So for the transcriber, Dr., please tell us your name and spell it, and then your present title.
Well, my name is Roger Spiller, S-P-I-L-L-E-R, and—
And R-O-G, not R-O-D-G.
R-O-G-E-R, that’s right, and—
Presently you are at Kansas University, though, is it?
I’m—since supposedly retiring from the U.S. Army Commandant General Staff College in 2005, I’ve been teaching graduate courses at the University of Kansas.
I’m going to ask you to move the microphone down a little closer to Roger’s head, because he has a soft, solemn voice.
No, it’s quite nice—it’s just we need to get the microphone closer to get every little breath.
It’s going to be drifting.
And I would point it towards his head, as if it were—
Speak a little bit, Roger.
Okay, how’s this? Sound a little better?
Point the—actually, point the microphone down towards his head, as if it were a dagger.
Well, I don’t have a present title. Theoretically—
Then create one. Grand Poobah of—
Now speak, Roger. Tell me your favorite moment of 2010.
Favorite moment of 2010?
Waking up in the hospital.
How’s this sound, better?
Sounds much better now, yeah.
I’m looking at the bars from here.
So again, it’s good. Just come on and check and make sure the microphone itself is not in this frame, and I think we’ll be good.
I don’t see the mic.
Doesn’t look like I have a hat or anything?
But it would look good on you.
As a term of art, war termination is of fairly recent vintage, having made its appearance in legal studies during the First World War. Before that, what did they—how did they refer to the ends of wars? Why was the phrase “war termination” created then?
I know this is from your essay—I’m just addressing it for the record.
Sure. My suspicion is that it was a part of the evolution of the laws of war, which had really made their appearance with the Lieber Code in the American Civil War. And the international community had taken an interest in the termination of war, how war is finished—not only how they were conducted but how they were finished. And this led to a kind of, oh, a minor school of literature and international laws of war to ensure that justice was done on all sides. The ultimate hope, of course, was that war could be prevented all together.
Of course, this coincided at the same time with the rise of the world peace movement, the most famous part of which were the great Hague conferences at the turn of the century. And, ultimately, right after the conclusion of World War I, the establishment of the League of Nations, which notably the United States did not sign up for.
What were the—the first Geneva Accords were when?
The first Geneva Accords?
Yeah. First World War?
The Second—Second World War.
Second World War—there were no Geneva Accords before that.
I thought there was a first round after the First World War—there were—
Well, the League of Nations was—
Was put together in Geneva.
Right. But the League of Nations actually did any codification of the laws of war, or no?
Yes, and there have always been sort of informal agreements, especially after World War I, Western governments were concerned by the use of poison gas—
And the use of airplanes to bomb civilian populations.
And unfortunately, some nations were getting experience in advance doing that, notably the Italians—
In North Africa. And so there was a great deal of concern, especially in the U.K., which was vulnerable to air attack. It was I think Stanley Baldwin, the Prime Minister in the 1930s, who said “the bomber will always get through.” And what they were getting through to was not war industries, it was the civilian population itself. This idea that in order to win a great war you had to break the will of the enemy people, so the people become a target. Whether it was a legitimate military target or not is another question.
So by the turn of the century, some people were beginning to interest themselves on how—if we were so unfortunate as to have a war, how that war might be limited both in duration and in the cost and destruction of the war. So there was a great interest in mitigating the effects of war in some way, whether by means of law or by means of technology, or simply common agreement that it was in no one’s interest to engage in some form of warfare.
When do people—when does the popular voice become—is it consistent with the rise of democracy in the twentieth century that the popular voice becomes significant as a tool for ending or beginning wars?
I think there was a great public change of mind in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century about what war was, about the nature of war, about how war should be conducted. Before World War I, and maybe even before that, if you asked the educated man on the street in the Western nations whether war was inevitable he would say, “Yes.” Whether war was a natural phenomenon like a thunderstorm that you couldn’t predict and you would have difficulty controlling or impossible to control, he would say, “Yes.”
After World War I, the answer would have been “no” to both of those. So the public—the public was increasingly interested in war in the nineteenth and certainly in the twentieth century. The two great revolutions in warfare in the nineteenth century, one of which is always talked about—the technological or industrial revolution, but another one isn’t addressed, hasn’t been addressed so systematically, and that’s the democratic revolution.
With the emergence of the idea during the Napoleonic Wars that the entire nation would go to war. That to the degree possible you would mobilize every asset you had to protect vital interests of state and nation. And it was the revolution that gave some substance to that idea of mobilization. Technological advances, material advances of all kind, went hand-in-hand to encourage the idea of what was called “total mobilization.” It was a notion that came to be very popular in Europe, especially Germany, after World War I. In fact, it was General Ludendorff who coined the term “total war.”
And by total war, he meant the complete mobilization— militarization of a society for the purposes of war. So you have these competing impulses. On the one hand, there are people such as the English barristers, who are writing about international laws of war and how to terminate war equitably to sort of overcome the mistake of starting the war to begin with. And on the other hand, you have this other impulse toward total war.
Both schools were aiming in directions that were unattainable. I mean, they were ideals more than the realities of war. Always impose limits on its conduct. And that’s one of the things that I especially wanted to talk about in this essay.
