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Thread: War is War

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    Default War is War

    The phrase "war is war" seems to pop up on this forum in a lot of conversations, and it started getting to me. I didn't exactly know what it means, so I did research to try to debunk that phrase as much as possible. Since SWJ inspired me on that topic, I decided to post the links on here so the SWJ community could comment.

    Who Thinks War is War?
    Why War is War is Bad Rhetoric?

    I will continue posting on this topic, but I am interested in other opinions. My question is, who on this forum thinks "war is war"? And if you do, what does that mean? And how does that help the current soldiers?

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    Council Member Ron Humphrey's Avatar
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    Default Que,

    Quote Originally Posted by michael c View Post
    who thinks war is war?
    why war is war is bad rhetoric?

    i will continue posting on this topic, but i am interested in other opinions. My question is, who on this forum thinks "war is war"? And if you do, what does that mean? And how does that help the current soldiers?
    wilf :d
    Any man can destroy that which is around him, The rare man is he who can find beauty even in the darkest hours

    Cogitationis poenam nemo patitur

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    Having a busy afternoon so have just scanned the content of the two links - tend to agree with your stance and will follow discussion here with interest...I've also just drafted an article for C4ISR Journal on an aspect of this topic - if they don't pick it up, I'll post it here...

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    Default No huge problem -

    War is war under Hague. If a war exists, certain legal rules apply.

    Armed conflict is armed conflict under Geneva. If an armed conflict exists, certain legal rules apply.

    To some, "war" (and perhaps "armed conflict" - neither defined exactly as I have defined them in two sentences) includes certain basic military principles - whereas warfare (literally, the conduct or journey iinto war) varies over the ages. That is what I glean from Wilf.

    That is not what I define in the first two sentences, which are in themselves not subject to reasonable argument ....

    But, as as to the "certain" rules that do apply and their interpretation in a given set of facts, we have plenty of legal arguments

    Regards

    Mike

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    Default War is War

    Michael,

    The war is war statement you often hear repeated isn't from an anti-intellectual crowd. I think if you research the origins of it more closely you'll find that those who propose this idea argue that the nature of war remains consistent over time, while the character of war varies considerably. I don't know any serious military officers or civilian strategists who claim that the character of insurgency and so called conventional war are the same. I think if you're going to challenge the statement (and I have several times, but in general, again based on interpretation, it is a rather sound argument) you have to understand what it implies. Granted there are many who simply say it casually, just as they quote Clausewitz and Sun Tzu casually with no real understanding.

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Talking At the risk of being overly verbose...

    Quote Originally Posted by jmm99 View Post
    To some, "war" (and perhaps "armed conflict" - neither defined exactly as I have defined them in two sentences) includes certain basic military principles - whereas warfare (literally, the conduct or journey iinto war) varies over the ages. That is what I glean from Wilf.
    I agree with Wilf.

    I also read your two links Michael C.. I believe your intellectual arguments are persuasive. Unfortunately, war tends all to often to discount the intellectual aspect. You provided a Sherman quote. Here are two more:

    Every attempt to make war easy and safe will result in humiliation and disaster.

    War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.
    And here's one from Thomas Jonathan Jackson:

    War means fighting. The business of the soldier is to fight. Armies are not called out to dig trenches, to live in camps, but to find the enemy and strike him; to invade his country, and do him all possible damage in the shortest possible time. This will involve great destruction of life and property while it lasts; but such a war will of necessity be of brief continuance, and so would be an economy of life and property in the end.
    That is a historical truth. However, as a more modern General said
    If you go to war, to do less than your very best is immoral.
    And here's a quote from you:

    To be clear, the “war is war” crowd isn’t usually allied on their points. It just happens to be a rhetorical device tons of people use about war. I think your first iteration is what most people mean when they say “war is war.
    That was said in reference to this: "Is the statement meant to convey that war is essentially violent and thus death is implyed? (sic)"

    Yes. True in my case at least. If you do not want violence, do not start wars, avoid them if at all possible. It isn't really sloppy thinking, it is shorthand, it's purpose is only to remind people that in any war, death and destruction, to include unnecessary and unplanned dollops of both, are BOUND to result. That should never be forgotten. It too often is...

    P.S.

