some nation or another. Ah. So ownership is just about force of arms? Then send the Army in there to kill all locals on sight and take over all the oilfields, splitting the revenue between the soldiers involved and the US govt, and don’t plan on giving it back when the war is over. There went several million $$ a day, I understand, from the war chest of the loonies, and 50,000 US grunts who just joined the 1%. Win-win-win! So why aren’t we moving?

      • Because that sort of thing is outright piracy and highway robbery, and grunts aren’t allowed to participate in the actual divvying up of the loot. Only the top dawgs and their banker and oil baron bosses get to do that. Plus our lords temporal like to pretend they are moral agents and would never stoop to such nefarious behavior.

        • IOW, because we are not pursuing total war! Gotcha. You seem to be following the rules of a garden party. Otherwise, piracy and robbery of the property of ISIS and the means by which they hire troops and buy weapons seems to me like a fine idea.

        • There is a very wide spectrum between “garden party” and “total war”, it’s not a binary choice.

          Out of curiosity, though, and since you seem to be holding WW2 as an example – would you then also support internment of all American Muslims in concentration camps as part of that hypothetical “total war”? After all, they did that to Japanese in WW2, even though it was unconstitutional. And speaking of constitution, does it get suspended in “total war” or what? If not, there’s that whole bunch of things about due process and cruel and unusual punishment that would seem to apply once enemy combatants become prisoners.

  5. One correction I would like to make – the book was free at the time I wrote this, but it is currently available at the regular price of $2.99. Thanks for the support and sorry about the misinformation.

    • Mr. Brown, I’m happy to pay for the book and I have. I appreciate the analysis, even though I disagree with it. But I may have common ground with you, depending on what you saw as the purpose of each of the major conflicts you have listed in your post. I tend to agree that total war may be necessary, but that only limited war, if any at all, was justified in some of the later conflicts you have listed. In short, “winning at any cost” really depends on what you mean by winning. I would be interested in your thoughts on that question.

      Oh and TTAG, what did this have to do about guns?

      • “Robert Farago founded The Truth About Guns in February of 2010 to explore the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns.”

        Hm.

        Looks like a few of those apply to warfare, no?

  6. I’m sure Mr Brown will be leading the charge against some Spetsnaz hardasses. “World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones”-A. Einstein.

  7. This is not a criticism of the book, which I look forward to reading.

    That said:

    I would much rather have read an article on TTAG reviewing the book, than what is in effect an infomercial by the author of the book. If I want to read a manufacturer’s blurb in the form of an article I’ll go read Guns & Ammo or American Rifleman. I don’t come here for that.

    • I actually quite enjoyed “Culture and Carnage” by the same author. Even if you disagree with Hanson’s assessment (which I do not), he does a good job juxtaposing aspects of warfare from the theater level all the way down to the individual soldier’s level, with cultural context to explain why society’s fight the way they do.

  8. There is no coincidence that the wars since World War II are “limited”. This is because total war = nukes. And let’s not kid ourselves all these limited wars involve players with nukes. The Great Game is alive and well.

  9. We cannot win any war unless we fight like Americans. If we fight like Americans, we cannot lose.

    Since the end of WW2, the US has been fighting political brush wars and proxy wars with no clear objective and, therefore, no clear result. Every one of those wars has bled America’s resources, from our treasure to our people. Meanwhile, the strongest of us are fed into the meat grinder, while the weakest, in mind if not in body, run the country.

    America has always been the product of its wars. The half-assed wars of the last 70 years have made us — once the envy of the world — into a fractured nation run by idiots for the benefit of morons.

    • That actually is a good post in that objectives and the surrounding policies to pursue them have been very murky in the last few wars. There has also been too much political correctness and taking our eyes off the ball in many of our latest wars.