Well, it seems as though it coincides with war being fought when there is more at stake for the mass of the citizenry that they are brought into it.
That’s right. It’s—for a limited war, an expeditionary war, you sort of go to war with what you have. But for a national war, one that engages the national interest, the whole population is in some way—in some way involved. Although the United States, even in World War II, which was the most completely mobilized the country has ever been, in the United States an enormous number of able-bodied men, who in other countries would have been eligible for active military service, were held back for purposes of industrial production—a tremendous lot.
We could have drafted into service upwards of I think eight or nine million people, and yet our enlistment—our—I should say our draft standards were such that we rejected several million people, who in other countries would not have been forgiven military service—on grounds of mental or physical deficiency, or some other ground. So we were nowhere near the top end of our mobilization, even though, in American history, it was the most we had ever done. And during the Civil War, the South, the Confederacy, did manage to mobilize an astonishing 80% of its military-age males, not—
With the exception of—
Not counting the slaves.
But the war—
Till the very end.
Till the very end, grew so serious that even President Davis recommended to the Confederate Congress that slaves be used for military service in return for a promise of freedom, and the Congress was not buying that at all, so.
But it seems as if the need to maintain—forgetting, for the moment, citizen-soldiers—but citizen support—
Is a critical factor of war that can lead to a war termination, in the terms of which we’re talking about it at this conference.
It’s true even in the kind of global war we fought in World War II. It’s most prominent in limited wars—Korea, Vietnam— in which the public is either not completely involved, or not convinced of the justice of the war. So the age of modern war really begins in 1945, and you see the workings of public opinion, and the policymaker’s attentiveness to public opinion, intensifying. And that’s a process which has continued to intensify, fed by nothing other than the revolution in communications that’s occurred since the 1950s.
There’s just no—there’s no precedent for that sort of thing. And now, almost every day is an electronic referendum on the conduct of war. We may not be very interested in it day-to-day, or citizens may not be very interested in it, but they know about it. It’s hard for them not to be exposed to what is happening in Iraq or Afghanistan. Whereas ten years ago, the average citizen would have had trouble locating them on a map, now, they know where Baqubah is, or—
Well, it is a vivid picture, too, right? As opposed to—
It’s a dramatic picture. It’s fed by image.
You don’t—you know, in news, you don’t go looking for places where nothing happens. It’s only when the exceptional happens—that’s what news is. You don’t fill—you don’t go looking for images of normal traffic on the interstate. You go for the multi-car wrecks.
It’s not—it’s “man bites dog,” not “dog bites man.”
Yeah, something like that—yeah. [Laughter]
Well, the—but nonetheless, another mitigating factor to this has to be that for most of the twentieth century, we had conscription.
But since 1973, we had an all-volunteer army—
So that public opinion takes on a more diminished role, I’d imagine, if it’s not the sons and daughters of the—if there’s no notion of an acceptance of risk.
Yet the heightened technical capacities of public media ensure that the emotional impact on the general population is every bit as intense, maybe more so, than the mass wars of World War II and World War I. I was involved in a project a few years ago, a film project a few years ago. We were discussing how the ordinary citizen in America received war news. How was the ordinary citizen informed about the progress of American forces in the fighting theaters of war?
Well, they got letters. When it was really bad news, they got telegrams from the War Department, if they were missing, wounded, or killed. But once a week, MovieTone News and News of the World were playing at the local theater. And these are wonderful to look at now for how little they informed the audience, but in those days, that was the information. So it was either—it was either in the newspapers—again, highly censored—MovieTone News or some company like that, or private communications—rumors, friends, letters from friends of friends who knew Joe on the Front in the Bocage of France after D-Day—that sort of thing.
So if you compare these—if you like, the input of information about war to the public citizenry in let’s say 1944, to the amount of information coming to the citizen now, the individual citizen, and also to the number of individual citizens, each one of those pieces of news carries with it an emotional impact. And it affects the audience—it affects their opinions. No matter how intellectual they are, they’re going to be emotionally influenced by it. And the policymaker who attempts to ignore that, ignores it at his peril—the American policymaker, that is.
How influenced is something like the Powell Doctrine by that reality, do you think?
Or in a sense, you cannot—repeating the Powell Doctrine as being massive force—
Used for very clearly stated aims.
Quick, and out, and therefore less likely to endure the kinds of hardships that come through and are vivified by—
Well, it’s a very appealing idea. It’s, of course, a product of the Vietnam War experience—in many ways, a reaction to it. The other problem is you don’t get to choose—you sometimes don’t get to choose which wars you fight. And the Army certainly doesn’t get to vote, and neither does the Chief of Staff of the Army, nor the Secretary of Defense. That decision rests with one person only.
I think the Powell Doctrine made it all a bit too clinical. I was working in a joint command for a four-star general, one of the so-called CINCs, at the time that the Powell Doctrine came—well, we saw it in draft.
And I objected to it on—we were supposed to write a response, and I wrote the response. I objected to it on those grounds. It was—that it was entirely—it was too restrictive a formula. That if the United States followed that formula, essentially it would entail a great deal more risk than otherwise. There are times, such as in the Balkans—
And our intervention in the Balkans and Kosovo—when it’s not overtly in America’s interest to be there. And you might—at the time even, it was asked, “Well, where are the Europeans? And if this is such a problem for the Balkans, where is the European community?” Well, they were there, but it wasn’t the same as when America intervened.
