I don't know who's doing history for GEN Dempsey, but he or she ain't doing it very well. On page 3 of the document (the first page of actual text), there's a call-out box with a quote from Basil Liddell Hart. Here's what it says:
The true national object in war, as in peace, is a more perfect peace.Well said, Captain Sir Basil! This is one of the least nutty, most defensible things Liddell Hart ever wrote (largely because he's just paraphrasing Clausewitz). So what's the problem? Well, the Chairman's document identifies the date of the quote as 1944, which is... well, it's just way wrong. I'm not sure why this date was chosen, but it's wrong.
This most Clausewitzian of sentiments was penned by Liddell Hart in a 1927 book entitled A Greater than Napoleon: Scipio Africanus. Writing of the peace terms the Roman general offered to the Carthaginians after his victory, Liddell Hart avers that
it is not too much to say that Scipio had a clear grasp of what is just dawning on the mind of the world to-day—that the true national object in war, as in peace, is a more perfect peace. War is the result of a menace to this policy, and is undertaken in order to remove the menace, and by the subjugation of the will of the hostile state "to change this adverse will into compliance with our own policy, and the sooner and more cheaply in lives and money we can do this, the better the chance is there of a continuance of national prosperity in the widest sense. The aim of the nation in war is, therefore, to subdue the enemy's will to resist with the least possible human and economic loss to itself" (152-153).See the quotation marks there? That's Liddell Hart quoting himself, which is something he quite liked to do in order to show the reader that he pretty much had everything covered already, anyway. That text – the second half of the text block above – first appeared in Paris: Or, the Future of War (p. 19), first published in 1925.
A similar sentiment appeared in another of Liddell Hart's 1925 publications, this one entitled "The Napoleonic Fallacy: The Moral Objective in War." He argued that the national objective in war should be
a resumption and progressive continuance of what may be termed the peace time policy, with the shortest and least costly interruption of the normal life of the country. (Cited in Richard Swain's "B.H. Liddell Hart and the Creation of a Theory of War, 1919-1933" ($), in a 1990 issue of Armed Forces and Society.)I draw your attention to the origins and close relations of this quote to illustrate the dangers of abstracting attractive sentiments from their narrative and conceptual contexts. Surely the well-intended staff officer who chose this particular aphorism did so to imbue the imminent conclusion of America's extended conflicts with the sort of gravity and meaning one presumably only gets from fighting for a better world.
But Liddell Hart used the phrase as part of a broader argument about the need to prosecute wars in such a way as to ensure their rapid conclusion—something he viewed as being the only humane choice. Of course, in the service of this humane ideal, he advocated the use of strategic bombing and gas attacks against the enemy's civilian population "to strike direct at the seat of the opposing will and policy." As Swain tells us, Liddell Hart
dismissed moral objections to making war on noncombatants ... by observing that civilian losses would be unlikely to exceed those of another world war in light of the speed with which the use of gas would produce war termination (Swain 40).Context matters, huh? "A more perfect peace" sounds great when it manifests as limited war aims and generous terms, but what about when the means of "resumption and progressive continuance of... the peace time policy" involves the willful slaughter of noncombatants?
If we look back to the roots of the "more perfect peace" sentiment – the part that deals with rational policy, anyway – we can see one of the approximately ten billion ways that Clausewitz makes more sense than his 20th century English critic. This is from Book Eight, Chapter 6B of On War:
It is, of course, well-known that the only source of war is politics—the intercourse of governments and peoples; but it is apt to be assumed that war suspends that intercourse and replaces it by a wholly different condition, ruled by no law but its own.
We maintain, on the contrary, that war is simply a continuation of political intercourse, with the addition of other means. We deliberately use the phrase "with the addition of other means" because we also want to make it clear that war in itself does not suspend political intercourse or change it into something entirely different. In essentials that intercourse continues, irrespective of the means it employs. The main lines along which military events progress, and to which they are restricted, are political lines that continue throughout the war into the subsequent peace. How could it be otherwise? Do political relations between peoples and between their governments stop when diplomatic notes are no longer exchanged? Is war not just another expression of their thoughts, another form of speech or writing? Its grammar, indeed, may be its own, but not its logic.
If that is so, then war cannot be divorced from political life; and whenever this occurs in our thinking about war, the many links that connect the two elements are destroyed and we are left with something pointless and devoid of sense (p. 605 of the 1984 Howard and Paret translation).Liddell Hart called Clausewitz the "mahdi of mass" and blamed him for inspiring the bloody, slug-it-out tactics that sustained the attritionists' stalemate on the Western Front. But I'd ask you to read these passages again and reflect on which man seems to abstract victory from politics and to celebrate violent and chimerical "decision."
I've gone off on a bit of a tangent, as you can see, but we should all take a couple of lessons from this episode: 1) get your dates right—it's easy, and when you don't, someone is going to make you look silly; and 2) there's almost always someone out there who has read the whole book, so make sure you understand the context of your quotes before you reproduce them.
Next time you're looking for a quote, 18, just shoot me an email!