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Souveniers taken from the dead in time of war


Beau Geste
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If an item of kit was missing or not up to standard before a kit inspection, soldiers stole one. A rookie complaining about it would be told by his corporal to go and steal one back.

Yes I remeber it was common when I joined in the fifties. I can't remember anyone killing someone for a pair of socks or a towel though.

Harry

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my great uncle releived a German officer of his spurs and a pair of ivory handled pistols, said officer was alive and being taken as a POW.

this said, uncle heard his fellow Ox and Bucks regiment 'mate' was going home for a couple of weeks. Uncle split spurs and pistols and gave one of each to his 'mate' as long as he delivered the other ones to uncles home address.....

needless to say neither, pistols, spurs or mate were ever to be seen again. so who took from who??

Nice one Chaz

Harry

I remember reading in the memoirs of a German junior officer (It might have been von Brandeis, the "official" captor of Fort Douaumont at Verdun) who found the papers of a French officer, possibly a noble. He got them to his wife in Germany, who made inquiries thru Switzerland, and finally was able to get the material back to the French officer's widow in France, during the war.

Bob Lembke

Nice story Bob

harry

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Two excellent points Centurian

What must have made it difficult was that troops were officially encouraged to collect items from enemy dead for intelligence purposes. In the conditions prevailing it must have been difficult for some to see a moral difference between stripping a corpse and sending all the material to the intelligence officer, sending all the papers etc and pocketing a watch etc and pocketing the lot.

I'm sure a lot used this as an "excuse" for their actions.

The word experienced is used. I imagine that a new officer in a forward position and surrounded by armed men calloused by their experience of war might just wonder how far he could push things.

Absolutely, particularly when a lot of 2nd Lieutenants were still "young boys"

Harry

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I find some of your statements bizarre TGWW. There is a world of difference between propaganda and reality. As human beings we are, wherever possible, expected to act in a more humane way than animals. Fortunately, most of those who served in The Great War appear to have maintained some contact with their humanity.

War is for animals. I find your stance bizarre. We dress war up with little rituals and offer guidelines and rules like it's some jolly game.

It's killing. Kill as many of them before they kill you. Then after the killing it's about taking. Whether it be things, people, land, ways of living whatever.

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I find the previous post to be very apt - it seems it okay to chop chunks of each other so long as there are rules. How silly.

As for removing items from the slain, up until the latter 19th this is how most soldiers made a living - officers included. It's foolish to think that looting (or whatever you want to call it) just disappeared by 1914 and that new recruits wouldn't have picked it up <no pun intended> from the old sweats. WW1 is also the first war when we have very large numbers of civvie soldiers joining up en masse, with different sensibilities and moral views than the regulars.

Also remember that by all accounts most people looked down on soldiers and they were seen as below the working classes, well dodgy and often in the 'only job he could get' - a theory supported by many works including Tommy and Harry Patches biog - so maybe they lived up / down to peoples expectations?

Once killing became industrialised then de-humanisation became a matter of course. Some looted, killed, raped, topped themselves, drank heavily, beat their wives, became catatonic or 'got over it' and I sure that the men who disapproved of looting found themselves expressing the effects of their war experience in other ways, even if they just never talked about it.

For my own point of view, a resource is a resource and in war you don't waste these. If your dead mate has food, fags or ammo then you help yourself. Conversely if the b*ggers who slotted him comes your way then anything they've got is fair game...

'It's 1916, I've been here for two years, I could be dead tomorrow and that Gerry's ring is worth a months rent to the missus / him and his lot did for Bill last week / Bert will give me and the boys a tin of bacon for that etc. etc.' - no contest really is it?

Gawd I love this forum - we can (usually intelligently but always passionately) debate anything 'till the cows come home.

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Once killing became industrialised then de-humanisation became a matter of course. Some looted, killed, raped, topped themselves, drank heavily, beat their wives, became catatonic or 'got over it' and I sure that the men who disapproved of looting found themselves expressing the effects of their war experience in other ways, even if they just never talked about it.

Nothing to do with industrialisation. Take a look at accounts of the 30 years war - all of the above would apply and much worse than in WW1.

