The Futility of War

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

Since the beginning of recorded history there have been lots of wars and none has ever totally achieved its stated goal. There have been civil wars, extortionate wars, war of attrition, religious wars, colonial and liberation wars, proxy wars, Cold War, and dynastic wars. Either way one looks at it, wars are generally deemed lose-lose situations. And because wars are unpredictable, there are rarely winners since both sides suffer mental and physical harm. And no one who has ever been to a war or witnessed wars would ever wish for another war, save for a mad man. Sadly and unfortunately, the world is full of mad men, rogue regimes and leaders possessed by hubris with a willingness to send young men and women to their early death.

Wars are atrocious. From Cicero to St. Thomas Aquinas, and from Hugo Grotius to Immanuel Kant, Timothy Jackson, Sari Nusseibeh and George Weigel, scholars up and down the ages have written about wars — especially “just wars.” St Augustine for instance justified war if (1) one was defending against unprovoked external aggression; (2) recapturing things taken, i.e. territory; and (3) punishing those who committed egregious harm, i.e. genocide. In recent years the United States Catholic Conference averred that “force may be used only to correct a grave, public evil, i.e., aggression or massive violation of the basic human rights of whole populations.”

By executive order, government fiat or a declaration by Congress, war can begin. In other words, it is easy to start a war; but, putting a stop to war is very difficult because of the ensuing enmity, negotiations, jostling and hustling of positions and boundaries. And even when there is cessation of hostility, provisions has to be made for lasting peace (peacekeeping) between the warring parties. Also, individual nations have to care for the wounded in addition to paying compensation to the families of the deceased. It should also be noted that rebuilding the infrastructures can sometimes task a nation’s economy. And in fact, ten to fifteen years after cessation of hostilities, most African nations have yet to recover from the ravages of war. Angola and Mozambique are cases in point. And indeed, some believe that Nigeria is yet to recover from the 1967-70 civil war.

As destructive as wars are, they are also unpredictable. For instance, no nation that started a major war, either in the twentieth or twenty-fist century, has ever emerged victorious. Germany and Austria-Hungary that started World War I went down in defeat; Saddam Hussein lost during the first Gulf War, and the United States is no where near victory in the ongoing war; Slobodan Milosevic and his henchmen were the losers for starting the Balkans war in the 1980s; and the recent Israeli-Hezbollah war which lasted almost five weeks has turned out to be a draw. What did Israel gain? Instead of swapping two prisoners, they have now lost face, lost about fifty soldiers and dozens of civilians in addition to incurring loss of revenue and damaged infrastructures. How wise is that?

They expected to deliver a knockout blow to the jugular vein of the Hezbollah. That didn’t happen. In the end, Israel would still have to engage in prisoners’ exchange. As a result of the unintended consequence of the war, Hezbollah and its leaders are about to ride into town on a horse back — seen as heroes within and outside of the Middle East. But is this the end of the skirmish? I doubt it! Not as long as the root cause of the war remains unsolved. Somehow, I also doubt if Israel would allow Hassan Nasrallah to “go and come at will.” Even so, the universal lesson here is this: unless you attend to the root causes of a problem, no amount of cosmetic surgery would do. That is to say that even if Nasrallah was/is eliminated, Hezbollah and HAMAS and the underlining problems would not go away.

Although it is too early to tell, most analysts are likely to declare the Israeli-Hezbollah skirmish a draw: no victor no vanquished. And here is why: (1) The Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert gravely underestimated the tenacity, the might and intelligence of Hezbollah and its leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah; (2) the Israeli government did not consider or anticipate the ensuing global outcry to the war, and also assumed that the Israeli public would give the government a carte blanche approval to go to war; (3) Olmert wanted to prove to himself and to the Israeli public that he has what it took to be an Ariel Sharon, and like Sharon, he could squash Hezbollah. Unfortunately, he forgot two things: he is not Sharon; and Sharon failed in his attempt to asphyxiate and then decapitate Hezbollah.

And finally, Olmert blindly followed the advice of President Bush (with the hope that, somehow, Iran and Syria could be lured into the fight). If Iran had taken the bait, Tehran would have been leveled; and Damascus made to beg for her life. Bush was willing to just “slap and forgive” Syria; but not so with Iran. Nothing short of an overkill of Iran would have satisfied Bush. But somehow, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Iran) and President Bashar al-Asad (Syria) wised up to the calculation and “stayed away.”

