Let us recall certain lessons on war by one of the greatest military scientists, General Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831). Clausewitz’s magnum opus, On War, is studied in military schools to this day. He defines war as “an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will. Violence is the means; submission of the enemy to our will the ultimate object.” For as long as the enemy remains armed, he will wait for a more favorable moment for action. The ultimate object of war is political. To attain this object fully, the enemy must be disarmed. Disarming the enemy “becomes therefore the immediate object of hostilities. It takes the place of the final object and puts it aside as something we can eliminate from our calculations.”
Clausewitz warns: “Philanthropists may readily imagine there is a skillful method of disarming and overcoming an enemy without causing great bloodshed, and that this is the proper tendency of the Art of War. However plausible this may appear, still it is an error which must be extirpated; for in such dangerous things as war, the errors which proceed from a spirit of benevolence are the worst.”
Not that Clausewitz advocates indiscriminate slaughter. He warns, however, that “he who uses force unsparingly, without reference to the bloodshed involved, must obtain a superiority if his adversary uses less vigor in its application.” “Let us not hear of Generals who conquer without bloodshed. If a bloody slaughter is a horrible sight, then that is a ground for paying more respect to War, but not for making the sword we wear blunter and blunter by degrees from feelings of humanity, until someone steps in with one that is sharp and lops off the arm from our body.”
It follows that moderation or self-restraint as a principle of war is absurd. To defeat the enemy the means must be proportioned to his power of resistance, and his power of resistence must be utterly crushed.
The statesman must take into account not only the forces of the enemy. He must solidify the confidence and determination of his people. They must believe in the justice of their country’s cause and understand the importance of victory as well as the consequences of defeat. The statesman must display wisdom, decisiveness, and clarity.
Above all the statesman must have, in his own mind, a clear view of his post-war goal or political object. The political object will determine the aim of military force as well as the amount of force or effort to be used.
This is the crucial point in Israel’s attack on Gaza. Does the Government have a clear view of the goal or political object of this war?
Is it simply to stop Hamas from further attacks on Israel, or is it to disarm and destroy the enemy?