Arithmetic of Indefinite Justice
A Short History of American Warfare
William C. Hall/Candide's Notebooks, August 21, 2006
America’s warfare doctrine has long been centered on massive fire power. Wars begin when provocative acts by others are met with a retributive response. Often such response is the result of political leaders having easy access to a powerful military apparatus. Consequently, misapplied force, either too much or too little, can bring unintended, even catastrophic, consequences.
Moses’ law of retribution expressed the idea of proportionality as “eye for eye and tooth for tooth.” However, the Mosaic injunction was not a demand for retribution but rather a call for moderation by replacing the notion of two legs for an eye or the rape of an offender’s daughter for the loss of a tooth.
The American response to our loss of 2,348 lives at Pearl Harbor cost Japan 2 million killed including, at least, 300,000 civilians, plus an additional 300,000 American war dead. Similarly, our losses on 9/11 came to 2,997, slightly more than our Pearl Harbor deaths. Therefore, based on our World War II experience, we are either 1.9 million dead Muslims short of our historical retribution benchmark, we have already far exceeded our Mosaic allotment and can now declare our national honor upheld and head for the exit.
In fairness to the ethics of our military planners, we have developed many sophisticated weapons that are designed to limit the killing of non-combatants, thus respecting to a degree the concepts of proportionate retribution and chivalrous combat. This is a very recent and welcomed improvement in our war policy. Nevertheless, the very nature of our “smart weapons” tends to encourage the war impulse even as attacks by Muslim fighters with AK-47s and improvised roadside bombs have demonstrated the futility of reliance on technology and fire power alone. In other words, we know how to kill on a massive scale, but we’re not very good at what is being called “asymmetrical” or anti-insurgency warfare.
There are historic reasons for our fire power dependence. We have led the world in fire power development since 1861. The American Civil War produced the machine gun, the mass production of rifled musketry, breach loading repeating rifles, armored ships and the concept of “total war”as pioneered by Sherman’s march across Georgia and Sheridan’s destruction of the Shenandoah granary—the origin of modern day war on civilian populations.
Our infatuation with weaponry continued with the rise of industrialization after 1865 and led to the development of aircraft only 38 years later (the Wright Brothers themselves saw their invention as a weapon). Forty-two years after Kitty Hawk we dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The most regrettable military development of all, however, is not the terrible power of our weapons but our willingness to engage in nearly perpetual war, because we can!
The key to defeating radical Islam does not require the annihilation of millions, though we certainly have the destructive power to do so. The humane and strategic response suggests the de-funding of our enemies by ending our dependence on oil beginning at once! It should be self evident by now, that reliance on fire power and technology hasn’t brought peace to the mean streets of either Baghdad or Beirut.
William C. Hall is a freelance writer in DeLand, Fla.