In that case, it turned out positively, and probably prevented a conflagration and perhaps even a genocide. So it turned out well there—in Somalia, it turned out very badly. Very badly indeed. In both cases, we violated the Powell Doctrine. Not out of perversity or ignorance, I think, but because it was decided the United States had a moral obligation to intervene in those places.
I don’t know how far I would go with moral intervention, the moral necessity of intervention, because it’s a kind of swamp. You have to, in any case, even if you’re a great power like the United States, be very selective about which fights you choose if you do indeed choose them. I think in Somalia, we entered—and I’m speaking from personal experience here, not—I was involved, at least on the periphery, in those days. I was in official harness in those days.
We entered Somalia for humanitarian reasons. It was a humanitarian mission, and on those grounds, we felt—it was felt we had a moral obligation to intervene. But history didn’t stop, as usual. The conflict evolved, and it evolved in a different direction because we were there. We were another factor in the evolution of the war, and eventually the original mission obsolesced—it morphed, and became something else. It became a peacekeeping mission, which is quite a different matter altogether. You use different troops, different capabilities, you have different expectations, you have different measures of success—all sorts of things.
So the war changed appreciably after we entered, and we did not adjust adequately, so it came to a bad end. So you take your chances, and I’m not sure that one formula, like the Powell Doctrine, is adequate for all the contingencies the United States faces.
Yet it seems as though the Powell Doctrine is framed, in part, to do the best one can to avoid the kind of uncertainty.
Well, one of the underlying assumptions in the Powell Doctrine is that it’s going to be quick and decisive. Use overwhelming force, get in as fast as you can, hit the enemy as fast, as hard as you can, and get out soon. The only problem with expeditions like this, they tend to last a lot longer than we expect them to. This so-called phase four of the operation, that is to say post-hostilities phase, always involves some degree of humanitarian rescue— perhaps reconstruction, perhaps political reformation. That certainly was the case in Panama.
Panama was not—the Panama intervention was not a one-off. I mean there was plenty to do after the fighting stopped. But it was the fighting itself that helped shape the peace that followed.
Well, one of the themes of your essay—and in general, I think it seems somewhat a theme to your work—is that it is that war is unpredictable. That there are agents of change, myriad agents of change in all directions.
And that you cannot prepare, really effectively for what you are going to—what war is going to do.
What would the—given that, what would the “Spiller Doctrine” be?
Intellectual preparation. If there’s one deficiency, it’s the deficiency of imagination, as—
As General Dempsey was saying.
As General Dempsey mentioned this morning in that film clip. That was—I’m very interested. I didn’t talk to him about that before he put that up. But I—it was very interesting to me that he would choose that as a theme. But I think that’s dead right.
Saying that war is unpredictable and fundamentally chaotic is not the same—as some people have said—not the same as a counsel for inaction. The great puzzle is—really the great paradox is that knowing all that, at some point you will have to act. You will act.
And you might not like it, and it might be under conditions that you never yourself would have chosen, but you must act to sustain the interests of the nation. I mean that’s—it goes with the territory. To paraphrase Mao, it’s not a dinner party, and it’s not a seminar.
But when you say “intellectual preparation”—so you’re saying or you could say that, “preparation of the imagination.” That itself is not a course of action.
It’s not a course of action, but it’ll govern the action that you choose. If you know, for instance—if we had understood, for instance, at the beginning of our involvement in Vietnam—if we had understood the roots of the Vietnamese independence movement. If we had understood the historic connections, the historic relationship between China and Indochina, and how much animosity there was between the two. If we’d understood the political landscape with any kind of acuity at all, inside both North Vietnam and South Vietnam, our courses of action would have been different. We wouldn’t have been so blithely confident that we could shoot our way to peace.
You write something in your essay, and I went over it several times, because I want to make sure I understand it. You said that Robert McNamara—
Tried to imagine what he would do if he were Ho Chi Minh—
If he were Ho Chi Minh, yeah.
And I sense that your critique of that was that he was taking himself and putting himself—
Into North Vietnam—
And saying, “What would I do?”
As opposed to saying, “What would Ho Chi Minh do?”
Right. That’s exactly right. In every disaster, there’s always one guy who knows. When the investigations come out of the oil spill in the gulf, I’ll bet you a dollar we find that there was one guy in BP who said, “Wait a minute, you don’t want to do it this way. This oil head is not fitted for this kind of operation. There are all sorts of technical problems here.” He’s probably going to be in middle management somewhere, or maybe a technical expert. He may look funny. He may dress funny. He may have bad habits, have a pugnacious personality, be disliked by his fellow employees. But he’s right. And the management blows him off.
If you go back—this is almost a hypothesis. If you go back to any disaster, military or industrial or otherwise, and dig deeply enough, you’ll find one of these guys. And the trick, I think for the leader is to be sufficiently open of mind to recognize that guy and to take him seriously long enough to consider what he has to say. I did a study of the Columbia shuttle disaster. There was a guy like that in NASA—Richard Roca, that’s his name. He’s—he told everybody. He told the middle managers. You know what their reply was? He said, “The heat seals—I don’t know if they’re going to stick, but I don’t like the way the film looks of the foam strike.”
