I read a book by Alvin Toffler, it was a follow-on to his seminal work “Future Shock”, it was either “War and anti-war” or “Powershift” I believe. He is worth a read even now many years after his books were first published. The concept I am interested in that he raised was that war is entirely possible in a positive context. We as often as not hear the refrain these days of “War, what is it good for, absolutely nothing”. He disputed that though, he framed the question rather differently and asked what would you be prepared to fight for? If you were faced with an appalling threat, at what point would you be prepared to sacrifice lives and treasure to whatever extent necessary, in order to defeat that threat to all you value and hold dear. To be sure; be exactly clear about what is at stake and what your motives are, but if the situation is clear, then be prepared to fight to the death for it. Know the answer to the question – what would you fight for?
The generation that fought the Nazi’s and Imperial Japan were in no doubt what was at stake and were prepared to use atomic weapons to stop their foe. Perhaps more significantly though, rather than analyse their thinking from the circumstances surrounding the use of Nukes, look instead to the situation that Britain faced in 1940. Here was a relatively small country that was faced with some pretty overwhelming odds, but instead of working out an accommodation and a truce, they stated “we will never surrender, we will fight you on the beaches, in the hedgerows, in the streets and the cities…”. Typically that is taken as referring to defending the homeland of Britain in the event of an invasion, and also as a degree of political blustering. I will argue that it was a lot more than that. I see it as a deadly promise and threat aimed at an absolute enemy. It would brook no quarter, ever, and encompassed fighting on forever, if that is what it took, in a vicious wrestling knife-fight until one of them was dead. Britain was going to attack and attack and attack and never relent until Nazi Germany was a smoking ruined wasteland. That is exactly what they achieved as well, the threat was prosecuted with extreme prejudice. They would kill men, women and children, in whatever numbers were necessary to defeat the enemy. If the Nazi’s were ruthless bastards, then they met their match in the British, because the British were very clear about what they believed in and were prepared to fight and die for it. In a manner that the Nazi’s never quite got around to until it was far too late, the British from the start mobilised their whole nation to fight a Total War.
There probably isn’t a need to fight total wars anymore. That was a function of a time and a place in history when social, economic and industrial forces converged to create the phenomena of Mass. Toffler wrote: “A Second Wave Society is industrial and based on mass production, mass distribution, mass consumption, mass education, mass media, mass recreation, mass entertainment, …and weapons of mass destruction”. The world has moved on from there, or at least I very much hope it has. However the lessons and consequences of history remain. New Zealand might like to think of itself as a peaceful country, but we are the descendants and beneficiaries of a culture and history of violence. Pakeha and Maori both are warrior peoples. We have succeeded in the human race by outfighting everyone else. That we have gotten along so well together is in part because we have recognized kindred spirits. When we jointly answered the call from the imperial centre, to return to do battle against fascism in Europe, we responded with alacrity. So lets not delude ourselves that we cannot or will not fight. But equally lets hope too that if we are called on to fight in the future, we are crystal clear about what we are fighting for. We are too small to be involved in any sort of mass confrontation except as allies, and actually we should probably not wish to get drawn into any such situation in the first place. But in the event that force is necessary to defend what we value, then we need to be able to do what we must, with determination, aggression and ruthlessness. We must ask, what is the objective, how do we mean to achieve it, what are we not prepared to do and are we in consensus on this issue? Recognizing always, that it is the option of last resort, not the first or second. Recognizing what can actually be achieved is also kind of useful – the art of the possible. New Zealand is a small country so lets always try to avoid that fatal mistake of overreach.
Casper Weinberger, the American Secretary of defence, came up with 6 points regarding how and when it was appropriate to use US military force in the service of the nation. I would subscribe to the general principles, and they are these:
(1) The United States should not commit forces to combat overseas unless the particular engagement or occasion is deemed vital to our national interest or that of our allies.
(2) If we decide it is necessary to put combat troops into a given situation, we should do so wholeheartedly and with the clear intention of winning.
(3) If we do decide to commit forces to combat overseas, we should have clearly defined political and military objectives.
(4) The relationship between our objectives and the forces we have committed–their size, composition, and disposition–must be continually reassessed and adjusted if necessary.
(5) Before the United States commits combat forces abroad, there must be some reasonable assurance we will have the support of the American people and their elected representatives in Congress.
(6) The commitment of US forces to combat should be a last resort.
These six points now comprise the tenets of what has become known as the Weinberger Doctrine. The doctrine provided a legitimate framework for the commitment of military forces. Additionally, it provides a legitimate framework for those situations where our national interests are considered vital to our national security
I will add to that list only; be aware that to employ the military is to unleash lethal force onto human beings as a deliberate act of policy. Make sure that it is in defense of what you hold nearest and dearest and that you would be not only be prepared to sacrifice your own life, but also be prepared to kill, in order to secure that objective.
That is the true and proper function of the military, don’t let anyone tell you differently, or try to manipulate, distort and transform the military into something else. Too often the Military is soft-pedalled from the get-go. What used to be the Ministry of War, is segued into the Ministry of Defence(because it sounds nicer). Actually, you defend yourself by making war, not by being defensive, that way lies the Maginot Line. Also, disaster relief, humanitarian missions, peacekeeping, search and rescue, coastguard, fisheries protection and the like are civil defence and policing functions, not military functions. They are distinctly different functions, don’t confuse them and don’t combine them. If you want civil defence, then institute a Civil Guard, don’t pile those roles onto the military just because you can, be very clear about roles and objectives.
(There is a very clear and immediate need for institutions of Civil defence, what I will call a National Guard, but it is not a military institution and it need not be an armed force per se. I will deal with the matter of a National Guard in a different Post.)
In conclusion: the military is the armed wing of the nation (with the monopoly on violence) to be used to prosecute war on the enemies of the country in defence of our vital interests. It is a vital function of government, don’t confuse it or adulterate it, your life might end up depending on it.