HOME November-December 2008 Featured Stories Background Information News On The Web



by Prof. Paul Eidelberg


Part I: To Israel's General Staff: Lessons From A Master Of War

Israel's General Staff would do well to emulate George S. Patton, the general most feared by Nazi Germany.

On the eve of battle, Patton would admonish his soldiers: "The object of war is not to die for your country. It is to make the other poor dumb bastard die for his." This requires confronting and killing the enemy on the battlefield.

"Never let the enemy rest." No cease fires or hudnas. Unconditional surrender should be Israel's proclaimed war aim!

"We want the enemy to KNOW that they are fighting the toughest fighting men in the world!" This precludes benevolence (which Arabs despise). Just as Hamas terrorists would show no mercy to you, so you should show no mercy to them. These terrorists must be killed even if this results in civilian casualties.

"Forget about army regulations ... [which] are written by those who have never been in battle...Our only mission in combat is to win." Hence general officers may sometimes have to disobey orders of the political echelon!

Israel must devastate the Arabs from top to bottom so as to erase the Islamic arrogance that prompts them to wage war against the Jewish State.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak must not shy from these war principles, which would require them to order the IDF to confront and kill the enemy primarily on the battlefield. Bombing the enemy's infrastructure should not obscure the importance of destroying the enemy's ground forces. The defeat of these Arab terrorists must be so thorough that it will eradicate their desire to wage war for a hundred years — the policy of the Allies powers that made militant Germany and Japan lovers of peace.

Israel's political echelon will be reluctant to pursue this policy not for humanitarian reasons — recall its brutality ay Amona — but it fears world opinion, UN condemnation, and possible sanctions. This fear cannot but undermine the General Staff and the fighting spirit of Israeli soldiers. This fear is baseless.

It is of capital importance that Israel's ruling elites pursue the war in Gaza as a war between good and evil. They must shun the moral relativism that tainted Ariel Sharon who said, while Jews were being reduced to body parts, that he does not think in terms of "black and white."

Israel's victory in Gaza will ultimately depend on whether its General Staff is animated by the profound sense of good and evil that inspired America's greatest generals — suffice to mention, along with Patten, William Tecumseh Sherman of Civil War fame. Both generals inspired their armies with complete confidence in the justice of their cause. Yet both pursued a war strategy that actually minimized casualties on all sides. They imbued their soldiers with the will to win and in the shortest possible time. This requires the use of overwhelming force and the uninterrupted attack.

The general who believes in the justice of his country's cause will not shy from cruelty against Hamas because it is by means of cruelty that he can shorten the war and thus minimize bloodshed. Thus, in this war between good and evil, those Israeli generals who implement the principles of war will be our greatest humanists.

Part II: General Carl von Clausewitz on War

Let us recall certain lessons on war by one of the greatest military scientists, General Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831).

Clausewitz's magnum opus, On War, is studied in military schools to this day. He defines war as "an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will. Violence is the means; submission of the enemy to our will the ultimate object." For as long as the enemy remains armed, he will wait for a more favorable moment for action.

The ultimate object of war is political. To attain this object fully, the enemy must be disarmed. Disarming the enemy "becomes therefore the immediate object of hostilities. It takes the place of the final object and puts it aside as something we can eliminate from our calculations."

Clausewitz warns: "Philanthropists may readily imagine there is a skillful method of disarming and overcoming an enemy without causing great bloodshed, and that this is the proper tendency of the Art of War. However plausible this may appear, still it is an error which must be extirpated; for in such dangerous things as war, the errors which proceed from a spirit of benevolence are the worst."

Not that Clausewitz advocates indiscriminate slaughter. He warns, however, that "he who uses force unsparingly, without reference to the bloodshed involved, must obtain a superiority if his adversary uses less vigor in its application." "Let us not hear of Generals who conquer without bloodshed. If a bloody slaughter is a horrible sight, then that is a ground for paying more respect to War, but not for making the sword we wear blunter and blunter by degrees from feelings of humanity, until someone steps in with one that is sharp and lops off the arm from our body."

It follows that moderation or self-restraint as a principle of war is absurd. To defeat the enemy the means must be proportioned to his power of resistance, and his power of resistence must be utterly crushed.

The statesman must take into account not only the forces of the enemy. He must solidify the confidence and determination of his people. They must believe in the justice of their country's cause and understand the importance of victory as well as the consequences of defeat. The statesman must display wisdom, decisiveness, and clarity.