You remember the foam that came off the launch vehicle? He said, “We need more photographs. We need to retask our satellites so we can get close photographs, close images, of the affected surface and see what damage has been done.” Senior management said, “We don’t want to screw around with the schedule. We have a tight schedule. There’s another launch to follow right after this one. We need to get this bird back down.”
There’s always a guy like Roca somewhere—I just know it in my bones. Being intellectually prepared means taking people like Roca seriously, for a minute at least.
I think there’s two steps to that, right? One is being willing to be changed by what you hear from someone.
That’s one thing. But the second thing is the art of knowing who may be right.
And that’s some kind of leadership chemistry, right? And General Dempsey mentioned that this morning, too.
Well, as you grow up—and I’ll speak directly to the Army. As you grow up as an officer in the Army, you gradually become committed to a corporate narrative, and it begins to affect—it sets up boundaries to your thinking. You’re not as—you tend to be less flexible as you go along. Within the orbit, within your immediate orbit, you may be known as a free thinker, but there’s always a limit about how free you can be.
It’s an institution of conformity on at least some level, right?
Of course, sure, and for good and practical reasons—
Armies must operate in unison if they can. I mean that’s, you know. It’s certainly a pre-democratic institution and a pre-industrial institution, even a prehistoric institution, and it bears all the signatures of those origins. It is a unique subculture, and it is very much a subculture. It has all the signatures of a subculture. Yeah.
And so it enforces certain patterns of thought along its members, which are very difficult to break out. And it is a practical problem. You don’t want a commander who’s running around willy-nilly, changing his mind every second, ’cause you have thousands of people who are awaiting your command. If you say, “Go left,” and then everybody’s going left, and you change your mind and they go right, to what end? So you have to always—it’s not rocket science. But it’s very difficult.
You always have to weigh the practicalities of changing your mind against the necessity of changing your mind and that’s not an easy task. That takes some practicing, and it takes some thinking about before the event occurs.
And I think if that—what General Dempsey was talking about with regard to the strategic education of Army leaders, if it can somehow—if what happens, eventually, can somehow instill the future leaders of the Army with that talent, that will be quite a step forward.
But here you have men and women who are trained on a certain plane of conformity and then leap into positions of strategic importance.
That are asked to make decisions, and according to the Spiller Doctrine—just for the moment—to hear the eccentric voice in the crowd and at least give it its—at least take it seriously.
How—what would it take—it’s one thing to hear it and another thing to say, “Let’s stop the production of this—”
Sometimes it takes a great deal of courage. You know, after Pearl Harbor, we could have just built more battleships. We lost two, a few were damaged, and the strike was certainly intended to disable the battle fleet. We could have said, “Okay, we’ll delay our entry into the Pacific war a little bit. We’ll just build—it’ll just take us a little while to build more battleships, but we’ll get there.” And indeed, we could have, and we did build more battleships—the Missouri—so.
But as against that was the cost of wasting time, and trying to reverse Japanese advances across the Pacific, which had grown just exponentially since the spring. So you could’ve made—the American government could have made a very wrong decision at that point. Instead, we took what carriers we had, and they carried—they really carried the burden of the Pacific War. I don’t’ think that was apprehended by Naval doctrine before World War II, and they did an enormous number of tests and games and simulations about Pacific war, how to fight a Pacific war—a battleship-heavy Pacific war. Some exercises with carrier forces. But the reality—I mean the carriers proved to be much, much more important to the Pacific war than anyone had given them any credit for in doctrine before World War II.
Do you think that the—
But there were some carrier fans—
Some carrier enthusaists, that said, “The carrier is the way of the future for Naval warfare. They’re the linchpin of advancing our forces across the Pacific.” So there were guys out there, but they didn’t have institutional power.
The beginning part of this quarter-century was a time of enormous technological advances, and there was a sense that, I’m sure then, like we say now, that the future is boundless, and that we have no idea what kind of wars we’re going to be fighting. But it does seem like we have—the uncertainty has grown exponentially into our own time. Do you look at the future of wars of the twenty-first century as within the scope of the imagination of those leaders in charge right now?
I don’t think we know. I don’t think we can know until the event. We can make forecasts, but we may be far wrong. That’s the other vexing part about it. If it were all predictable, we would have fixed it a long time ago, wouldn’t we? But again, that’s not a counsel for inaction. But that’s—the paradox is even in the face of all this uncertainty—as the Athenians said in the History of the Pelopennisian Wars, just as they were beginning. They said, “We have to abide their outcome in the dark.” War is so predictable.
But they were not counseling a lack of response from Athens against Spartan aggression. The Athenians weren’t going to back down, even though they knew the inherent tragedy of what was about to occur, and the uncertainly of it all. Still, they went into the war very confident that they were going to win—of course they did, you know? They didn’t win, but they could not foresee—they couldn’t foresee the plague of Athens. They couldn’t foresee how minor results would have great effects. They couldn’t see how some of their victories would have negative effects, and some of their defeats would have positive effects. There was no way of predicting any of that.
