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War is Hell

Maybe I have been drinking too much liberal tea lately, but I have become a little testy about comparisons between the war on terrorism and the War Between the States. I know you did not intend your latest essay to be disrespectful to the South or to General Sherman, but it got me thinking, and the following thoughts occurred to me.

I reject categorically any thought that the Confederacy should have been treated like terrorists. Although historians have identified a small number of missions in the North that could be analogized to terrorism, on the whole the South was remarkably free of any intent or action to terrorize the North. If anyone could be accused of violating the prevailing laws of war, Gen. Sherman came the closest, and if the South had won, I am sure he would have faced charges.

Even so (and my Southern brethren may disown me for this), Gen. Sherman could not be accused of terrorism. His offences lay in lack of supervision of troops who looted and pillaged the South. He was not the only Northern general who failed to maintain strict control of his troops.

Regardless of what Gen. Sherman may have said, by the standards of modern warfare, his actions were militarily justified. True, he wanted to take the war to the civilian South, partly to damage their will to continue the war. But he also went after the South’s industrial, agricultural and economic strength. This directly impacted the South’s ability to field an effective military force.

General Sherman waged war with a ruthlessness we do not often see. He dropped no bags of wheat for the starving Southerners after he burned their crops and grain. His intent was to win the war as quickly as possible.

But he was wrong in thinking that large numbers of Southerners would have to be killed in order to force them to accept defeat. There was a fear at the end of the war that Southern soldiers could take to the hills and engage in a long, draining guerilla war against forces of Northern occupation. Gen. Sherman failed to give sufficient weight to the fact that the South shared the same Western values as the North, and, indeed, the concept of honor was even more highly developed in the South. Thus, when the leaders of the South announced their surrender, there was no substantial sentiment to continue to wage a guerilla war. In other words, soldiers of the South fought bravely on the field of battle and accepted their defeat with honor.

Terrorists do not adhere to Western values of honorable military conduct. They will not fight openly. Their word is worthless. Our concept of honor is entirely alien to the terrorist mind. Unlike the Confederate States, terrorists must be defeated completely and in detail. The analogy to be used with terrorists is not our own Civil War, but the instructions of G*d to the ancient Israelites to completely destroy some of their enemies, such as the Amalekites.

You are correct in rejecting the use of nuclear weapons against the terrorists, at least for now. The nuclear option is our last option. It should not be taken off the table, but it should not be considered except in extreme circumstances. And, whether or not it is justified by the facts, the use of nuclear weapons would have the negative consequences in diplomacy and public relations that you have identified. If we were the first to use a nuclear bomb, we would create more terrorists than we would kill.

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