Thursday, October 2, 2014

Barbarism’s Opening Salvo

In the previous chapter, Veale described the civilized warfare of eighteenth century Europeans…civilized at least when fighting other Europeans.  In this chapter, Veale begins by exploring the nineteenth century – and what I would describe as this civilized interlude’s beginning-of-the-end.

He describes the transition from Kings’ Wars to Peoples’ Wars – basically, from wars involving the warriors to wars necessitating the buy-in and involvement of the general population (also so well described by Hoppe).  This transition was greatly aided by propaganda, in order to generate the necessary emotion, hatred, and fear in the people: emotional engineering, as Veale calls it.

To wage war, it had become necessary to generate hatred.  If the reasoning powers of the man on the street could be paralysed by a sufficiently vivid portrayal of a real or imaginary danger…he would fight better in a state of blind hatred.

Veale traces this slow evolution in warfare from “Carnot’s  levée en masse, in 1793” to “the Dresden holocaust of 1945” (watch this, please; I insist).  The fall to barbarism occurred in stages.

Nineteenth Century Slide

During the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars (1792 – 1815) the standards of European civil warfare suffered a marked decline…the armies of France shamelessly plundered the countries which they overran.

Veale points out that the plundering was primarily limited to churches and art galleries, as opposed to the broader and more general plundering to be found by the end of this period in question – 1945.

Further, Veale comments that the critical question is the peace that follows the war:

What is most important about any war is the peace which it brings about.  From this point of view, the wars of 1792 – 1815 maintained the highest standards.  The moderation of the victors in 1815 appears to modern eyes simply superhuman.

Veale regularly reminds that these rules of civilized warfare were only recognized for wars between European states.  He offers several examples of uncivilized war by Europeans when fighting non-Europeans, or when Europeans are not involved at all: the first major example offered of uncivilized war, in all aspects, is the American (misnamed) Civil War:

It was the Northern or Federal armies which produced this historic reversion to primary or total warfare.

Before examining this return to barbarism further, a brief review of how and why this occurred is offered.  Those on the American continent had little experience with civilized warfare as practiced in Europe in the eighteenth century.  Instead, they “had undergone long experience of primary warfare against the American Indians….”  For this reason, Veale offers:

…it is not strange that the first serious departure from the European code by a people of European descent should have taken place in the United States.”

Civilized warfare was practiced for the most part during the American Revolution, somewhat less so during the War of 1812.  So, the idea that the Americans had little experience with this code seems reasonable.  In the meantime, Americans gained experience by fighting those considered less-than-human – primarily the Indians, but also Mexicans.  No code was recognized; war was hell.

So, when fighting each other (north vs. south), perhaps this is all they knew.  Which brings us back to the barbarity of the Northern Army in the war:

There has been a traditional habit of saddling the responsibility for the Northern departure from civilized warfare on General William Tecumseh Sherman who conducted the famous march through Georgia from Atlanta to the sea, and continued it along the Atlantic seaboard.  This is quite unjust.  Sherman only executed the most dramatic and devastating example of the strategy which was laid down by President Lincoln himself and was followed by General Ulysses S. Grant as commander-in-chief of the Northern armies.

Veale cites as a source for the connection to Lincoln such books as Collin R. Ballard’s The Military Genius of Abraham Lincoln and T. Harry Williams’ Lincoln and His Generals:

Hence, it is apparent that Sherman was only carrying out effectively the military policy which Lincoln and Grant adopted.

And the precedent was set: “The exploit upon which his fame rests opened a new epoch in modern warfare.”

Sherman’s exploits offer a virtual textbook example of violations of the code: he expelled the inhabitants of Atlanta; he destroyed the factories and mills, thereby destroying any possibility of easily rebuilding the economy after the war; he then abandoned the city, leaving the inhabitants to their own devices; finally he spoiled the richest land.  And this was just Georgia.

He wrote to General Halleck in Washington: “I sincerely believe the whole United States would rejoice to have my army turned loose on South Carolina, to devastate that state in the manner we have done in Georgia.”  Halleck replied, according to Veale, with “admiring approval.”

Sherman offered to the mayor of Atlanta that “war is war” and “[w]ar is cruelty.”  Veale suggests that this sentiment is one from antiquity – attributable to the Assyrians and King Ashurbanipal and even earlier.

Yet, as devastating as Lincoln and his generals were to the Southern populations, they did not completely destroy the code in its entirety; they treated the Southern officers as gentlemen:

In this respect, Lincoln and Grant followed faithfully in the chivalrous European tradition, a procedure best exemplified by Grant’s treatment of Lee after the Southern forces had surrendered at Appomattox.

General Sheridan, who carried out the devastation of the Shenandoah Valley during the American Civil War, visited Europe in 1870.  Witnessing German respect for the code during the surrender of the French in Sedan, he commented to Bismarck:

“You know how to hit an enemy as no other army does…but you have not yet learnt how to annihilate him.  One must see more smoke of burning villages, otherwise you will not finish off the French.”

Bismarck was well aware that such devastation would lead to an earlier capitulation, yet he honored the code of civilized warfare.  By (more-or-less, but not fully) following this code, during the war and when negotiating the peace, Europe enjoyed peace for forty-three years.

Veale describes his chance finding of a long forgotten and out of print German book, written during the war in 1870-1871.  It is a compilation of articles by a German newspaper war correspondent:

…he neither glorifies nor idealizes a soldier’s life…he expresses no bitterness against the French…he regales his readers with no enemy atrocity stories…

During forty-three years of peace, living conditions improved dramatically in Europe.  At the same time, European leaders did not grasp the extent to which times had changed.  In the past, when matters could not be settled diplomatically, a war was called for – and war settled the matter; a simple, civilized war.  For this reason, perhaps few understood the devastation that would be unleashed when war began in 1914.