Though this is a good segue into going back more directly to the conference title of war termination. The notion of victory, that you say in your essay has become somewhat archaic, or has changed in its—
No, I think it’s limiting. I think it obscures the complexity of what we’re doing. It may once have been possible to think that all wars ended in a great victory that you could paint on a mural. I don’t— on closer examination, if you look at how wars actually finish, and the nature of the peace that follows, you find that victory is not really an event. I mean the end of war is not really an event like victory, I should say, and that its effects can reverberate throughout for years. Just for years.
As late as—you know the 1840s the United States was still dealing with questions that had arisen during the American Revolution. The treatment of the native peoples and the expansion to the west—what was then the old northwest. But I mean in the 1840s, we’re still having disputes with Great Britain over boundaries. You know, almost—I mean there was a war cry there for a while—not a serious one, nothing that took us to the brink of war with Great Britain—but it was this diplomatic crisis of some magnitude. I mean that’s—I believe it’s more than half a century later?
And how many years have we been in a semi-state of war in Korea after the [Korean War] armistice? That was in what, 1953? Over half a century. If someone had come to President Truman just after the North Koreans invaded South Korea in the summer of 1950 and said, “Mr. President, we have to go to war to defend the sovereignty of South Korea, to prevent its being overtaken by the communist North. The price for this is probably going to be about 60,000 casualties and 100,000 more wounded.
“And oh yes, by the way, we’re going to have to occupy the southern part of the country for the next half century,” what do you think his response would have been? He probably wouldn’t have been to happy about this. Probably would’ve been reluctant to go. And yet he had, he felt, no choice under the circumstances at the time. He simply felt he had no choice, and that is, indeed, the great paradox.
So, in a sense, what you’re also saying is that wars can really never terminate, or terminate a century later.
Well, they terminate in a pace that’s far—the denoument is much, much longer than we always want to think.
They aren’t necessarily related to battlefield victories.
Or, necessarily related to the original goals of war.
And those are always—those are always in a state of motion—always in a state of motion.
You mentioned yesterday that the one thing that is rarely understood is the way that the enemy can change the conduct and the outcome of the war.
Even the loser—
Can change the conduct.
Losers are not without their resources. It’s very interesting to look at the end of our involvement in Vietnam from that angle. The United States at the end of—even though we are—we had telegraphed our intentions to leave South Vietnam no matter what the cost, as President Thieu suspected. We nevertheless had certain advantages we could have played in the peace negotiations. But the Nixon administration was hell-bent on getting out as soon as possible, for reasons of political discord at home as much as anything.
And the, you know, the American people were having their vote. Well, the North Vietnamese played that advantage very well, but we had advantages, too. We had enormous, overwhelming strength, that we—mostly what we did was cut back on that strength as fast as we could. I think there might’ve been other ways to orchestrate our departure from that war, and essentially leave Southeast Asia in a much more equitable way than we did. It’s still quite an emotional subject, the way in which we left that war. And I think we may get over it in another couple of generations, but not any time soon.
Well, and I imagine you would agree that the way that we left has had an impact on the future wars.
It has an impact right now.
It has an impact. The shadow of Vietnam hangs over every one of our communications with Hamid Karzai, and with the government of Afghanistan—with our attitude toward the enemy or enemies in Afghanistan and Iraq—with our putative allies in Pakistan. Vietnam is right there behind the curtain.
Even more than the first Gulf War. It’s all—you know, history has a savage way about it. I mean historical memory has a savage way about it. It’s not symmetrical, and it’s not uniform, and it’s not—it’s not arranged chronologically. You sort of look back and pick the things that impress you the most. Those are the things that tend to influence your behavior in the future. I mean the best analogy is the old Munich—the old Munich and appeasement analogy.
How long did Munich play in the political imagination? Even though we fought Korea, and we encountered the Kimoy-Matsu crisis, and the intervention in Lebanon—all that was over and above what was happening in Southeast Asia. Munich held on and held on, and it—
Munich is still holding on.
It’s still holding on.
And it still an impact.
Fewer people understand the analogy these days.
But you can call somebody a [Neville] Chamberlain now—people will know what that means.
Yeah. Yeah, certain people, yeah. Yeah—an informed reader will know.
You say the great distance between executive decision and military action for which generals often prayed and policymakers cursed shrank rapidly during these years. Can you explain that in a little bit more depth? For the first half, how does generals—why is it that generals pray for a great distance between executive decisions?
Because they have independence.
They want to do their own war.
They—particularly in American history, they fear the input of a naïve civilian.
It’s not just American history. Napoleon, when he was on campaign in Russia, in order to receive communication from Paris, I think the loop was about two weeks. He had the best communication system in continental Europe—very fast—perhaps the fastest. Probably faster than the Rothschild communication system, which was for the financial network. But it was very fast. It was very advanced for its time. Yet it still was two weeks between decision and action, essentially.
And what is it now? One email away, you know? The theater commander will walk around with a Blackberry in his hand, and have a running conversation with his President. That’s a pretty tight loop.
