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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

When Is It Time For The Last Resort?

This is Steven Petrick posting.

War should always be the last resort.

Make no mistake about this, war is always a gamble. No matter how much the scales seem to be in your favor, when you cast the dice in Mar's arena you are risking the fate of the nation. War is to be avoided if possible, to be referred to only as "the last resort."

The question is when does it become time to resort to force.

On a very small scale an arrogant second lieutenant challenged an older sergeant to battle. The staff sergeant had every right to expect victory. His force outnumbered the lieutenant's by eight to one, had the force multiplier of an M-60 machinegun, had squad radios for communications, was familiar with the terrain over which "the conflict" would be waged, he had years of experience, and knew his soldiers. The lieutenant had been on active service barely six months, and assigned to the unit less than a month, had never been in the terrain where the conflict would be fought. On paper, the lieutenant's arrogance had placed him in a no win situation in which the sergeant's forces would quite simply overwhelm him. More than conclusively proving to the platoon that the, as sergeant had said, the lieutenant did not know what he was talking about.

Less than a half hour later the sergeant and half of his men were "dead," convincingly so that the men following the sergeant were fully aware of what had just happened. The other half of the sergeant's men decided not to engage, ending the battle. The lieutenant's force had sustained no loss.

It was an example of what a small, aggressive, and mobile force could accomplish in the face of a larger force that simply assumed it was unbeatable.

The point to the above is, again, that although the odds were undoubtedly in the sergeant's favor when you stacked everything up, the sergeant's force "lost the war." The sergeant would have been better off to have publicly derided the lieutenant's challenge rather than accept "the last resort."

The lieutenant really should not have made the challenge since the odds were, on paper, so heavily stacked against him succeeding, but should have continued attempting to earn the respect of the men by words and example, to continue talking. He risked his future as the leader of that platoon by "going to war." That he won does not mean he was right.

But that is the question.

For many diplomats and politicians "war is the last resort" means "war is never an option." If conflict results, they have failed (and will not be invited to any more diplomatic parties or have an eventual chance at a Nobel Peace Prize). So war literally is not a resort at all, and sometimes the other side picks up on this.

World War II was a disaster. And history would no doubt consider Hitler to be a great man if France had responded to the German reoccupation of the Rhineland as an act of war. The French Army was quite capable of overwhelming the then small German army, and the German Army was seriously considering removing Hitler from power if the French did react to the move into the Rhineland. France and England, however, were unwilling to risk war at that point. An entire generation had been exterminated in the trenches of "The Great War" and the leaders of those two nations were willing to do almost anything to avoid another war, even sacrificing smaller nations. Even when they finally did "go to war" after Hitler invaded Poland, they tried to avoid real war. At a time when the French and British armies were far more powerful than the German Reich, they sat on the frontiers, behind the Maginot Line, from September through May, and simply hoped that things would go away.

By avoiding the "last resort" and talking and talking, what they were trying to avoid came home to them in earnest.

War is the last resort. It is always a gamble, a throw of the dice no matter how favorable the odds may seem because war is always chaos and the unexpected and unknown are ever present.

The trick, however, is to know when it is time to resort to war, and when you are simply trying to avoid it because you believe there is always some other option.

Sometimes, there is not.

We should all, however, be glad that despite the millions of people who died under communist regimes (and the many members of our armed services who died despite the war being called "cold) we did not see the cold war go hot.

That does not mean that other wars should be avoided because "there is always some other option," because sometimes force is, indeed, the only recourse.