    • Ralph, given the high number of troops rotated through the conflict theaters over the last 10 to 13 years with the historically low number of casualties do we still have the issue of warfare destroying the backbone of generations? Certainly when one looks at events like WWI and WWII where Europe lost not one but two entire generations of their bravest it is easy to see how this can devastate the character of a nation. In 13 years of war across two theaters we had a casualty rate roughly 80% lower than Vietnam. While each death is a personal tragedy it is hard to see the collective total as devastating in the way of former wars.

      That being said is it possible that with the numbers of veterans who went through Iraq and Afghanistan do you think their exposure to the political mismanagement of the conflict will have a larger effect of the character of the nation than any number of casualties short of WWI/WWII proportions could have had?

  10. We are in no immediate danger of invasion. Our borders are with Canada and Mexico and I don’t see these as a big military threat to us.

    Any real threat of invasion to us will have to come from a heavily industrialised nation/nations with a substantial blue water naval force.

    The biggest threat to American security in the forseeable future is a balkanization of our country coming from within. Splitting into red/blue regions would weaken us to the point that even Mexico would have a real chance at a land grab.

    • That’s simple to fix: change the House of Representatives so that elections are by party within state delegations, so more people would be represented. Many people don’t bother to vote because they know they’re not actually going to be represented, since the only people who can get elected are those from one of the Big Two parties who cater to the rich.

      Do that, and I’d bet California would have representatives from a dozen different parties in the very next election. No more red v blue, just one big spectrum.

      • There is a system that combines the best of both worlds: mixed-member proportional. You get both representatives directly from specific electoral districts, and party representatives; and the overall mix is such that the number of representatives from each party (whether elected directly or from party lists) reflects the number of votes that party has got.

      • Before trying new things can we go back to the original system of having the Senate appointed by the States so that there is someone representing their interests?

        Not saying that fixing the House isn’t a worthwhile and needed thing. Just would prefer we undo the damaging changes already in place and see what happens before we start taking new and novel approaches.

      • If we’re going to simply change the constitution willy-nilly, my suggestion has to be that your voter registration is automatically processed when you pay taxes. You don’t pay taxes, you don’t vote. There went the welfare state and half the government in less than 10 years.

    • I think you may not see the news where you are? Mexico has invaded us, and is, with the help of the White house, the democrats that want votes and more suckage of the nanny state’s teats, and the republicans that want cheap and plentiful labor, has just about taken the bridgehead.

      • Yep, there is the Mexican invasion (to the tune of 10+ million) and there is the slower invasion by the Cult of Islam.

  11. You got that right Ralph. I don’t agree completely with the strongest going to war though. Many volunteers were only joining up for education /benefits. Sobering to have to go to the Middle East when all you thought you were getting was a Club Med vacation. Little guys from small towns and women. My own son joined up for the benefits and was sent to the middle east. It turned out well but he left the reserve precisely because of a lack of trust in the Odumbo regime. And W wasn’t much better…

    • Better…? Dropping the ball on one war and then starting another in order to divert from the first failure is better?

      Yeah, right.

      • Damn near ALL the dumbocrats voted for the wars. Ask your veterans who is a better commander in chief? Who hates the military? I don’t think we ever needed to go to Iraq. And we woulda’ “got” bin laden in 2005 0r 6 if not for our “friends” in Pakistan. Barry Soetoro is the most inept,corrupt and traitorous occupant of the white house ever. Damaging America forever. And I’m not a Bush fan-any of them.

    • Perhaps it is better to think of strength in the abstract than the concrete. Look at it as those who have the drive to take risks to better their situation, IE joining the military at the risk of deployment in order to gain access to job skills and education.

      It is also nigh impossible to argue that anyone who joined after September 11 did so with a realistic expectation of “one weekend a month, two weeks in the summer” instead of “Sandbox here I come.” I was in ROTC on 9/11, on 9/13 the entire cadet corps was assembled and we were told the country was going to war and in one to four years each of us would be going with it. We were collectively given the option to walk away if we didn’t want to be a part of it. Everyone I have been stationed with who was in training at that time received a similar offer.