With Andy Jackson, he’d make his reputation on—
[Laughter] Yeah. Andy wouldn’t be flying towards New Orleans if he’d had a Blackberry. That’s what I meant. It’s—it’s not just the advance of communications. It’s changed our mentality about what can be accomplished, and sometimes makes us quite unrealistic, because regardless of how much has changed in war, its fundamental elements have not. It’s still composed of violence and destruction. These things, at the very least, take time.
I was going to say, you think that this, the speed with which decisions must—the speed with which decisions may be made, now, works negatively upon the conduct of a—the use of deadly force?
I do. I would—in this instance, in this restrictive instance, I’d like a lot less efficiency, actually. I’d like a little lag time, because the stakes are so high, not only for us but for the enemy and the population. And it would be nice to have a little less efficiency in that regard, but we’re not going in that direction. That’s not the way war is going. It’s going the opposite direction.
You say, so it’s “All the more ironic that at the same time the idea should’ve arisen that war could be treated as if it took place in a laboratory, grown in a petri dish under strictly controlled conditions.”
Yes. That’s a—that really, in a theoretical sense, really seemed to reach its high point during the early ’60s during the Vietnam War. A lot of it took its inspiration from the works of Thomas Schelling, who wrote very—a future Nobel laureate in economics—who wrote very—several very influential pieces on the management, the strategic management of war, in which he—and a lot of people who followed his school—believed that the actions of war themselves were almost incidental to the process of managing the war.
That, to use Wayne Lee’s phrase from this morning, military actions were merely bargaining chips. They had no intrinsic value of their own. They were entirely derivative of larger activity.
Well, this is the politics by other means.
Yeah, it is. Schelling thought—Schelling thought that conflict was nothing more or less than a bargaining process, and this derived from his studies in market economics, especially closed markets in which there were a limited number of competitors. And these negotiations, this bargaining, occurred between elites, locked up in conference rooms without any kind of input from outside it at all. Well, elite markets might work that way—I don’t think—wars are public business, and you can’t close yourself off in a laboratory in order to run them.
How much of this is driven by the human arrogance that—
Yes. A great deal of it. But this is part of what makes us human. War is part of what makes us human.
And unpredictability is what makes us human.
Wars do not begin by accident but deliberately and with purpose. That is how they are fought and that is how they end.
The notion that there is an accidental war, that’s—I don’t know where that comes from. It’s a very soothing idea, but we do it to ourselves. We may be wrong, but we start it on purpose. We have something in mind. It may be a stupid idea. The cause may be pernicious—may be dreadful. But we start it in the hope that we can advance that cause. I mean that’s a very deliberate act. That’s a choice. Even those who are attacked have a choice. They can submit. They can do other things. They might not like—the alternatives may not be acceptable to them, so they fight. They defend themselves. And sometimes they succeed.
But these are all choices. There’s nothing mysterious about this. This is a very human act—a very human act.
Would you say that they end in the same way?
They do end that—they do end deliberately, but not as a consequence of deliberation by policymakers alone, or strategists alone. The idea that you can—you can no longer manage a war’s course—not all of it. You can some of it. But you can no more manage the totality of a war’s termination than you can the totality of the war while it’s going on. Some factors are beyond your reach to control or manipulate, and that’s—that’s the origin of much of the uncertainty, not to mention the interaction between you and your enemies.
So this—the interactive nature of war, and its very broad range of factors that impact on what’s happening—those things are not susceptible to control. You can’t run that thing off a computer. It’s just not—as I said, it’s prehistoric.
And yet with all this chaos associated with wars, we associate our greatest of Presidents as—I should say every one of what we would call our greatest of Presidents is associated with some war.
It may be the greatest test a President could ever face. It may well be. I don’t want to over-dignify war or over-dramatize it. Presidents face great crises of other sorts—crises of ethos, moral crises that are in their way, as important or maybe more important than war itself. But war is pretty much—it’s high up in the hit parade of things Presidents are faced with.
And yet, you could argue that some Presidents work to avoid war.
And were less—less glorified through history—Eisenhower, for instance. We seem to becoming more off today.
Woodrow Wilson. Yes, not every—not every President is anxious to go to war. I don’t—I think if one were to ask President Obama, candidate, whether he would rather have taken office during the war or when it was at peace, I think he would choose B. And were it within his power to affect, I think he would like to make the war disappear—only the war is not going to disappear. And so he has a limited range of options, a limited number of roads to go down. And as usual in circumstances like this some of the choices, most of the choices perhaps, are unpalatable. You have to choose between lesser evils.
Talk to me about Morgenthau’s Plan—
And the wish for wars to end with retribution.
Hmm. The Morgenthau Plan—
This’d be Henry Morgenthau.
This is Henry Morgenthau, Secretary of the Treasury to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the author, or the patron, if you like, of a plan put together in the Department of the Treasury. I mean it really wasn’t Treasury’s mission to think about the fate of post-war Germany, but that’s what it was aimed at.
It was a draconian plan, that in general called for the permanent agricultural enfeeblement of occupied Germany. And it came out—it was encouraged, at least in part, by early talk in the Roosevelt Administration during World War II, from 1942-1943, about what to do with the Germans if we won.
