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Introduction - Wars of the World

The ambition of this section of the website is a reasonably complete history of warfare since the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars in 1814. Almost no attention is paid to warfare prior to that time. All but a few pre-Napoleonic wars may be passed over in silence without detracting from the understanding of modern warfare. The Napoleonic War were the great watershed in the history of warfare for at least two reasons. "War," says Clausewitz, "is the continuation of politics by other means". That is, war has political objectives and physical means.

Since Napoleon re-drew the map of Europe, warfare has largely become an affair of states and peoples, rather than princes and dynasties. The objectives of pre-Napoleonic wars would seem to have little in common with those of the wars of the 21st Century, and thus provide only marginal insight into contemporary conflict.

Much the same may be said of the means by which the force of arms are implemented. Amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics, and an army travels on its stomach. Steam power, railways, mass produced weapons, mass armies, all produced a mode of modern warfare quite different from all that preceeded Napoleon, on land, sea and air.

The story of the wars of the world, if told in anything like its entirety, would be practically a history of the human race, for prior to the 19th Century, states did very little other than levy war, and make preparation for levying war. It is only with the rise of the modern state after the Napoleonic Wars that it truely becomes possible to provide a narrative of wars that it distinct from the history of the states that were the combatants.

Hans Morganthau wrote in 1964 that Americans "have traditionally regarded war as a kind of interruption of the normalcy of peace, which has no organic relation with the peace that preceded it or with the peace that will follow it. In truth, of course, peace and war are organically connected, as foreign policy and military strategy are; they are not two separate self-sufficient technical departments. They are one whole, both serving the same objectives, each by means appropriate to itself."

The last resort for the settlement of disputes is the appeal to physical force, whereby the weaker is either compelled to yield to the demands of the stronger, put to flight, or, in the last extremity, slain. War is resorted to either for advantage or for vengeance. The one party possesses something which the other has resolved to seize, or has inflicted some real or supposed injury on the other, which he determines to punish by the infliction of a corresponding chastisement. War and law are quite opposed to each other, but while opposed they are also related.

The ultimate means of enforcing law is by physical force, but in every society the aim of law is to put down every appeal to force except on the part of the magistrate, and equally to restrict his use of it to the enforcement of the law. Where there is no organized society, every individual family, or group, enforces its own claims and appeals to force are consequently frequent, but as society extends its organization these partial appeals to force are declared illegal and put down. But the society, however extended, is still partial; outside of it exist other societies with independent laws and different interests. Between these, disputes are liable to arise, which, failing mutual accommodation, can only be settled by force. In each society, moreover, the central authority is liable to vicissitudes of strength. When it is active and vigorous, the whole society is kept in equilibrium and repose; when it is weak or idle, private or party interests assert themselves, the laws are disobeyed and the central authority may be defied and overthrown.

Thus, three conditions of warfare arise according to the degree of organization of society: the state of private war, when no great central authority has been established, or when it has been wholly destroyed; the state of civil war, when such an authority, having been established, has decayed, and the society arranges itself in different parties for the purpose of maintaining the old or establishing a new central authority; and the state of international war, when states sufficiently powerful to control their own subjects quarrel among themselves. In each of these states war is conterminous with and opposed to law.

The aim of law is always to control war, and either suppress it or render it subservient to its own enforcement or re-establishment; the aim of war is either to supplement the impotence of law or accomplish some object forbidden by it. Hence the peculiarity of all laws relating to war. They are fluctuating in their nature, because the power to enforce them is frequently wanting; yet they are necessary and in the end efficacious, because force can be applied in favor of law as well as against it, and it commonly becomes the interest of society in the long run so to apply it. It follows also from these conditions that as there are three states of warfare, so there are three relative states of law opposed to them: international law is opposed to international war, national law to civil war, and natural law to private war. In each case law forms the boundary of war and war of law, so that where one is strong the other is weak.

International law may thus be defined as consisting of those common principles which still continue to be recognized and observed by belligerents. The persistent disregard of any principle of law by a belligerent would annihilate it as a principle of international law, and as the belligerent has already set the power of its immediate antagonist at defiance, the only considerations which can enforce its observance of an international law are its own respect for its principle, or its fear of the power of neutrals. In like manner national law is opposed to and limits civil war. In as far as either party sets the national law at defiance the law is abrogated and can only be re-established by force; in as far as it is observed it controls the action of both parties. Private war is opposed by natural law because there is no positive law recognized by the parties. Violence is limited only by the power of conscience of the belligerents. All definitions of war, in the sense of international law, may be said to agree in one fundamental essential, that war is a public and state act as distinguished from the acts of private individuals. whenever men are formed into a social body, war cannot exist between individuals. The use of force among them is not war, but a trespass, cognizable by the municipal law. The right of making war belongs to the sovereign power. If the peasants themselves commited any hostilities, the state would hang them up as so many robbers or banditti.

A mere insurrection, however, is not war; to entitle the armed forces to the rights and privileges of belligerents it would seem that they should possess at least the power to make the issue doubtful, and that the government which they serve must be organized so as to be in a position to meet the duties necessarily resting upon belligerents, viz., to maintain law and order within the regions subjected to their control, and to carry on war on a large scale on land or sea. If the elements indicated are absent, the uprising was treated as a rebellion, and rebels as such log had no rights.

In the 20th Century, however, there developed a doctrine of insurgency, a condition, midway between belligerency and mere unauthorized and lawless violence. Such were the periodic revolutionary outbreaks in certain Latin-American states, and in Africa of late. Those who struggle for political ends and respect the laws of war cannot be branded as outlaws or pirates, and hence the necessity for according a recognition of insurgency, which, while not relieving the parent state of responsibility for the acts of the insurgents, puts the contest upon a more regular basis and brings into operation the neutrality laws of the recognizing states.

Wherever nations have risen to greatness and have bred men capable of performing great deeds the records of these acts of heroism have almost invariably been made on those fields of battle upon which the supremacy of the nation itself has been accomplished. In the record of the wars of the world the student may read the tale of human progress the story of the advance of civilization for it cannot be denied that man's high place in the world today is largely a reward bestowed upon him in return for the brutality and bloodshed of the battlefields upon which his ancestors fought.

That there have been wars that have been unnecessary is a fact that cannot be questioned, any more than one would deny that warfare has often been unnecessarily brutal, and yet, from a logical point of view, these are merely incidents which reflect upon but do not detract from the integrity of the original propositions: that war is the means by which superior nations have attained their superiority; that by war civilization was extended, and that in the winnowing process afforded by such international conflicts the fittest alone have survived and all that which was opposed to human progress or contrary to the best interests of civilization has been cast aside, to be lost and, eventually, forgotten by all save the historian who does not deign to record the most ignoble things in the life and customs of the earth's peoples.

In spite of the gruesome record, men fought and continued to conduct wars against each other, while all nations were compelled to arm themselves with the latest fighting inventions, for, with the history of the past to guide them, they realize only too well that the Power that is not always prepared to protect its rights and properties with the sword may not unlikely find itself with very little except its honor to defend.



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