  12. You’re misunderstanding the goal of all these small wars. The idea isn’t to win outright over some third world militia, it’s to prevent an ideologically hostile great power from getting to the point where it can directly threaten the US and its allies in the way that Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan or the Soviet Union did. By that measure, the strategy has been fairly successful.

    • Yes. We have gone the way of all empires for whom there is no enemy big enough to make total war worthwhile, except for one or two so big that there would be no winners. Total war is fr when your existence is threatened, unless you want to go full-on empire and rule by violent coercion.

      • The enemy that the US would have to face for us to go whole-hog into is a scary situation. It would almost certainly go nuclear if not immediately then when one side was nearing victory. Total war means total destruction of one side and a great expendature of blood and treasure (and potentially partial destruction) on the other.

  13. Nonsense Mr. Brown
    Americans have fought limited wars since Korea to prevent thermonuclear destruction of planet. Every war fought since has fewer casualties than the previous. We just finished two wars lasting over ten years with fewer than 7K killed. If anything were getting better at killing our enemies than at any other time in our history.

    • If we have gotten so good at it, why are there as many of them now as there were 10 years ago, whereas we destroyed Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in 4? We aren’t better at killing enemies, but better at living longer.

      • What nation or who is a threat to us…requiring total war? The premise that we would maintain greatness by employing total war on our enemies is about silly as one can get. American is great because despite our capability, restrain ourselves from total war. We’ve demonstrated to every nation on earth were the dog with the big nuts, and the rest of the world pretty much agrees. Soviets watched us dismantle Iraq war fighting capabilities not once but twice, and looking into their own arsenal determined nothing in their kit could compete and finally failed as nation, now they’re Russia (same folks new name) and a one trick pony in the world economy (energy). The best they can do is shoot down civilian airliners. We out spent them on new equipment, developed new ways of fighting and fundamentally altered how we warfare. China is not a threat to anyone, they still think rhino penis or shark fin soup gets them wood. As for the Middle East, I learned one thing after Gulf 1 from the locals…aligence is with family not their govenment or nation. The majority of Kuwaitis beat feet to Saudi Arabia and fanned out into Europe with the fighting started, very few stayed to fight for their King.

        Commerce is a great equalizer of nations and the world is realizing there is little profit in war. For every tank, aircraft carrier, ICBM built…takes capital away from building businesses, providing health care, feeding people, and engineering a better world.

  14. What does ‘Total War’ even mean in this day and age when, the entire world over, there are significant populations sympathetic to the US and NATO within any nation-state we would go to war with? The same could be said of other states and alliances as well, to a lesser degree.

    The only present context I think this discussion is relevant toward is the situation with Russia and Ukraine. Does anyone really want to go there? Neo-Nazis on one side and hardcore Soviet nostalgia on the other. The actual state players are hesitant to do much of anything because they don’t want to ruin their reputations bombing civilians. It looks to me like ‘Total War’ is being largely left up to ‘non state actors’ these days. States don’t want to get their hands dirty when they can get proxy militias or terrorists to do it for them.

  15. The Civil War, WWI and WWII were events which could have led to the destruction of the U.S. That is why they were fought in the “total war” fashion. None of the wars since then have represented the same level of threat to the U.S. which is one reason they have not been prosecuted at the same level.

    I don’t agree that a modern ‘total war’ needs to mean total nuke anihilation. Sure, if you are facing a similarly armed opponent, then nukes are a real possibility, but at present count, there is only one other country on the planet that represents a nuclear threat equal to the U.S. China is certainly headed there, but at present they lack the delivery capacity to wage total nuclear war.

    It is highly unlikely that we would descend into total war with those states for just that reason. On the other hand, there are plenty of smaller states that could at some point represent a serious threat the the U.S. against which we could fight a total war.

    • I wouldn’t count out Russia as a nuclear threat. I read somewhere in the last week or two that China was testing their first multi-warhead ICBM, something the Russians have had for decades. Not to mention they still have all those nuclear armed submarines.