Of course, those were days in which the outcome of this war was not certain. It was still very much a crapshoot, and—but nevertheless, they were talking about it. And both Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill entertained very punitive—ideas of a very punitive peace for Germany. And it was out of that mentality, born in the white heat of the war, this policy of unconditional surrender came. And Morgenthau’s Plan was meant to translate the policy of unconditional surrender into a reality on the ground in Germany, by first of all de-Nazifying the population, the male population—exactly how was not specified. De-industrializing which is completely reducing all the industry in Germany.
By those two principal methods, Roosevelt and Churchill were agreed that they wanted to create a post-war Germany that could not in a few years time work a resurgence of its military strength as it had after World War I. So in 1942 and 1943, Western policy makers—and Stalin, too—are dealing with the problems of war termination that were born in World War I. They’re still—that unconditional surrender is essentially a reverberation of World War I and what Germany did—Germany’s eventual rearmament after World War I.
Now, did it include the killing of male population over a certain age, as I read?
No. Churchill and—one source tells me that Churchill and General Eisenhower discussed, perhaps in a not-very-serious way—but discussed, executing all general staff officers, German general staff officers, over the rank of Major—50,000 or so.
And that is to say summary field execution without benefit of trial, by discretion of the local commander. Stand them up against the wall as soon as they’re taken prisoner and kill them. At the same time, Roosevelt was—again, perhaps jokingly—talking about castrating all German males of military age. So—
Interesting it was a racial solution—
The scent of vengeance was very much in the air in 1943 or so. Well, the Morgenthau Plan—Morgenthau, who was just as seized with the idea of vengeance as anyone else, maybe more so—gave voice to these impulses with his plan, and talked Roosevelt into approving a draft of the plan in the fall of 1944. Of course, it was a confidential or a classified plan, but it was soon enough leaked—by whom, I don’t know. I don’t know that anybody has said. But Drew Pearson ended up with the Morgenthau Plan, or a summary of it, and published it, I think, in the Washington Post.
It was a tremendous outcry, mainly from editorial writers. The American people—public opinion—they weren’t so concerned. It didn’t bother them all that much. But opinion writers, such as Walter Lippmann at the time, came out square against it. There was also a movement inside the Roosevelt Administration at the time to counter the pernicious effects of the Morgenthau Plan, because it was believed that as soon as the plan became public, it encouraged stiffer resistance on the part of the Germans on the front.
And in fact, the Office of Strategic Services reported from Bern that that’s exactly what was happening inside Germany. And one American Army officer who had access to the White House said that the Morgenthau Plan was worth 30 German divisions. His numbers, I think, were off, but the point was made well enough, and Morgenthau—even though Morgenthau’s—the Roosevelt Administration eventually repudiated the substance of the Morgenthau Plan. But elements of it hung on, even after Secretary of War Stimson talked Roosevelt into backing away publicly from the plan.
Stimson wanted war crimes trials. Wanted the leaders of Germany to be brought to account before the bar of international justice. He was not opposed to de-Nazification in any way, and he was not—he was not enthusiastic about de-industrialization of Germany. But he came to realize—as, indeed, did Churchill, who was never really crazy about the de-industrialization element of the Morgenthau Plan—that if you reduce Germany to an agricultural republic, there was an additional problem that had to be taken into account. And that was the Russians—had already made plain their intention to occupy all of Germany east of the Oder-Neisse line, which is all of Germany’s agricultural land.
So you would have several tens of million starving Germans to look after after the war, because there was not going to be—no interchange between the Soviet zone and the other zones of occupation. So there was a—there was a backing-off from the harshest elements of the Morganthau Plan, and as America’s occupation policies, post-war policies, worked out, they were muted even more by rising concerns over Soviet aggression and Soviet intentions in Western Europe.
And so what you got at Nuremberg was a limited number of leaders who were brought to trial and either executed or imprisoned. And a large number of those imprisoned, even those given life-imprisonment, were out of prison within the next 10 or 15 years. Lower-ranking Nazis, a lot of them, stood no trial at all. And that’s a far cry from what Churchill and Eisenhower had muted a couple years before.
How interesting within that short period of time that such a transformation was made. And I imagine that already there was a deeper understanding that the total surrender that had been demanded of Germany from World War I was one of the reasons why Germany rose in World War II.
Exactly. And I think when President Truman succeeded President Roosevelt in the Spring of ’45, in May of ’45, that I think Truman instinctively understood that. And, I think, by that time, of course, Henry Stimson had just enormous prestige within the government. You know, he’s dying by inches in front of everybody, and he refuses to retire. If you read his diaries, you can see how he’s kind of triangulating between his deteriorating personal health and the seriousness of the problems facing him, because at the same time he’s trying to moderate what Morgenthau has put in motion.
He’s trying to do the same thing with regard to Japan, and that’s a story with a completely different twist, but again it all turns on the policy of unconditional surrender.
Let’s talk about the story, a little bit, of Japan. The introduction of the bomb at the end of the Second World War.
Talk about World War termination.
Here is one of the grand statements of war termination.
And one that hangs over the world ever since.