    I normally only use the block quote capability to quote the individual(s) to whom I'm responding and use double quote marks for quotes from others, particularly if I have quotes from more than one other. No matter, here, thanks, David.
    Last edited by Ken White; 10-06-2010 at 12:35 AM. Reason: Insert quote marks / Add P.S.

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    Global Scout, hadn't thought of it in terms of nature and character before but like the distinction - could you elaborate/expand on it some more?

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    There are many who participate in the SWJ discussions more qualified than I to give the "correct" book answer, but in my view and losely paraphrasing Clausewitz the essential nature of war is that it is a large scale duel, where each dualing party uses force/violence to compel the other side to submit to their will.

    I think you would find this hard to argue with, this is exactly what is happening in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in many other places in the world today. It is also what happened in the World Wars and any other conflict we choose to examine.

    In addition to the dual nature, I think Clausewitz's trinity also falls under the nature of war. It consists of 1. primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, 2. the play of chance and probability, and 3. each opponent is subordinate to a rational policy. In the case of AQ they're subordinate to their interpretation of Islamic doctrine and their political aim of re-establishing the caliphate.

    The character of war is the way in which it is waged, whether through terrorism, insurgency, maneuver warfare, nuclear warfare, a bombing campaign (think Kosovo from our view, think something very different from the Serb's view).

    In summary, war is war, you can't argue it is a dual where each side uses force to compel the otherside to its will, and I don't think you can argue the trinity aspect that is present in all conflicts.

    Every great theorist as allowed for significant differences in the character of war, no general officer would confuse an insurgency with a tank battle. This that the nature of war has changed is misleading and not supported intellectually.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken White View Post
    I agree with Wilf.
    Funny dat!

    I use the words to warn folks off disappearing down the dead-end rabbit whole of seeing "new types of war" or assuming there are different kinds of war. There isn't. War is War. Warfare however alters all the time.

    There are very many different characters of warfare, but all are essential either a form or blend of regular and irregular.
    Infinity Journal "I don't care if this works in practice. I want to see it work in theory!"

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    I too believe that war is war, and that it must be executed in its extremes.

    Where I differ from most is that I do not believe that COIN is war, but rather a civil emergency and should be addressed as such; perhaps with equal vigor, but with a very different focus. In COIN one is not defeating some other state to preserve one's own; one is repairing the failures of governance to preserve the populace in the longterm, while protecting them from immediate threats in the near term.

    Defeating an opponents military while breaking the will of his populace to continue the fight is victory in war.

    Defeating an insurgent organization while breaking the will of ones own populace to make a political challenge through illegal means when legal means have been denied to them is tyranny. Such suppression avoids the enduring problem for some period of time as it fails in large part to address the conditons of insurgency that allowed a violent insurgent movement to arise to begin with; making the rise if a new insurgent challenger inevitable.

    So yes. "War is War" But all violence is not war, and certainly approaching COIN as war is a common (and U.S. Doctrine), but I believe tragic mistake.

    So, if COIN is not war, then FID is not war either, as it is the support of another's COIN effort.

    Paradoxically perhaps, I believe that Insurgency often rises to the level of war. For the insurgent he must either make the state evolve or make it go away to prevail; while the counterinsurgent can merely address his shortcomings internally to prevail.

    So, if insurgency is often war, then Unconventional warfare to support such insurgency can be war as well.

    The state has none of the constraints in dealing with the UW actor that he does in dealing with its insurgent populace, so that can be war, which is straight forward when the UW actor is a state, not so straight forward when the UW actor is a non-state as Al Qaeda is for so many states where they are waging UW today.

    More important then to "separate the insurgent from the UW actor" (so that one can deal civilly with one, while waging war against the other); than the tired cliché of "separating the insurgent from the populace." This is the largest problem with the current drone campaign in Pakistan; it makes no such separation and wages war in equal parts against both the insurgent and the UW actor as if they were one. (see thread on Conflation I started a couple days ago for more on that).
    Last edited by Bob's World; 10-05-2010 at 08:58 AM.
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    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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    Quote Originally Posted by William F. Owen View Post
    the dead-end rabbit whole
    As opposed to the open-ended half rabbit?

    Sorry, couldn't resist that one...