In fact the experience of the 30 Years War were so horriffic that they started a process of nations attempting to define some rule of warfare (such as not butchering civilians, prisoners etc out of hand) by the end of the 18th century some aspects of warfare became almost formal rituals (such as some sieges where the attackers and defenders shared each other's plans and agreed how long the fortress could hold out and then did nothing. If the relief column arrived before that date then the siege got lifted if not the fortress would surrender without bloodshed). Despite all of this war was still on the whole a deperate bloody business. The French revolution saw the scrapping of many of these conventions on the grounds that they were part of the ancient regime and counter the spirit of the revolution. Napoleon further weakend this formalisation (for example having all prisoners from the a Turkish garrison bayonneted in cold blood, encouraging his captured officers to break parole etc) but despite this some rules remained (except in Spain were some othe the atrocities carried out by the Imperial Guard matched anything the SS did in WW2 and the Spanish reciprocated in kind, and during the retreat from Moscow when the Russians threw away the rule book).

During the 19th century there were increaing attempts to introduce some rules (Various conventions) at least between "civilised" nations so by WW1 there were many things that were not done. Unfortunately some of these got ignored (eg no poison gas) by taking a very legalistic interpretation of the wording of the conventions) but they were there none the less and many were on the whole observed.

In all of this I can see no particular reference to the dead, all the rules seem to apply to the living. and indeed throughout all the centuries I have covered above there seems to have been a general tendency to loot the dead horrible though that may seem. Nothing to do with industrialisation just sheer bloody human nature I'm afraid. Mass conscription as I said ealier may have had an impact as, given that in any population there must be a percentage who are crimminally inclined and uninterested in any rules or conventions so the conscripted armies would reflect the morals of civilian st.

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War is for animals. I find your stance bizarre. We dress war up with little rituals and offer guidelines and rules like it's some jolly game.

It's killing. Kill as many of them before they kill you. Then after the killing it's about taking. Whether it be things, people, land, ways of living whatever.

If I offended you when I said that I find some of your statements bizarre I apologise but that doesn't alter the fact that I do . What you offer is, in my mind, an extremely simplistic explanation of a social phenomenon that goes back to the beginning of time. Man has recognised the dangers inherent in war that you express so clearly and has tried to do something about it. It hasn't always worked as well as some hoped but it has shown a moral as well as a political awareness of the dangers in unrestricted violence.

Yes, war is bloody but the day it loses all its elements of moral humanity will be a sad day indeed.

You say that you find my stance bizarre. TGWW, that statement is bizarre in itself. How can an argument that says that killing the injured, people who are helpless, just to steal from them be bizarre? How can a statement that says that stretcher bearers and/or medical staff who steal from the people they are supposedly helping be bizarre? In my neck of the woods behaviour of that sort is referred to as not only wrong but immoral.

Thanks though for adding some real spice to an already interesting thread.

Harry

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I find the previous post to be very apt - it seems it okay to chop chunks of each other so long as there are rules. How silly.

It's not silly Mc providing most abide by the rules and by all accounts most did, most of the time. Remember though, the issue here isn't picking up souveniers on the battlefield, or even taking items from the dead. It's killing the wounded for their bits and pieces, or stealing from one's own comrades who have been injured and are en route to an aid post.

WW1 is also the first war when we have very large numbers of civvie soldiers joining up en masse, with different sensibilities and moral views than the regulars.

They were different yes, they were inexperienced, less well equipped physically and mentally perhaps than the regulars but I'm not sure I understand what you mean by "with different moral values".

Also remember that by all accounts most people looked down on soldiers and they were seen as below the working classes, well dodgy and often in the 'only job he could get' - a theory supported by many works including Tommy and Harry Patches biog - so maybe they lived up / down to peoples expectations?

Are you saying that because people looked down on soldiers they were encouraged to act like these inferior beings when they enlisted ? That doesn't make sense does it ? Wouldn't the influx of millions of people who the 'day before' had seen themselves as "superior beings," raise the overall level of the services in people's eyes and wouldn't one, therefore, expect a higher standard of behaviour as a consequence of this ?

Once killing became industrialised then de-humanisation became a matter of course.

Did it ? Why ?