Yes. Yes. Again, it’s too simple a picture. A very complex—very complex situation. But there were moves to mute the idea of—first of all, Roosevelt—and even Truman—were much less concerned with the post-war fate of Japan than they were of Germany. They just spent more time with Germany than they did with the war against Japan. Inside the Department of State at the Assistant Secretary of State level, there was a fellow named Joseph Grew, who around whom there crystallized a movement of people who really knew something about Japanese life and culture. Who had lived in Japan, who had studied and worked in Japan, who as far as they were able understood Japanese culture—they knew more about Japanese culture than anybody else in America, probably, with a possible exception of a couple of scholars in universities.
And so they took this knowledge—the policy of unconditional surrender sort of collided with their knowledge of Japan, and how it might be possible to construct a peace. And it would have to be painstakingly constructed, and if you did it the wrong way you would invite even more disaster. So from about late 1942 onward, which is really quite early, Grew and some of his colleagues began to lobby very powerfully. And eventually managed to convince Stimson that—public opinion polls at the time, enormous numbers wanted just the outright execution of the emperor, for instance. The dismantlement of Japan—the complete partitioning of Japan into little principalities that would never rise again as a unified state—essentially, the destruction of Japanese culture and life.
And this was because Japan, unlike Germany, had actually struck the United States?
Yes, and also because of its conduct during the war, which was judged by Americans as inhuman, bestial, barbaric, so on and so forth. But which, in point of fact, was perfectly consonant with the history of Japanese military culture. They were doing—what they were doing had a cultural basis. It was of relatively recent vintage, as several new works on Japan have pointed out, and it was kind of an ersatz culture, a pseudo-military culture that Japan went to war with, but it was their culture, and they had been working at it. The Japanese military certainly had been working at it very intensely since the ascent of Hirohito to the throne in the early ’20s. So they’d had plenty of time to prepare the public.
What’s your sense of—just as an aside again—War Without Mercy, the book?
I do like that book. I do like it very much. It’s been criticized on the grounds that it spins too much around race as a causative factor in our behavior, and in Japanese behavior toward us. There may be some justice in those criticisms, but I think the depth of learning and the complexity of what John has done—I think that’ll stand for quite a long time. It’s—as is so often the case in these academic disputes of interpretation, it really comes down to fairly small differences.
But back to the A-bomb as a—you know, now you have a—talk about war termination, war cannot necessarily—to preserve the human race, war cannot spin out to its natural end of hostilities. That covers everything going forward, right?
You know the Garry Wills book, too, I assume, Bomb Power book. This is a—an agent to this narrative that can never be removed.
That’s part of the great sea change in, I think, public opinion that’s occurred in the past—certainly in the past two centuries, but certainly in the twentieth century. That war cannot be allowed to “run its course” ’cause the course it runs toward is the extinction of a large part of the human race. There’s another trend which should be recognized, and which should play an important role in all our future considerations about war and peace. At the beginning of the twentieth century, 10% of all those who died in wars were civilians. At the end of the twentieth century, 90% of all those who died in wars are civilians.
So at the end of—statistically speaking, at the end of the century, it’s much safer to be in uniform than out of it. At least there, you’re surrounded by your weapons. But that’s not a trend I think is going to be reversed, because as you may have heard this morning—let’s see, whose presentation was it? It may have been Gian Gentile who brought it up, or Joe Glatthaar—the idea that the locus—oh, it was during the Q&A period. The idea that the locus of political authority and political legitimacy was—in earlier times, the age of limited war, the capital was considered the queen of the chess game. If you took the queen, you took the war.
Well, the queen’s changed, and now it’s people, so if you’re fighting for the people, you’re also fighting among the people. And if you’re fighting among the people, the people who are not directly engaged in combat are going to suffer.
And how ironic how that plays in the role American—American and world history—
Because we are the ones that declare the people to be sovereign, and here we are. The people sovereign, and we are, in a sense—
Because of it, with more power to the people as a mass.
And it may well be that the future Army doctrine will turn in the direction of saying that the population-centric warfare is the way of the future.
There’s a powerful argument to be made for that. It means that our style of warfare will have to change, if that’s true, in which the minimizing of casualties, not the taking of casualties, not the creating of casualties is the aim. How to express military power in nonviolent means—that might be the great challenge of the twenty-first century.
Well, as a last question, yeah, explain to me your reactions to the Petraeus Doctrine.
Well, insofar as I understand it, I’m suspicious of any doctrine that—it’s not because of David.
No, I’m sure.
I don’t think David is promulgating it as an all-for-one solution.
No, I understand.
He has a much more artistic brain than that sort of thing implies. But other people will imply, will infer, that this is the only way to go. Like the Powell Doctrine.
That this is the only way to go, and that we don’t need to think about it any more. I think when we start doing that again, we’re in trouble from not using our brains. Wars, I think, are won and lost and ended in the mind, and they—and all the missteps begin there. And the missteps, miscalculations to begin the war, the miscalculations during the war, or the victories and defeats in the war, and the calculations by which we end them. They all start there.
Well, then, taking and spinning that out a little further, the—I guess this is no different than the rest of human history—the fate of these issues is built upon the courage and the character and the soul of the people who make these decisions.
War is a human art, above all else.
Thank you very much.
|institution||Texas State University|
|unit||US Army Command and General Staff College|