War Aims

  1. sknox

    sknox Member and remember

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    We talk a lot about war here. Tangentially, we've mentioned what this or that war was supposed to accomplish (see the WWI thread). It made me stop and think a bit (curious phrase; why don't we *go* and think?).

    Have wars always had specific aims? I immediately go to pre-modern wars, in part because I'm a medievalist, but also because I know that war, like almost everything else, changed profoundly after the Dual Revolution (Industrial and French). I look to the pre-modern age for exceptions.

    But the first war that sprang to mind was the First Crusade, which had fairly specific aims: the liberation of the Holy Sepulchre and the protection of sacred places in the Holy Land. We can argue endlessly about "real" motives, but those war aims were stated explicitly.

    So, too, with the Hundred Years War. The King of England claimed he was also the King of France. Pretty straightforward.

    But go digging around and things get murkier. What were the goals of the War of the Eight Saints? How about the Sicilian Vespers? Charlemagne's second expedition against the Saxons? How about the endless fighting along the Welsh border or between the Danes and Frisians?

    I'll let others chime in here, but I *think* there may be a sea change I can spot. Speaking very generally, pre-modern war aims were mainly aggressive. I want that bit of land over there, I want to exert my authority there, or lay claim to a title. Modern wars are almost always couched in defensive terms. It's to save something, preserve something, prevent something.

    OK, have at it.
     
    Jan 7, 2018
    #1
  2. reiver33

    reiver33 Only Forward

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    Until WW1, resorting to force of arms in pursuit of a stated national aim was considered a legitimate escalation should diplomacy come up short (war is the continuation of diplomacy by other means). Between the world wars, international conflict was considered almost a force of nature; it could break out even when all parties were hedging against it - one view of the web of treaties which escalated the Austro-Hungarian/Serbian conflict into a global war. Hence the League of Nations was established with the aim of defusing potential conflict, or at least mitigating its effects. Post-WW2 we had the hitherto unknown crime of 'waging aggressive war' - which I've always considered a catch-all created at Nuremburg to prosecute those in the Nazi leadership who didn't fall under 'crimes against humanity' (but then again I'm quite cynical).
     
    Jan 7, 2018
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  3. The Judge

    The Judge Truth. Order. Moderation. Staff Member

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    I'm fond of quoting Jacob Bronowski's comment that war "is a highly planned and co-operative form of theft."

    Theft of territory and/or wealth in whatever form (minerals, crops, slaves) certainly seems to be the main focus before modern times, but it was still the motivating force behind a good deal of aggression throughout the C20th and I've no doubt it will be the same a good while longer albeit dressed up in different guises ie it's recovery of land now possessed by country B but was formerly part of A; it's liberating country A's citizens/potential citizens or co-religionists from country B's oppression; it's taking back land from people who are deemed non-natives/non-nationals.

    I agree that it's often now couched in different terms, because of the need to spin the story, and appear to have right on one's side in the court of public opinion, something that wasn't so necessary in past centuries.
     
    Jan 7, 2018
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  4. sknox

    sknox Member and remember

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    I'm a fan of Bronowski. I even taught a course based around the Ascent of Man. Alas, I have to dissent somewhat from his statement here. Some wars are mostly theft, but not all. Even when territory and goods are taken, that does not mean that was the aim. A number of wars were launched in the 12th and 13th centuries against the pagan Slavs, the main aim of which was to return those peoples to the Christian Church (the wars almost always came after an initial conversion followed by apostasy and rebellion). To look only at the territory seized (or recovered, if you prefer) would be to gravely misunderstand the nature of the conflict. And those rebellions I mentioned, would they be considered theft as well? When the aims were to free themselves of what they regarded as a foreign god (and onerous taxes)?

    The need to spin the story, too, has a long history, going at least as far back as St Augustine's writings on the theory of a just war. The desire to have right on one's side can be seen even in Thucydides and Herodotus.
     
    Jan 8, 2018
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  5. WaylanderToo

    WaylanderToo Well-Known Member

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    IMO war is all about power
     
    Jan 8, 2018
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  6. sknox

    sknox Member and remember

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    If war is all about power, what does that say about the individual soldier who fights in one?
     
    Jan 8, 2018
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  7. Narkalui

    Narkalui Nerf Herder

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    It says that if he volunteered, he was a fool. To voluntarily throw yourself into such a situation all because of some misguided faith in the Cult Of The Flag in spite of all the available information on its effects on the human body and psyche (that’s assuming you survive) is nothing short of folly.

    That said, when in the presence of former service personnel I always experience a deep sense of respect and awe for their courage. But not envy. Never envy...
     
    Jan 13, 2018 at 1:24 PM
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  8. sknox

    sknox Member and remember

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    >It says that if he volunteered....

    What says? Nothing in the thread spoke of power until WaylanderToo mentioned it. And no one mentioned folly. Did I miss something?

    What I was asking was this: if war is all about power, as WaylanderToo said, then is the individual soldier fighting for power? I would say no. Let's go up the line. The mid-rank officer is probably a lifer, even in earlier centuries. They're not fighting for power, either, though they might say they are supporting their nation or lord in a quest to gain or retain power. If war is all about power, are we really only talking about the top? The instigators of the war? But then I would ask, what about all the other justifications that are offered for war? Is everyone lying, across all the nations and kingdoms, for all of time? Can we not admit of other motivations and goals?
     
    Jan 13, 2018 at 5:35 PM
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  9. Narkalui

    Narkalui Nerf Herder

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    If the powers that be were honest about their aggressive overtures then no one would enlist.