Veale offers several examples of clues that might have been better headed during this intervening period.  He offers an example “most clearly revealed” in the words of Admiral Lord Fisher – one of the two ablest men surrounding King Edward VII – as told to the journalist W.T. Stead in 1900:

“I am not for war, I am for peace.  If you rub it in, both at home and abroad, that you are ready for instant war with unit of strength in the front line, and intend to be first in, and hit your enemy in the belly, and kick him when he is down, and boil your prisoners in oil if you take any, and torture his women and children, then people will keep clear of you.”

Lord Fischer defended his views by insisting that “It’s quite silly not to make war damnable to the whole mass of your enemy’s population.  When war comes, might is right, and the Admiralty will know what to do.”

Not very chivalrous or civilized; in other words, a perfect description of warfare as conducted in the twentieth century.

Twentieth Century Barbarism

Seen in perspective it is now clear that the First World War was an unqualified disaster for the White Race.

To say nothing of those dragged into the fighting on behalf of the white race….

The pulpits of England became recruiting platforms; according to the Bishop of London, Arthur Foley Winnington-Ingram, “This is the greatest fight ever made for the Christian Religion.”

After an initial burst of energy, by the spring of 1915 the public tired of the war.  The Pope called for the opening of peace negotiations.  Britain, instead of finding new reasons to stay in the war, looked to develop a narrative as to why it should not exit.  The fight became a fight for the little countries: Belgium, the Serbs, Poland, the Czechs in Bohemia, the Arabs to be freed from the Turks, the tribes of German-colonized Africa and the Far East:

In this way finally emerged the political dogma that every people in the world was entitled as of right to self-government.

Of course, self-government didn’t mean self-government: in the regions controlled by the enemy, it meant to redraw lines such that favored majorities would rule over un-favored minorities.  For Alsace-Lorraine, it didn’t mean independence, but return to France.  For Constantinople, subservience to Russia.

As for those captive under the umbrella of the empire upon which the sun never sets?

…it did not at the time occur to anyone that if this were true the subject peoples of the British Empire must possess a similar right.

The Irish learned this quite clearly during Easter, 1916.

Despite Lloyd George’s claim that “We have got most of the things we set out to get,” Veale concludes that the British Empire had received a mortal blow: “…the history of the next fifty years may be summarized by saying that it consisted of the story of the gradual dissolution of the British Empire…”

One major casualty of the Great War was the principles as described by Emeric de Vattel regarding propaganda and war aims, specifically:

“…all offensive expressions indicating sentiments of hatred, animosity and bitterness” must be avoided so that the way to a negotiated settlement might not be closed…war aims must be limited and specific and should “not be mixed up with Justice and Right nor any of the great passions which move a people.”

Veale considers that a negotiated settlement might have been in reach in 1917 – after a three-year stalemate, some saw this possibility. The Marquess of Lansdowne authored a letter calling for Britain to make a negotiated peace with Germany:

"We are not going to lose this war, but its prolongation will spell ruin for the civilised world, and an infinite addition to the load of human suffering which already weighs upon it...We do not desire the annihilation of Germany as a great power ... We do not seek to impose upon her people any form of government other than that of their own choice... We have no desire to deny Germany her place among the great commercial communities of the world."

The political leaders in Britain did not agree – and promptly turned loose the emotional engineers against Lansdowne’s reputation; he soon became the most unpopular man in the country.  The stalemate turned with the entry of the United States into the war.

Another violation of civilized warfare occurred at the end of the war, with Britain’s blockade of Germany and the subsequent starvation of the defeated population.  This continued for almost one year after the armistice.

Additionally, Vattel reminded that the only justification for war was to establish a lasting peace, and this can only come about via a negotiated settlement.  Of course, Versailles offered no such outcome.  From Versailles came Hitler, and twenty years later the continuation of the war.

Few would now have the hardihood to deny that the peace settlement of Versailles in 1919 was a complete and tragic failure.  It failed completely for precisely the reason so lucidly set forth and explained by Vattel 150 years before.

The short-lived age of civilized warfare in Europe had come to an end.  No longer was war-making in Europe seen as different from war-making anywhere else in the world.


  1. "Civilised warfare" is an oxymoron. Your duty in war is simple: win. You don't want to be on the losing side and hope the winner plays fair. War has never been "civilised" or for that matter can never be. You lost a war any time throughout you could expect to enslaved or massacred. Note the way Old Testament sees God commanding outright genocide. You can't engage in warfare behaviour and call ever it "civilised".

    The problem is that, BM, you live on the winning side - the side that has options. You can feel bad about what's going on in other countries but you won't have to worry about being part of the "collateral damage". You live in a country in a time when you probably won't be drafted and find yourself fighting for the government. Hence it's easy for you to imagine a war that "fair" and "just" for both sides. It's not as though your life or your loved ones are going to become "collateral damage" any time soon (assuming they're not in the armed forces).

    Lastly yes no one should want war (expect those profit from it, right) per se. Hence people who wanted a "war" on drugs didn't mean it or heaven forbid didn't know what they were asking for. When Robocop burst into warehouse and guns down the drug dealers in the original movie that's a war on drugs: there's no habeas corpus or fair trial rather you're an enemy combatant who has no rights.

  2. You overlooked the genocide of the Vandee Catholic population after the French Revolution, and the Terror itself in general. Our beloved Jefferson was very enthusiastic about this particular atrocity as were many of his countrymen.