      Anyway, as awful as the world wars were, the price of total war was not nearly as high before the advent of atomic weapons as it has been since. Lets hope the lessons of total war aren’t lost.

    • “The Civil War, WWI and WWII were events which could have led to the destruction of the U.S.”

      Civil War: Yes. For either side.

      WWI: No way.

      WWII: Possible. But technically it wasn’t Nazi Germany that attacked us, it was Imperial Japan.

      • Germany did actually declare war on US (in fulfillment of their treaty with Japan), not the other way around.

        And if you’ve read “Mein Kampf”, Hitler loathed US and would have certainly gone after it after crushing resistance in Europe. Of course, whether he’d even be able to do so, or whether the Soviets would ultimately be victorious anyway, is a different question.

        • The treaty between germany and japan left an out for Hitler. He was only required to declare war on the US if the US attacked japan first.

          Hitler declared war on the US because he wanted to. Not because he had to.

        • As I recall, Hitler didn’t particularly want a war at that point in time – he had himself occupied with many other things. But he felt a moral obligation to support an important ally even if the letter of the treaty didn’t require him to.

          Long-term, the confrontation was inevitable, and that probably also factored into the decision. But I doubt that was the original plan.

  16. Just downloaded it and am looking forward to reading it… I’ll give $2.99 to a TTAG contributer anytime… Semper Fi.

  17. The only reason the U.S. doesn’t fight that kind of war anymore is due to business interest in foreign markets and the backlash that any anti-U.S. sentiment does to said businesses.

    • That was the same reasoning that everyone in Europe thought – that war was a thing of the past – in 1914. The countries were to interconnected with commerce. There was too much money to lose. All it took was one nation that lagged behind in European imperial ambitions and had a vulnerable geographic location to endeavor to even the scorecard and scores of millions of people lay dead.

    • Saying that the world is too economically intertwined to allow that kind of war is like saying that our society has advanced beyond the need for individual firearms ownership, and both for the same reason.

  18. The United States of America has always been and will always be a sleeping giant. We were woefully unprepared for both world wars. The Japanese thought we were soft when they bombed Pearl Harbor, which is fair enough since we thought they were a bunch of funny little toy makers. The bottom line is we were two naval powers on opposite sides of a large body of water with imperial ambitions. The notion that war was inevitable with Japan was widely accepted dating back to their defeat of the Russian fleet in 1905 and especially after the British pulled their fleets from the Caribbean and western Pacific during WWI leaving their allies Japan and America to police the respective waters. We were still unprepared. Thankfully the carriers were out to sea.

    The problem, if you can call it that, is that we have weak and friendly neighbors to the north and south and at least 3000 miles of ocean to the east and west. Japan could have never hoped to invade and occupy even the western seaboard. And Germany the eastern seaboard. The troop levels necessary would have left both countries completely defenseless against their enemies and America could have held the Mississippi valley and launched a counter-offensive from it. The Japanese thought that if they devastated the Pacific Fleet they could get us to sue for peace and cede the Philippines and Guam leaving them free to access the oil in Indonesia. They never had any intention of invading.

    Meanwhile Hitler rightly assessed that after losing the Battle of Britain he had about 2 years (he actually had 3) before England and America launched an invasion of Europe (this was before Pearl Harbor). Once the Anglo-American force landed there was no question Stalin would seize the opportunity to crush Nazi Germany. The notion that Hitler could have invaded is laughable. At best he could have cut us off from Europe.

    Nevertheless, the fear, if not threat, of actual occupation awoke the sleeping giant and we showed what we are capable of. As terrible as the 911 attacks were, they paled in comparison to the perceived threat of Nazi or imperial Japanese invasion. We went to war to stop the terrorists from launching similar attacks, not for the preservation of our whole society. If the treat rises to that level again, Americans will not hesitate to engage in total war again.