    The utility of any 3-word phrase is obviously going to be limited, but I'd have to say that an occasional reminder that "war is war" is a necessary counterweight to the morbidly obese jargon-laced psuedo-intellectual rambling that has become so pervasive in the modern military discourse... unless of course we propose to beat our antagonists into submission with a super-empowered asymmetric 7G post-positivist heuristic.

    I wonder if it would be possible to posit a historical proportion between the number of kilos of equipment a soldier carries into combat and the number of superfluous words used by home-front analysts to describe the nature of that combat...

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    In a few weeks the Strategic Studies Institute will publish our extended report from our spring conference on the meaning of war. I suggest those interested in this topic take a look at it.

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    Council Member SteveMetz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bob's World View Post
    I too believe that war is war, and that it must be executed in its extremes.

    Where I differ from most is that I do not believe that COIN is war, but rather a civil emergency and should be addressed as such; perhaps with equal vigor, but with a very different focus. In COIN one is not defeating some other state to preserve one's own; one is repairing the failures of governance to preserve the populace in the longterm, while protecting them from immediate threats in the near term.

    Defeating an opponents military while breaking the will of his populace to continue the fight is victory in war.

    Defeating an insurgent organization while breaking the will of ones own populace to make a political challenge through illegal means when legal means have been denied to them is tyranny. Such suppression avoids the enduring problem for some period of time as it fails in large part to address the conditons of insurgency that allowed a violent insurgent movement to arise to begin with; making the rise if a new insurgent challenger inevitable.

    So yes. "War is War" But all violence is not war, and certainly approaching COIN as war is a common (and U.S. Doctrine), but I believe tragic mistake.

    So, if COIN is not war, then FID is not war either, as it is the support of another's COIN effort.

    Paradoxically perhaps, I believe that Insurgency often rises to the level of war. For the insurgent he must either make the state evolve or make it go away to prevail; while the counterinsurgent can merely address his shortcomings internally to prevail.

    So, if insurgency is often war, then Unconventional warfare to support such insurgency can be war as well.

    The state has none of the constraints in dealing with the UW actor that he does in dealing with its insurgent populace, so that can be war, which is straight forward when the UW actor is a state, not so straight forward when the UW actor is a non-state as Al Qaeda is for so many states where they are waging UW today.

    More important then to "separate the insurgent from the UW actor" (so that one can deal civilly with one, while waging war against the other); than the tired cliché of "separating the insurgent from the populace." This is the largest problem with the current drone campaign in Pakistan; it makes no such separation and wages war in equal parts against both the insurgent and the UW actor as if they were one. (see thread on Conflation I started a couple days ago for more on that).

    I've been thinking along the same lines. Here's a framework that I rolled out at a workshop at the National Defense University last week and am developing into a chapter for a forthcoming Routledge Book.

    For the US, there are three alternative ways of conceptualizing counterinsurgency: 1) as a variant of war; 2) as a violent competition for political support; 3) as a manifestation of a deeper and broader social pathology.

    Which one we use has immense implications for strategy, operations, and organization.

    My sense is that we use some blend of #1 and #2, but #3 is probably most accurate.

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    If I'm not mistaken wasn't the phrase "War is War" originally penned by Colin S Gray? He defiend war and warfare as specific activites or some such. I'll try and find an artile of his as I don't immeidately have the reference to hand(I'm sure it's a Strategic Studies Institute product).

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    Colin often makes that point. His SSI monographs are here.

    I'm in the "war is war, but not all use of organized violence is war" school.

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    Does it make a difference that the insurgents almost always think of insurgency as war?
    They mostly come at night. Mostly.


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    Not to me it doesn't. Defining something as war implies a specific set of actions and permissible responses. I don't want someone else deciding that for my nation. There are probably dozens of organizations in the world today that consider themselves "at war" with the United States. It would be lunacy for us to treat it as such.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rex Brynen View Post
    Does it make a difference that the insurgents almost always think of insurgency as war?

    Naw we don't let them vote

    COIN like insurgency is war, especially to those doing the killing or suffering the casualties. Otherwise we do end up in an intellectual rabbit hole

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    What if the fundamental definition of war is wrong or rather only half right? What if we said war is the use of force or fraud to achieve your ends. What if war was viewed as a crime?

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    Disagree Tom (despite the fact that Dan gushed over you when I was in his office a couple of weeks ago). We're talking about something with strategy, policy, and legal implications. We dont define those from the foxhole perspective.

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