Some looted, killed, raped, topped themselves, drank heavily, beat their wives, became catatonic or 'got over it' and I sure that the men who disapproved of looting found themselves expressing the effects of their war experience in other ways, even if they just never talked about it.

One of the most frequently expressed comments that has been made on The Forum since I joined has been "but of course he never spoke about his experiences." If the one who remained silent disapproved of looting as you suggest, there were indeed many who found the worst excesses of this passtime as repugnant as some of us.

For my own point of view, a resource is a resource and in war you don't waste these. If your dead mate has food, fags or ammo then you help yourself. Conversely if the b*ggers who slotted him comes your way then anything they've got is fair game...

'It's 1916, I've been here for two years, I could be dead tomorrow and that Gerry's ring is worth a months rent to the missus / him and his lot did for Bill last week / Bert will give me and the boys a tin of bacon for that etc. etc.' - no contest really is it?

I'm sure Mc that a lot of soldiers thought in this way. All I'm saying is that it is wrong to say that ALL looting is acceptable.

Gawd I love this forum - we can (usually intelligently but always passionately) debate anything 'till the cows come home.

A lot of us would agree with you on this point anyway. Thanks Mc I enjoyed "talking" to you

Harry

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just sheer bloody human nature I'm afraid. Mass conscription as I said ealier may have had an impact as, given that in any population there must be a percentage who are crimminally inclined and uninterested in any rules or conventions so the conscripted armies would reflect the morals of civilian st.

Thanks Centurian for another very useful contribution. Your point that conscripted armies will inevitably reflect the morals of society as a whole was a point I emphasised in an earlier reply to Phil. That is, I think, a crucially important point because society as a whole tends to operate within a framework of rules that regulate people's behaviour. We can't on the one hand say that the army (for example) is a microcosm of society and then in the next breath expect it to act in a totally different way. And it didn't..

That's my point. Yes, a lot of lads collected souveniers off the battlefield but I suspect that relatively few were willing to kill an injured and helpless German so that they could steal his watch or ring. By the same token I suspect that the vast majority of soldiers wouldn't even consider stealing from an injured colleague who they were helping to carry to an aid station.

Of course, I recognise that war would have "hardened" a lot of people but I find it extremely difficlt to get my head around the idea the they were all at it as some postings have implied.

Yes I'm happy with the view that "it was a game" for many and that they picked up items lying on the battlefield. I have no problem with that but I wont believe that the "sheer bloody human nature" that you refer to was so widespread on the Western Front and that it knew no restrictions.

Harry

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Harry

I was responding to the concept of robbing the dead, I hadn't noticed the subtle change to 'coverting the wounded to dead so they could be robbed' or robbing one's own. The former of these was originally restricted (certainly pre WW1) to battle field scavengers who woukld descend after a battle before the inadequate esources of the winning army could clear it of dead and woumded (if ever). There are various 19th century accounts of this and of generals giving shoot to kill on sight orders to deal with them. I'm sure that this type of robbing was generallydisapproved off (after all you might be in the position of being wounded on the battlefield tomorrow) in WW1.

Re robbing one's own comrades I suspect that this was relative. I've seen accounts where nicking an item of kit before inspection to replace a defficiency of one's own was a sort of rough game (often played on new recruits). Not nice but not in the same league of relieving a wounded man of his belongings

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Oh Mick, I can't believe you mean that. See Harry's post number 14.

Harry

Sorry I was stimulating conversation. No I don't believe its right. I even had problems with the taking of photographs of the dead, even by 'official' photographers.

Although i am sure there are many of us with items in jewellery boxes and boxes on tops of wardrobes that were souvenired by relatives who were not so bothered.

Mick

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Harry

I was responding to the concept of robbing the dead, I hadn't noticed the subtle change to 'coverting the wounded to dead so they could be robbed' or robbing one's own. The former of these was originally restricted (certainly pre WW1) to battle field scavengers who woukld descend after a battle before the inadequate esources of the winning army could clear it of dead and woumded (if ever). There are various 19th century accounts of this and of generals giving shoot to kill on sight orders to deal with them. I'm sure that this type of robbing was generallydisapproved off (after all you might be in the position of being wounded on the battlefield tomorrow) in WW1.