    In the meantime, our foreign policy is a manifestation of a free people. We don’t rely on slave soldiers (conscripts) to push our global hegemony. We do what the American people are willing to do and no more. It may be true that American public opinion is too fickle for our own good, but that is the curse of a free republic. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  19. >> As terrible as the 911 attacks were, they paled in comparison to the perceived threat of Nazi or imperial Japanese invasion.

    Asymmetric warfare and the rise of NGOs changed the nature of the comparison. The goal of radical Islam is the collapse of our society through disruption, rather than domination in a standup fight. I’m not sure the threat is different, I think it is the method.

    It could be that the backward look at total war is a romantic thing. An idealistic longing for a supposed simpler and better time.

    • In fact the threat of an individual private citizen being killed by the enemy on our own soil is exponentially greater today under the threat of radical Islam than it was from Nazi Germany. However it’s never the threat but the perceived threat that generates a response. Asymmetrical warfare has existed as long as there have been powers that were stronger than others. If you can’t beat your enemy in open battle you resort to alternative methods to inflict casualties. The fact that our enemies resort to such tactics, and on their own ground no less, is evidence that we possess a far more potent force than they do. Visions of foreign troops occupying American soil on the other hand, realistic or not, generate a much different response.

      • I agree with your assessment Gov, but I thought we’d agree that “Visions of foreign troops occupying American soil” was no longer a perceived fear even for the most timid. If true, there is no question of response at all.

        I was just pointing out that occupation is about control, as is terrorism in getting a nation to bend to the will of terrorists through fear.

        I still wonder if a read of the book will turn out to not be based on much but a romantic and idealistic longing for a supposed simpler and better time. It wouldn’t be surprising if it did. After “total war” then what? And WWII has been completely romanticized in the American psyche, and romanticizing the WWII or post-WWII era is a very common thing. The idea that the Civil War was a “total war” is simply not true. It is a feature of the Lost Cause literary movement and false beliefs about Sherman’s March to the Sea by the usual suspects.

        • Yes, I think the last vestige of fear of foreign troops occupying America vanished with the Cold War. But I think if our opponents in the war on terror had their way they wouldn’t be satisfied with an occupying force, they’d want us all beheaded. The difference is in the perception of that becoming a reality.

          If there ever was such a thing as ‘total war’ it was WWI. The combatants in WWII at least held back from using chemical weapons, the opponents in the first didn’t hold anything back. The only real difference between the wars was the advancements in aviation made carrying more and heavier bombs a possibility and of course the atom bomb at the end, and I’m not sure dropping the bomb was any more of a total war than the invasion of Japan would have been.

        • WW2 is usually considered “total war” not because of the methods of warfare, but because all sides very quickly began to consider outright civilian infrastructure, and civilians themselves, as valid targets. This was not the case in WW1 or most “civilized” European wars before that. Armies met in the field, sorted it out, the losing one usually surrendered, the winning one occupied the enemy country, and that would be that.

          WW1 followed the same pattern, though as you note the weapons themselves became much more lethal, especially in combination with all tactics. So for an individual soldier, especially in the European theater, WW1 was more brutal (on the other hand, when it comes to treatment of prisoners, I’d say it was still better – the vestiges of “civilized warfare”). But in WW2, there were massive attacks on civilians. German bombings of enemy cities, Allied firebombings of the same, German practice of burning down villages in captured Soviet territories in reprisals or just when they were considered a threat etc. Massive use of artillery when attacking populated cities. As a consequence, way more civilian casualties than military ones. That’s total war.

        • int19h, I’m afraid you’re misinformed on the First World War and the treatments of civilians, although you could make the argument that the Allies held back somewhat. But the Germans bombed London repeatedly, first with Zeppelins and then with bomber airplanes. They inflicted the same reprisals on Belgium as they did in the Soviet Union. The Turks used the fog of war to slaughter 2 million of their Christian subjects in the first genocide of the 20th century. The Germans made huge cannons and rained shells down on Paris 75 miles away. Then there was the unrestricted submarine warfare where civilian passenger ships were torpedoed without warning, another practice the parties refrained from in the second war.

