“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” said Shakespeare in “Henry VI, Part 2,” though we need not heed his advice literally.
Since the United Nations came into being, some politicians, lawyers and organizations have pushed the notion that wars can be clean, if lawyers outrank political leaders, army generals and field commanders in the trenches and in the war rooms.
Yet the concept of a clean, surgical war is a foolish idea held by people who play video games, never were in a war, nor ever really studied the history of combat.
“War is hell,” observed Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, a brilliant general who knew war well. He wanted it to end — quickly. Sherman, along with General Ulysses S. Grant, ended the bloodiest war in American history, the Civil War.
Grant and Sherman did what President Abraham Lincoln had begged them to do — bring victory for the North over the South. This was the same Lincoln, a man of great mercy, who suspended the right of habeas corpus — in order to win as fast as possible.
Sherman starved the South and half-starved his own men, foraging off the land as the North’s army carved its way through Georgia and the Carolinas. When the South surrendered, Sherman brought in food. Lincoln declared “with malice toward none, charity towards all.” After surrender. No time-outs for Ramadan or the Red Cross.
Another American president who knew war and history well was Harry Truman, who decided to drop two atomic bombs on Japan for the same reason that Sherman burned half of Georgia: It brought the war to a swift end and saved lives.
In his papers, Truman says bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the hardest decision of his life. He made it as a God-fearing man, on moral and strategic grounds, using common sense, not a team of lawyers.
Truman saved hundreds of thousands of lives (American and Japanese) by forcing Japan’s surrender without a full ground invasion of the Japanese home islands.
Since Truman’s era and the start of the U.N., lawyers have invaded our lives, even in military planning and execution. They debate when force is proportional or not — the kind of thing that is opposed by military thinkers, like Clausewitz, who want disproportional force to achieve quick victory.
Waging war with lawyers has progressed to where some armies have full-time legal escort teams, especially when fighting terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, who put rockets in schools or hide behind people taken hostage as “human shields.”
The media often recite “international law prohibits torture” or “the Geneva Convention bans” striking terrorists protected by “human shields,” Actually, what we are hearing is one lawyer’s view or one group’s view about “international law,” torture, interrogation or “human shields.”
Not all lawyers, terrorists or human shields are equal. Hamas, which rules Gaza, calls for people to stand on the roofs of houses used as launching bases for rockets. Some Gazans have done so voluntarily.