Absolute and Real War

The plan of the war comprehends the whole military act; through it that act becomes a whole, which must have one final determinate object, in which all particular objects must become absorbed. No war is commenced or, at least, no war should be commenced, if people acted wisely, without first seeking a reply to the question, What is to be attained by and in the same? The first is the final object; the other is the intermediate aim. By this chief consideration the whole course of the war is prescribed, the extent of the means and the measure of energy are determined; its influence manifests itself down to the smallest organ of action.

We said in the first chapter, that the overthrow of the enemy is the natural end of the act of war; and that if we would keep within the strictly philosophical limits of the idea, there can be no other in reality.

As this idea must apply to both the belligerent parties it must follow, that there can be no suspension in the military act, and peace cannot take place until one or other of the parties concerned is overthrown.

In the chapter on the suspension of the belligerent act we have shown how the simple principle of hostility applied to its embodiment, man, and all circumstances out of which it makes a war, is subject to checks and modifications from causes which are inherent in the apparatus of war.

But this modification is not nearly sufficient to carry us from the original conception of war to the concrete form in which it almost everywhere appears. Most wars appear only as an angry feeling on both sides, under the influence of which, each side takes up arms to protect himself, and to put his adversary in fear, and, when opportunity offers, to strike a blow. They are, therefore, not like mutually destructive elements brought into collision, but like tensions of two elements still apart which discharge themselves in small partial shocks.

But what is now the non-conducting medium which hinders the complete discharge? Why is the philosophical conception not satisfied? That medium consists in the number of interests, forces, and circumstances of various kinds, in the existence of the state, which are affected by the war, and through the infinite ramifications of which the logical consequence cannot be carried out as it would on the simple threads of a few conclusions; in this labyrinth it sticks fast, and man, who in great things as well as in small, usually acts more on the impulse of ideas and feelings, than according to strictly logical conclusions, is hardly conscious of his confusion, unsteadiness of purpose, and inconsistency.

But if the intelligence by which the war is decreed could even go over all these things relating to the war, without for a moment losing sight of its aim, still all the other intelligences in the state which are concerned may not be able to do the same; thus an opposition arises, and with that comes the necessity for a force capable of overcoming the inertia of the whole mass -- a force which is seldom forthcoming to the full.

This inconsistency takes place on one or other of the two sides, or it may be on both sides, and becomes the cause of the war being something quite different to what it should be, according to the conception of it -- a half-and-half production, a thing without a perfect inner cohesion.

This is how we find it almost everywhere, and we might doubt whether our notion of its absolute character or nature was founded in reality, if we had not seen real warfare make its appearance in this absolute completeness just in our own times. After a short introduction performed by the French Revolution, the impetuous Bonaparte quickly brought it to this point. Under him it was carried on without slackening for a moment until the enemy was prostrated, and the counter stroke followed almost with as little remission. Is it not natural and necessary that this phenomenon should lead us back to the original conception of war with all its rigorous deductions?

Shall we now rest satisfied with this idea, and judge of all wars according to it, however much they may differ from it -- deduce from it all the requirements of theory?

  By PanEris using Melati.

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