War is hell

A combat veteran remembers

The early battles of the presidential campaign are now being waged, like a preemptive electoral crusade in which both sides promise to take no prisoners. Already we have been treated (or subjected) to a barrage of war talk, pitting a decorated-combat-veteran-turned-war-protester against a self-proclaimed war president without combat experience. Broadsides about John Kerry’s weakness on defense spending have been met by a counterfire of accusations that the Bush administration was asleep on its watch oblivious to pre-9/11 terrorist threats.

In steeling ourselves for the long rhetorical war that awaits us in deciding who is most worthy to be our commander in chief, we would do well to recall the words of General William Tecumseh Sherman. Having himself perpetrated an extraordinary amount of bloodshed and devastation, he warned all who might be given to bellicosity that “war is hell.”

Sherman prefaced that timeless observation by noting that “War is at best barbarism....Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation.” War is barbarism because it accomplishes nothing, at least nothing constructive or productive, that couldn’t be accomplished by other means. More to the point, war is moonshine because resorting to it signifies failure.

It is, first, a failure of...

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About the Author

Gregory D. Foster, a professor at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, National Defense University, Washington, D.C., is a West Point graduate and decorated veteran of the Vietnam War. The views expressed here are his own.