War, when waged successfully is exactly what General Sherman said that it is; Hell. Sherman is usually vilified in The South as a war criminal, and perhaps there is some truth to this charge, but if the purpose of any General’s strategy is to win the war, or to end the war, then war must be looked upon as Hell, and nothing short of that will ensure total victory.
The Romans would come upon a city they wished to possess and they would ask the people inside to surrender, and if the people inside refused then the Romans would kill everyone that survived the siege. Surrender or die was, and still could be, a very effective tool of war, or diplomacy, depending on how terrified your opponent is of your army. We have decided that war must be civilized and that is why we cannot win any of these half wars and conflicts we engage in these days.
The South faced extinction and Sherman was going to cause that extinction if hostilities did not cease. His scorched earth means of warfare had left a sixty mile wide swath of destruction through the middle of Georgia and he was threatening to march up the eastern seaboard of the Confederacy and do more of the same. President Davis told his generals they ought to release their men into a guerilla war, and hope to drag out the conflict until the north’s will to fight ebbed. His generals told him the war was over, and had been over, and anything else would do little but cause a greater loss of life, greater destruction, and a more grievous recovery. The last great act of loyalty of the Southern Generals was to The South, not to the president. They presented terms to Sherman, and to their surprise, Sherman accepted their proposal outright. In return for total surrender there would be no retribution, as per Lincoln’s orders. Sherman was, if nothing else, a man who would gladly stop a war if he could walk away in victory. Had Lincoln lived many wounds might have been healed.
World War Two was fought against fanatical enemies on two fronts on opposite sides of the world. The Russians took the brunt of the losses, and despite some Americans’ view of this war, it was the Russians who did most of the fighting and dying against the Nazis. D-Day was an incredible feat of logistics and bravery, and there is no doubt the landing did much to cripple Hitler’s ability to conduct a successful battle plan, but it was the Russians who were devouring Hitler’s war machine and paying blood to do it. The Eastern front was a no quarters conflict with neither side offering or giving any ground without payment in Death. This war would be, and was, concluded with one side unable to fight for a moment longer.
The American-Japanese Pacific Conflict was one of the most brutal in human history. A war fought in the air, at sea, and on the ground, there was no part of this conflict that did not embody inhumanity on both sides. The Island Campaign has no equal in the history of warfare in its depravation and suffering on both side of the war. Stalingrad can lay claim to an equal share in horror with the Pacific Conflict and surpasses it in civilian murders, but the fighting done by the Japanese Army and the United States Marines was a horrible, horrible thing. Rarely, even in war, and even in the times of war when the fighting was all done hand-to hand does a conflict become as brutal as was seen in the Pacific.
You will note I have not written anything as to which said of any of these conflicts as some moral imperative to win. Take away a nationalistic view of war and you will see victory comes with a very steep and very human price. Human history is littered with the price of war, and usually the further back the conflict the more respect is given to the victors of war, regardless of the human price paid. We see great generals of the past; Caesar, Alexander, Ramses, but we do not take into account what had to happen to make great empires. We see only the victory and not the cost.
World War Two had to be fought, and I am not saying that it could have been avoided after Pearl Harbor, but even in victory did we discover new evil had risen to replace the old. Nuclear weapons had been invented and used. Stalin rose to hold more power than Hitler would have. Communism and Democracy stood at the brink of Global Annihilation for the better part of five decades. Nations and Continents were divided and many resources went into preserving the status quo of a Cold War. This was the victory of the Great Moral War.
If a nation goes to war, and there are times it has to, then the nation ought not be divided, and there ought to be a consensus as to why war should be waged, and against whom it should be waged. There should be an acceptance of the price of this war in human lives, and by no means should there be any quarter given to the enemy except in surrender, which must be total. If a nation goes to war then that nation must seek by all means possible, the complete annihilation of their enemy to the point of extinction. When a nation goes to war they ought to know there will be suffering and only through this suffering will the war one day end in victory, and it is this price that must be paid.
If a nation cannot say for certain whom they must fight, or why they must fight, and that nation is unwilling to fight for a victory that must be paid for many times in blood and suffering then that nation ought not go to war.