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War — A Necessary Evil?

War is never easy, nor is it ever casualty-free, but is it ever justified?

July 31, 2003

War is never easy, nor is it ever casualty-free, but is it ever justified?

The recent war in Iraq has triggered a global debate on warfare. While most people would probably agree that war in general is always tragic, most people disagree on when war is justified. The unprecedented use of precision weapons — and the new U.S. strategy of "preemptive war" — only add to the multitude of voices. Our new Read My Lips explores the difficulties of war.

What is war?

“War is nothing but the continuation of politics with other means.”

(Karl von Clausewitz, 19th century German general, in 1827)

Should war always be an option?

“War is always the worst of all solutions.”

(Germany's Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, March 2003)

If unavoidable, how should war be conducted?

“I do not object to a war if necessary. But I do not like war which is the result of clumsy, unskilled political maneuvering.”

(Nguyen Tran Bat, Chairman of Vietnam's Investconsult Group, April 2003)

What is one reason to fight a war?

“The conflict is also, as Lord Salisbury described the Boer War, about ‘who is the boss.’ This is nothing to be ashamed of.”

(Daily Telegraph editorial, January 2003)

What made the Iraq war different from previous ones?

“No device of man can remove the tragedy from war. Yet, it is a great advance when the guilty have far more to fear from war than the innocent.”

(U.S. President George W. Bush, May 2003)

What is the best strategy when fighting an inferior enemy?

“In planning a small war against an uncivilized nation, your first object should be the capture of whatever they prize most — the destruction or deprivation of which will probably bring the war most rapidly to conclusion.”

(Sir Garnet Wolseley, 19th-century British Field Marshal)

What is the main difficulty when planning a war?

“Wars have an unhappy habit of refusing to stick to any plans — no matter how carefully laid.”

(Nick Assinder, BBC political correspondent, March 2003)

Does one need special equipment to start a conflict?

“Assassin Gavrilo Princip triggered World War I. One hates to speculate what kind of turmoil his successors will cause when armed with more than a revolver, two small bombs — and a vial of cyanide.”

(Walter Russell Mead, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, February 2003)

Why is a war politically dangerous?

“To engage in war is always to pick a wild card. And war must always be a last resort — not a first choice.”

(U.S. Senator Robert Byrd (D-W.V.), February 2003)

How does war influence U.S. domestic affairs?

“A standard reality is that war kills reform. The Spanish-American war killed populism, World War I killed Progressivism, World War II killed the New Deal, Korea killed the Fair Deal, Vietnam killed the Great Society.”

(Robert Dallek, U.S. historian, February 2003)

What are the personal effects of war on leaders?

“President Bush looks as tired as Prime Minister Blair sometimes — but never as worried.”

(Justin Webb, BBC Washington correspondent, March 2003)

Can a preemptive war solve future problems?

“We British know that the best way to deal with future threats peacefully is to deal with present threats with resolve.”

(British Prime Minister Tony Blair, March 2003)

Why is a preemptive war problematic?

“In my opinion, there is no such thing as a preemptive war.”

(Former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in 1950)

Are quick and easy wars even more devastating in the long run?

“If the war ends up being a cream puff — in the sense that everything goes smoothly — it will probably create temptations to act elsewhere.”

(Zbigniew Brezinski, National Security Advisor under U.S. President Jimmy Carter, March 2003)

Has the Iraq war also been a 'big show'?

“From the “saving” of Private Jessica Lynch to the Texas homecoming of the seven American POWs, this has been the most stage-managed war in American history.”

(Nick Bryant, BBC Washington correspondent, May 2003)

What is the reality of war?

“War isn’t about cruise missiles and laser-guided bombs. It is about real people who are risking their lives — and tragically giving them.”

(John Nichol, British POW during the 1991 Gulf War, March 2003)

How do these people view war?

“I’ve had enough of being fired at from all directions — I just want to go home”.

(U.S. Marine, March 2003)