    I’d Blair and Dubya had stated publicly that they wanted to invade Iraq so that modern Israel could control the borders of the ancient Isrealite Kingdom thus bringing about the rapture, then they’d both have been declared insane and removed from power.

    That’s why they lied about WMDs and links to Al Qaeda
     
    Jan 13, 2018 at 10:52 PM
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  10. svalbard

    svalbard Well-Known Member

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    It depends upon your time in history, is your society a warrior culture, are your belief systems based on a warlike god etc. A few examples.

    1. For the Romans the Legions provided steady employment, healthcare, a chance to learn new skills and a pension at the end of your service. Quite modern really.

    2. For the Athenian Greek it was about the city and freedom.

    3. A Macedonian Greek would have fought because of fealty to his lord, plunder and glory.

    4. A Persian grunt because maybe he was coerced but that very much depended upon his status and country.

    5. Mercenaries for many reasons. Personal greed, psychopathic tendencies, a way to improve their lot in life.
     
    Jan 16, 2018 at 11:32 AM
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  11. sknox

    sknox Member and remember

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    That's the point I was hinting at. Lots of different motivations, and they're easy to list. Then, if we can admit the troops have multiple, overlapping, and even contradictory motivations, why can we not admit the same for the leaders?

    "War is all about power" is reductionist. That not only makes for bad history, it does an injustice to the people involved. Humans are complex creatures. Figuring out the varying motivations is exactly where history starts to get interesting. It is also where things are interesting for us as writers. Saying something is "all about X" removes all the interesting stuff and stops the conversation dead in its tracks.

    I have to respond to the Romans, though. Especially in the Republic, military service could be downright catastrophic. It took farmers away from their farms for a decade or two, during their most productive years. Many a veteran found that his farm was neglected or that he'd had to sell it off. It's one reason why resettling veterans in colonies was such a big deal. About the only skill they learned was how to kill. Even in the Empire, I'm pretty sure, there was never a pension, only a mustering-out payment. Which could be quite generous, but still not a pension.
     
    Jan 17, 2018 at 6:32 AM
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  12. Overread

    Overread Direwolf of the chrons

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    It might be more true to say that very few wars were ever conducted without at least one key goal being the gain of new lands/monies/territories; or at the very least securing ones own boarders and protecting such assets. In the end typically whoever starts a war has to have something to gain from it, and since war is one of the most expensive and disruptive things a country can do (even more so in the past when populations were far lower and the logistics and demands far greater - and the nature of technology meant that having more numbers was a key part of helping you win); so there had to be some potential gain involved.

    Not just to help pay for it, but to help convince the other "higher ups" in the country as well as merchants and the like to go with the idea of going to war.

    Of course the pretences for war are many, but often as not its hard to think of many nations willing to go to war for reasons other than their own gain and profit from the venture. Even in today's world the various peace-keeping armies/wars/forces are mostly there to help keep other nations stable to thus provide safer conditions for the home nation, as well as helping to secure alliances to nations within those disrupted regions.

    Of course the perception of wars changes depending on who is viewing them. The general, the politician, the common person, the merchant, the middle/upper classes, the attacked, the peasant, the historian etc... Each different person might well have a very different view of any single war based upon their involvement and background. Overall you could boil down wars to resources, but at the personal level things like honour, bringing civilization, religious spread, duty, orders, force, etc.... might all be way that war is viewed. A peasant force drafted into the Napoleonic Wars might well view it very differently to the King who commits their armies to their allies to help try and ensure that any such rebellion against the monarchy fails so as to ensure their own secured position (and by king you also have to include the power structure underneath of those in power at the time).


    Indeed if we follow that line of thought we do somewhat come to another type of war, often civil war, whereby the goal is a change of control. This is still resource based as such; yet where you've got people not in power (or in marginal power) who wish to increase their control significantly. Thus you get civil war where the nation itself might not increase in wealth (and likely will decrease during the war) yet where its all about the balance of power and politics of the running of the country that are in question.
     
    Jan 17, 2018 at 9:32 AM
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  13. svalbard

    svalbard Well-Known Member

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    I meant pension in the lossest possible sense :)
     
    Jan 17, 2018 at 10:29 AM
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  14. sknox

    sknox Member and remember

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    >Of course the pretences for war are many,
    I'm reluctant to call them pretenses. I tend to take (historical) people at their word until the evidence demonstrates otherwise. So, for example, when Charlemagne first invaded Saxony, he did so in part because the Saxons kept raiding, but also because they were pagan and he regarded it as his proper duty to Christianize them. Since they kept killing off missionaries, he resorted to force. He was victorious and he did *not* try to take their lands. He took their conversion and went home.

    They rebelled. He returned and conquered them again. They rebelled a third time. Only when it was obvious that they were going to remain pagan as a people did he not only invade, he scattered them as a people and re-settled Saxony with Franks. This all happened over the course of a couple of decades. A whole complex of motivations must have been at play (our sources are thin and pious), but I would not put control of resources high on the list. On the contrary, the fighting cost Charlemagne heavily. This is in contrast with, say, his invasions in Italy or Bavaria, which absolutely were about controlling territory.

    I say again, it's far more rewarding and interesting (and, I'd argue, a truer practice of the historian's craft) to take into account as many motivations as we can, and not to discount any of them as false unless we can find evidence for it. In truth, we often can, but it pains me to see it done a priori, out of hand.
     
    Jan 18, 2018 at 12:26 AM
    #14
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