Did Hezbollah and her backers think Israel was going to engage in an all out attack when they kidnapped the two or three Israeli soldiers? I doubt it! In all probability they thought Israel was going to look the other way and may be agree to prisoners’ exchange. After all, Ehud Olmert is not Ariel Sharon; and so they mistook him for a “softie.” This was a blunder on the part of Hassan Nasrallah: a misreading of his adversary’s character. For that reason Lebanon has lost millions of dollars in tourist revenue, incurred damages to bridges, homes and other infrastructures. But more than that, hundreds lost their lives and thousands more became refugees in their own country. A whole lot of people would be angry at Hezbollah for bringing their “house down.” Now and for the next three or more years, they have to rebuild a country that was just coming of a protracted civil war.

There are lessons for all parties to learn here. And in fact, some of these lessons may not be apparent for two or more years. In the end though, the Israeli government must rethink its hastiness to go to war. Looking at the larger picture however, one thing is clear: the State of Israel must grant statehood to the Palestinians in order to put a stop to these circle of war-peace-war-peace. What is needed is a permanent peace. And this can only come about if Tel Aviv recognizes the right of the Palestinians to self government. After all these years, I still do not understand why Israel would want to keep lording over their neighbor. It simply doesn’t make sense.

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1 comment

Godwin August 16, 2006 - 2:40 am

The Israeli Hizbollah war a lesson learnt the hard way and a useful one too for both gladiators. The first lesson of this war is that the easiest way to loose any war is to go into battle with a mindset that underestimates the capacity and the capability of the enemy. Any war that is worth fighting should be planned and executed with the intention to overwhelm the enemy as against the piece meal effort that characterized Israels operations. Israels lack luster effort reminds me of the Chinese proverb that goes thus he who seeks revenge must dig two graves one for himself and one for his enemy If the Israelis had the benefit of this age long proverb perhaps their attitude to this war would have been different.

However if this war was not propagated in this manner Israel wouldnt have had the opportunity to find out that Hizbollah has grown more formidable. How would they have been able to know the constituent of Katusha rockets and damages they can inflict? They now also know that Hezbolla is a multifaceted fighting force that can choose to fight conventional warfare or adopt the tactics of guerrilla. This may present an opportunity for Israeli army to adopt more effective means to respond to Hezbollas fighting strategies

One aspect of this battle that seems to replicate similar situation elsewhere is the eagerness of battle commanders to conclude that they have decimated the camp of the enemy without evidence of commensurate carnage or casualties on the battle field. The experience of Americans with Saddam Husseins revolutionary Guard and the Baath Party was enough to make the Israelis conclude that Hezbollah fighters must have dissolved into the community unfortunately they concluded otherwise. The foregoing is always the problem encountered by soldiers fighting in built up areas. If the Isrealis had information on the numerical strength of Hezbollah fighters in an area before a battle one would expect them to account for the movement of the enemy after the battle before any forward movement, or else one may just conclude that they bargained for series of ambushes that they ran into owing to the effort of pockets Hezbollah operatives still in the area.

On seeing the kind of losses Hezbollah and all the inhabitants of their territory in Lebanon has suffered in this war, I had a flash back to a situation I witnessed when I was growing up, a kid attacked my friend on our way back from school, effort by elders around to stop this belligerent kid from fighting my friend proved abortive, eventually both of them got entangled and got into a serious fight, my friend gave a good account of himself in the fight but we were to discover that the shirt of the troublesome kid which was the only school uniform he had got torn to shred somehow. Eventually this children quarrel graduated to the level of parents as the father of the troublesome kid wants his son shirt replaced. The matter was eventually settled without any compensation whatsoever, when one of the elder who tried to pacify the boy who was hell bent on fighting strolled in. After listening to both parents for some time then he turned to the boy with the turn shirt gesticulating his finger at him in the presence of his father, he said you! you! I say make you no fight you say you no go gree, I think you don see now say I no go gree dey tear shirt. Much as Hezbollah remain determined to wipe Israel off the face of the earth so will unnecessary war, and destruction and fear continue to be a factor in their shared land. It is a chicken on the rope situation

Some analyst suggested that Hezbollah came out victorious in this war, If they won at all their victory was like that of a boxer who defeated an opponent in a fight on point but died hours later from the beaten he got from his opponent who lost the fight, it quite possible to locate defeat in victory.


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