column I did my best to summarize a very disagreeable book.
Today, I will be looking at another rather short book, which has
an interesting and important central theme. That theme is that "warfare
against civilians must never be answered in kind"1
further, that such warfare is everywhere and always "self-defeating"
and counterproductive. It is hard to disagree.
book – more or less hot off the press – is Caleb Carr's The
Lessons of Terror.
author grew up in the Beatnik milieu and, perhaps in reaction to
that, became a military historian. He is best known, however, for
his novels. Clearly, such a writer might defy conventional categorization.
DIFFERENT VISION OF ROME
has a somewhat different view of Roman antiquity than
that held by Mr. Kaplan, whose book I recently treated.
Carr writes that Romans only fought "with relentless
yet disciplined ferocity" and that, therefore, their
wars tended to be total and destructive. Their indiscriminate
warfare against an enemy's entire society – the most
notable case being the eradication of Carthage – and
their "pronounced taste for revenge" against challengers
or rebels became, in the end, "powerful enough to threaten
the stability that the empire's brilliant system of
citizenship and manumission had made seem so unshakable."2
is a lesson here, and Carr has already drawn it for
us: "we can detect in the example of Rome the most essential
truth about warfare against civilians: that when waged
without provocation it usually brings on retaliation
in kind, and when turned to for retaliatory purposes
it only perpetuates a cycle of revenge and outrage than
can go on for generations." Interestingly, the most
effective and threatening opponents of Roman rule had,
surprise, surprise, been trained by the Romans themselves.
Carr concludes: "a nation must never think that it can
use (and especially train) the agents of terror when
convenient and then be rid of them when they are no
all the inflationary money floating around these days,
perhaps some can be found for carving that last sentence
in stone at the entrance to the US State Department.
Carr gives some historical examples of his principle
at work. But we must forge ahead.
'WARS OF RELIGION,' AND MORE
pass over Carr's treatment of the Crusades in the interest
of getting on to some other topics. He sees in the famous
mercenary armies hired in quarrels between Renaissance
Italian city-states the germ of what he calls "progressive
war."4 Unluckily, the
mercenary captains' code of conduct based on minimal
bloodshed and destruction failed to win many friends.
Despite its advantages, it seemed unvirtuous, un-martial,
and even unpatriotic to many observers, including that
ambitious fellow Nicolò Machiavelli.
wars which followed upon the Reformation were, according
to Carr, "particularly savage because of a deadly mixture
of outdated military thinking and progressive military
he argues, improved warfare by creating a disciplined
army, which could follow orders to respect civilian
lives and property, except – as Carr notices – in Ireland.
On the Continent, French campaigns thrived on violence
against society, and in a rather sweeping survey, Carr
suggests that the weaknesses (and eventual downfall)
of the Ottoman and Aztec empires owed much to their
style of war and conquest.
Carr's account touches that of Mr. Kaplan in an appreciation
of Thomas Hobbes. Carr presents Hobbes as a serious
fellow, who sought to find the foundations of order.
There is room for disagreement, I think, about the value
of Hobbes' contributions – and certainly about their
the real hero of the book is Frederick II of Prussia
("the Great"). In Carr's view, this monarch "devised
the most powerful statement and proof yet that wars
were best fought for particular and realistic political
goals by soldiers whose restrained behavior would limit
the impact of conflict on civilians and thereby maintain
or even win those citizens' loyalty."6
Frederick sought to avoid large-scale pitched battles
of destruction, preferred maneuver, and forced his opponents
to do likewise.
1758, Emmerich de Vattel, a Swiss jurist, theorized
Frederick's progressive warfare. He was more interested
in how a war was conducted than in the justness of the
cause of either side. On his principles, unjust conduct
calls into question the cause of those undertaking such
conduct. Carr notes that this would apply to terrorist
actions against civilians7
– but equally well to the conduct of great powers.
Russians, and European colonists overseas come in for
much criticism from Carr along these lines. Partisan
warfare in the American Revolution with its ideological
dimension often stepped over the line. But it
was the French Revolution which let all Hell break loose.
AND TOTAL WAR
war was born (or reborn) with the French Revolution
and the campaigns of Napoleon. The latter's "subordination
of all other human activities to the needs of his army
had an effect equal to any deliberate targeting of civilians."8
This generated opposition and guerrilla movements against
here we find what I see as one of the most important
points in Carr's book. Carr is able to distinguish in
principle between guerrillas and terrorists. It all
has to do with his central theme. The question is who they target. Attacks by guerrillas on enemy armed forces are
one thing; attacks by them on civilians, another.9
this basis, Carr can criticize terrorist groups along
with states that practice total war. Since he has already shocked common
sensibilities by attributing humane warfare to a Prussian
monarch in the face of inherited Anglo-American superstitions
about all things German, he can hardly shock readers
much further by putting many Officially Good causes
and leaders on the list of those who have practice,
in effect, state terrorism.
Carr casts aspersions on British attacks on American
civilians in the War of 1812, Lincoln's use of total
warriors like Sherman and Sheridan, the British starvation
blockade of Germany in World War I, the German response
of unrestricted submarine warfare, and the later career
and tactics of the Irish Republican Army. Carl von Clausewitz,
who theorized Napoleon's style of warfare and not the
Prussian tradition, comes in, finally, for some well-earned
is room to disagree with some of Carr's detailed allocations
of blame. Much more serious is his set of policy recommendations
at the end. These perhaps derive from his Hobbesian-Cromwellian-Frederician
concern with discipline as the key to keeping wars "progressive"
(roughly, "humane"). Certainly, the situation cries
out for strong remedies.
handing out even more money
so as to train up a humane set of intelligence and other
operatives sounds to me like a typically conformist-liberal
notion. The schools don't work? Spend more money! The
rule of law has vanished? Train more lawyers! There's
inflation and unemployment simultaneously? Call Alan
Greenspan! The military take an amoral view of attacking
civilians? Retrain them!
main "absence" in this very useful book is the US empire.
It may be in there, a bit, but its existence gets little
treatment as such, certainly not as a structural cause
of many of our warlike adventures, and as something
whose legitimacy could be debated. Sending the Generals,
Colonels, and Captains to ethics seminars might be good;
but redefining US foreign policy might take in more
of the problems.
the abolition of failed or inherently criminal agencies,
retreat from empire is not on Carr's agenda. He accepts
what is, and just wants to see its defenders behave
better. Well, that is something, and it would be wrong
to criticize overmuch a book whose central theme is
that it is always wrong and ultimately futile to attack
civilians and private property. You can forgive a lot
for that one point.
Lessons of Terror (New York: Random House,
2002), p. 13.
Ibid., pp. 22-23.
Ibid., p. 85.
Ibid., pp. 126-130.