          And where enemy soldiers were involved they really didn’t hold anything back. Look up the British mining at Messines Ridge. The two sides used anything and everything at their disposal. Had atomic weapons been invented 30 years earlier there wouldn’t be a Europe left today.

        • You are right that it was a transitional war, so to speak… the one that was started as “civilized”, but quickly degenerated into something closer to what WW2 was yet to be. But it didn’t come to that level, neither in resolve of the sides nor in the technical means to carry such resolve out even if it were there. There was nothing like the massive destruction of cities complete with their inhabitants, with civilian casualties numbering in tens of thousands in matter of days, that would be commonplace in WW2.

          (I would set the Armenian genocide carried out by Ottomans apart, as they weren’t truly a European nation then.)

          Either way, WW1 had 10 million dead soldiers, and 7 million civilians, and most of those civilians died from diseases, not from direct enemy action, especially in European countries. For example, Germany suffered less than 1000 civilian deaths caused by military action. Belgium – yes, of the “Rape of Belgium” fame – suffered about 25,000. France, around 40,000.

          In comparison, in WW2, we have military deaths in the ballpark of 25 million, while civilian deaths are anywhere from 40 to 60 million, and of those only half died from diseases and such, the other half were deliberately exterminated by force. Granted, this is again skewed by Asian theater and esp. China, but even if you only look at Europe, Germany for example suffered over a million civilian deaths from direct military action; USSR, around 10 million; Poland, 5 million; France, over 300,000; and so on. A lot of this is, of course, Holocaust, but the German million is mostly from bombings and later artillery, and in USSR only about half of civilian deaths are Holocaust-related.

          Just based on those numbers, I think it’s clear that WW1 was closer to traditional “civilized warfare” where armies fight and civilians watch, and WW2 was skewed significantly more towards wiping out the enemy by any means, regardless of whether they are in a uniform.

        • Well I’m not about to argue that the civilian casualty numbers were comparable in the first war. But if you’re willing to sink passenger ships without warning and build giant cannons to rain artillery shells down on Paris, what kind of warfare do you think the Germans would have brought upon civilians if they had the technology of the second war? The Allies didn’t have the opportunity or necessity to inflict such civilian casualties. The British didn’t need to wage unrestricted submarine warfare since they had naval superiority above the water and could simply stop any ship they wished to and search and seize any cargo they wanted (in fairness they paid market value for goods seized). And the bulk of the war was waged on Allied territory so it was kind of hard to exact reprisals on civilians a hundred miles away. But where enemy conscripts were involved they didn’t hold anything back.

          Personally I don’t really consider them to be two different wars but rather World War part one and part two. One direct effect of the first war was the Russian Revolution and subsequent Russian Civil War where 20 million soldiers and civilians died. The warring parties simply needed to wait a generation and replenish their pool of conscripts. Still in round two, Hitler restrained his submarines and no one brought out the chemical weapons. There was no such restraint in the first war, anything and everything they had at their disposal was used without restraint, which seems to me to be the very definition of total war.

    • Simpler? Yes. Easier? No. Total war IS simple. Kill everything. Limited war is complicated. Both are hard, but one is simpler.

  20. Unique article, unfortunately the American population doesn’t have the stomach nor the testicular fortitude for total war. In my personal experiences with war, you have to be ready and willing to make the enemy suffer in unimaginable ways, making the situation so dire and horrific that they give up their will to continue to the fight….or die.

    The sad truth is that our generals are now politicians and our politicians are now acting as generals. These two things shouldn’t mix. Sure, it’s fine if a general wants to retire and go into politics, or if a politician wants to don the uniform and serve their country in a new way, but allowing politicians to make military decisions is like letting me perform brain surgery. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t work.