Above all the statesman must have, in his own mind, a clear view of his post-war goal or political object. The political object will determine the aim of military force as well as the amount of force or effort to be used.

This is the crucial point in Israel's attack on Gaza. Does the Government have a clear view of the goal or political object of this war?

Is it simply to stop Hamas from further attacks on Israel, or is it to disarm and destroy the enemy?

Part III: Destroy the Enemy to Obtain One Hundred Years of Peace: Epaminondas

"Those who wish to enjoy peace must be ready for war."

Referring to the democratic reformer Epaminondas, the warrior-philosopher whose Theban army defeated Sparta (370-369), military historian Victor Davis Hanson offers insights that Israeli generals and citizens as well as universities should take most seriously. The excerpts below are taken from Hanson's The Soul of Battle: From Ancient Times to the Present Day, How Three Great Liberators Vanquished Tyranny (1999):

"I think it is almost axiomatic that if a general of a great democratic march is not hated, is not sacked, tried, or relieved of command by his auditors after his tenure is over, or if he has not been killed [as was Epaminondas] or wounded at the van, he has not utilized the full potential of his men, has not accomplished his strategic goals — in short, he is too representative of the very culture that produced him, too democratic to lead a democratic army ..."

"... we of the academic class are sometimes reluctant to equate mastery of military command with sheer intellectual brilliance. But to lead an army of thousands into enemy territory requires mental skills far beyond that of the professor, historian, or journalist — far beyond too the accounting and managerial skill of the deskbound and peacetime officer corps."

"From Epaminondas's philosophical training [he was a Pythagorean], the corpus of his adages and sayings that have survived, and his singular idea to take 70,000 men into Laconia and Messinia, it is clear that, like both [William Tecumseh] Sherman and [George S.] Patton, he had a first-class mind and was adept in public speaking and knowledge of human behavior. Perhaps with the exception of Pericles and Scipio, it is hard to find any military leader in some twelve centuries of Gaeco-Roman antiquity who had the natural intelligence, philosophical training, broad knowledge, and recognition of the critical tension between military morale and national ethics as Epaminondas the Theban. In his range of political and strategic thought, he towered over his Greek contemporaries ... in precisely the way Sherman did over all the generals of the Civil War, precisely as Patton dwarfed his British and American superiors."

"In short, Epaminondas, the philosopher, may have been the best educated man of the ancient world — an education that stressed logic, mathematics, rhetoric, memorization, philosophy, and literature, an education far more valuable to the leadership of great democratic armies than what is offered in most universities today...."

"There was one key ingredient to Epaminondas's military career that perhaps stands as an exemplar of democratic leadership. Such generals must not be timid or afraid, must not lead their army in the very manner in which they themselves are audited and held accountable by a democratic consensus. Epaminondas by all accounts was a zealot and fanatic — Sherman and Patton [discussed the in sequel] perhaps even more so. The worst generals in the ancient and modern worlds were those with a constant feel for the pulse of the assembly or board of overseers ..."

"Armies are not assemblies. The conduct of war is not a discussion over taxes of public expenditures. The very qualities that make a poor democratic statesman in peacetime — audacity, fatalism, truthfulness, fearlessness, initiative, hatred of compromise, fanaticism, even recklessness — are critical for command of a great egalitarian army, just as the strengths of a politician — affability, consensus-building, retrospection, manners, inactivity even — can prove lethal to a campaign."

"Would that the American generals Schwarzkopf or Powell had risked resigning for insisting that American troops march into Baghdad to liquidate the [Saddam] Hussein regime [in 1991]."

And what shall we say of various Israeli generals who adhered to the feckless policy of self-restraint vis-à-vis Israel's implacable but Lilliputian enemy, the PLO-Palestinian Authority?

Part IV: Destroy the Enemy to Obtain One Hundred Years of Peace. William Tecumseh Sherman

In what follows, virtually every a passage has been extracted from military historian Victor Davis Hanson, The Soul of Battle (1999), I have selected these excerpts to illuminate dilemmas involved in Israel's current war in Gaza, but I alone am responsible for the import of this article.

William Tecumseh Sherman of Civil War fame was professor and college president teaching history six months before the Battle of Bull Run. If Sherman was considered a cruel general, "cruelty was necessary to destroy the evil of slavery."

"Men go to war to kill," said Sherman, "and should expect no tenderness." As he said of the Confederacy: "Thousands of people may perish, but they now realize that war means something else than vain glory and boasting."