    Our country, for whatever reason, is engaged in conflicts with the underlying goal of nation building rather than defeating the enemy. If they were dedicated to defeating the enemy, change the rules of engagement. Maintain discipline of our troops, but “Cry ‘Havoc!’, and let slip the dogs of war” for lack of a better expression. Until then I’ll continue to deploy to the “arm pits” of the earth and fight enemies who don’t play by our rules with two hands tied behind my back.

    /Rant

  21. So is this book in fact claiming that the 9/11 terrorist attacks, (and in fact terrorism itself), as a form of “total war” is in fact a legitimate and justifiable tactic to use to achieve victory over an enemy? It is really holding up the methodology and mentality of those terrorists as appropriate and enviable? Those terrorists are actually better than the average American because at least they understand what needs to be done to win? Seriously?

  22. Pouring water in someone’s face and making them wear panties on their head is not torture. Cheese and crackers…..this is the thinking that has us fighting politically correct wars. “War is cruelty, there is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is the sooner it will be over.” — William T. Sherman

    • Go and actually read the Senate report. Actually read it.

      They actually had people die in custody from injuries and mistreatment. Yet the Fox News crowd keeps chanting about “panties on the head”.

      But hey, I found some people who are even more retarded than that. Here are some choice quotes from a Facebook discussion on how torture of prisoners (and torture in general) is compatible with Christianity in the first place:

      “I think if God allowed Jesus to be tortured to save lives, then it is OK to torture wicked men to save lives.”

      “Not that anyone asked, but I am re-born (Born Again) into Christianity and yet I believe that we must do what we must do in war to stop greater evil. Then repent for any harm or hurt you have done and ask for forgiveness.”

      I’m more convinced than ever now that Christian fundies have all that it takes to be a Taliban of their own, if they only ever get a chance. They certainly don’t have any qualms about the methodology, and it looks like they have their theological justification all lined up, too.

        • I don’t see any dispute about the facts there, only different justifications and rationalizations about them. It all basically boils down to “yes, we did do all these things, but we didn’t think that they’re torture and even if they were we did get something useful out of it, so it was all justified”. No-one disputed the methods used, or the deaths in custody.

      • Wow quoting Facebook comments. I guess what someone tweets or posts is truly indicative of the evil intentions of all those right-wing Christians who prove they are just as bad if not worse than the Taliban.

        C’mon man you have to try harder than that.

        Unlike you I see no requirement for the U.S. to reward or grant Constitutional protection upon foreign enemies in foreign territory in a conflict or “kinetic” operation. Obviously there are international treaties and conventions the military follows against like minded adversaries during the conduct of a War or conflict, but none of that automatically extends to non-uniformed enemy forces we are fighting today. It’s borderline insane to apply domestic criminal procedures to a foreign conflict. Finally to say that waterboarding or similar practices of “torture” (your words not mine) on several Jihadists will then be used on the American people within the confines of the United States is disingenuous at least, intellectual laziness at the most.

        Arguing over the morality or results of practices is one thing, but to give foreign enemies the same Constitutional standards as Americans is downright silly.

        • I’m quoting Facebook comments because they are very much relevant – they show how people with that mindset think and rationalize.

          Constitutional protection does not apply to enemies on the battlefield, true. But once they are captured and become POWs, they are in US jurisdiction, and Constitution fully applies (this doesn’t mean that they get the same set of protection as civilians, but the basics like due process are still applicable). Their status as “lawful” or “unlawful” combatants is also not relevant here – it’s relevant for Geneva conventions as such, but we’re talking about US law here, and it doesn’t make any such distinctions. Their status as citizens or non-citizens is also irrelevant – the Constitution, when it talks about fundamental rights, always talks about “people”, not “citizens”, and the long-standing judicial interpretation of that is straightforward: those rights apply to everyone to whom US law is applicable. If you can stand trial in a US court (even if it’s a military tribunal), then you’re under the umbrella of the US constitution.

          If you think about it, it makes sense. If it were not the case, then all the government would need to do to deprive you of your constitutional rights and freedoms is to declare you a combatant, and call you a POW once arrested.

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