"Marching through an enemy country and destroying its economic infrastructure and social strata — while losing less than 1% of an army — can instill confidence in soldiers in a way that camp life, entrenchment, and even ferocious set battles cannot."

Sherman's solders "realized that the quickest way to return ... to their families as to follow their mad genius into the heart of the Confederacy and very quickly to wreck its economic and spiritual core."

As George Patton understood (who was also deemed mad): "The directing mind must be at the head of the army — must be seen there, and the effect of his mind and personal energy must be felt by every officer and men present with it, to secure the best results. Every attempt to make war easy and safe will result in humiliation and disaster."

Sherman's soldiers loved and admired their "'Uncle Billy,' who could confess of his troops, 'not a waiver, doubt, or hesitation when I order, and men march to certain death without a murmur if I call on them, because they know I value their lives as much as my own."

"'Don't ride too fast, General,' they would warn him of muddy roads, 'Pretty slippery going, Uncle Billy ..."

One nearly illiterate soldier wrote home: "it is an honor to enney man to have ben on the last campaign with Sherman, you se him a riding a long you would think he was somb plow jogger his head bent a little to one side with an oald stub of a sigar in his mouth."

As for the quality of Sherman's army: "When General Peter Osterhaus's 15th Corp marched past the Washington reviewing stand — they had occupied the southern wing during Sherman's march to the Sea — the German ambassador remarked, 'An army like that could whip all Europe.'"

Hanson contrasts Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant: "Sherman's men had marched, moved hundreds of miles, and survived, whereas too many of Grant's were fixed and had died. The former had sliced through hostile territory and freed slaves, destroyed property, and brought fire and ruin to the enemy; the latter fought not far from home, pitted against like military kind, and had rarely touched the economy that fueled the enemy [italics added]. The South would hate Sherman, whose troops had killed relatively few Confederates, for a century to come, but came to forgive Grant their future president, whose army butchered its best soldiers — a propensity to value property over life [as Machiavelli teaches in The Prince]..."

"Sherman at relatively little human expenditure defeated the very soul of the Confederate citizenry with a force that was mobile, patently ideological, and without experience of defeat." Ideological — for as Hanson discerns, "the act of emancipation [served] as moral counterweight against the necessary brutality of fire and ruin ..."

No Union General liberated more slaves than Sherman. "As blacks themselves acknowledged, Sherman did more to 'cut them loose' than any abolitionist."

This last remark reminds me of a Lebanese journalist who admitted that Lebanon did not breathe the air of freedom until the Israelis expelled the PLO from his country in 1982. With that freedom, he added, the Lebanese experienced the extraordinary humanity of the Jewish state.

Part V: Self-Restraint Prolongs the War.

US Admiral Bull Halsey said, "Hit hard, hit fast, hit often." Rationality and responsibility are qualities quite foreign to those who shape Israel's policy toward its enemy, the Palestinian Authority. Their policy is "Hit softly, hit slowly, and hit seldom."

In Hebrew this policy is called havlaga - "self-restraint". This policy is motivated by fear of world opinion, perhaps also by the desire to display Israel's moral superiority vis-à-vis the cruelty of her Arab enemies. It is an utterly inane and immoral policy.

Havlaga prolongs the war. It therefore increases the number of Jewish as well as Arab casualties... Yet this has been the policy of Israeli prime ministers and their cohorts since the signing of the Israel-PLO Agreement of September 1993. How demoralizing, how revolting! And yet, not a single party in the Knesset protests against this cowardly and self-destructive policy. Even the religious parties, which proclaim the principle of pikuach nefesh - "saving life"...

The Jewish people are known (even by their enemies) for their kindness and mercy, which is why Arabs store weapons in hospitals and schools, and shield themselves behind women and children. In time of war, however, "do not show [your enemy] any pity" (Deuteronomy 7:17), on which verse the Ramban comments: "Through the mercy of fools all justice is lost."

Justice, justice is what Israel stands for: justice has ever been the sacred cause of the Jewish people. Today, however, inasmuch as Israeli governments display no confidence in the justice of Israel's cause, is it any wonder that the Jew-haters of this world now question whether Israel has a right to exist, indeed, call for Israel's eradication?

Prof. Paul Eidelberg is a political scientist, author and lecturer. He is the founder and President, Foundation for Constitutional Democracy, a Jerusalem-based think tank for improving Israel's system of governance. Contact him at

The Parts of this article were published as separate essays and are available on Professor Eidelberg's website:


Return_________________________End of Story___________________________Return

HOME November-December 2008 Featured Stories Background Information News On The Web