Re robbing one's own comrades I suspect that this was relative. I've seen accounts where nicking an item of kit before inspection to replace a defficiency of one's own was a sort of rough game (often played on new recruits). Not nice but not in the same league of relieving a wounded man of his belongings

I'm sorry ceturion. I have been aware for most of today that things have been moving so quickly that we might have been a little "off key" with our later responses. I don't know, I'm relatively new to the Forum and perhaps I haven't "controlled" this thread as I should have done. One learns, hopefully, as postings progress and the shift you refer to was the result of some excellent offerings over the past 24 hours. It would be stupid of me to criticise things I would have no doubt done myself. I might well have been one of the "field scavangers" you mention. After all there was little else to "entertain" one and to keep those lads ticking over.

Your final point regarding "nicking an item of kit" prior to an inspection was no different to what happened at Hyde Park Barracks when I joined The Blues in 1953. Perfectly "reasonable behaviour".

Having said all that your contributions helped us get to where we are now. Many thanks.

Harry

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Sorry I was stimulating conversation. No I don't believe its right. I even had problems with the taking of photographs of the dead, even by 'official' photographers.

Although i am sure there are many of us with items in jewellery boxes and boxes on tops of wardrobes that were souvenired by relatives who were not so bothered.

Mick

Thank you Mick and you did help to stimulate interest. I'm grateful. I didn't really think for a moment that there was any other reason. Please see the latest posting in reply to Centurian's. The purpose of this thread, as far as I'm concerned, is to learn and that implies a willingness to alter one's stance as the evidence unfolds. The essence of the thread has now shifted somewhat to the killing of wounded soldiers on the battlefield as a prelude to robbing them and the stealing of items from a wounded colleague by those responsible for getting them to an aid post. By all accounts, these were not rare happenings and the question is could they, in any way at all be justified or forgiven.

Harry

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Beau

I somehow double-posted a version of this then lost the lot when I tried to delete one (to be honest, & unashamedly, I became emotional as I wrote it & so got things wrong), so let's try again.

Within the theme of your thread let me describe a poignant battlefield souvenir sent to Accrington.

Many years ago my Grandmother showed me a photo of herself, a teen-age country girl with braided har, that her brother had possessed until he was killed in action in France & Flanders.

She was told that the photo was taken from her dead brother's body & that the stain on it (about the size of a pound coin) was his blood. This fact was extremely important to her.

Then I was a younger, brasher man & immediately felt suspicious about the story, but I didn't say anything as this photo was part of her private life & memories.

Now I think that no doubt scores of thousands of such stained photographs were sent back to relatives.

I also think that it doesn't matter if the blood wasn't her brother's, or even if it came from a horse - it was the thought that counted, especially my Grandmother's thought.

Today Health & Safety regulations would forbid such actions, & probably recipients would not want to see the blood.

But those private words that my Grandmother spoke, so many years ago, encapsulate for me the effects of the Great War on so many families - blood, tears & private grief tinged with fond memories.

H

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Not GW, but still trench warfare and an illustration of that the problems of "souvenirs". The Finns in the Second World, especially the Continuation War, were very short of optics for sniper rifles, and hence sniper rifles for their snipers. There was a bounty placed on captured ones by command, and the troops were asked to hand captured one's in. These guns were never handed in. Many snipers where in peace time hunters of elk and deer, and retained/used the captured Russian and German weapons after war, since the army never knew they had an extra rifle.

Sako the Finnish hunting rifle company for many years after the war had to run a special scheme to "make new rifles out of old bits", and hence issue serial numbers to allow them to be licensed and repaired professionally if damaged.

This ran for many years after the war, and a large number of weapons where "produced". I'm sure TonyE will tell us the exact number...

Regards

Mart

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Harry,

Cracking thread you have started here - and a lot of intriguing replies - really interesting!

Thanks for another well considered reply- I stress that this is a topic that I have not thought a great deal about before with regard to WW1, but in reading about other history (Agincourt, Crecy, the Crusades etc) came to realise that "spoils of war" were ways in which quite a number of our "noblemen" (and ordinary soldiers/bowmen/pikemen etc) became rich or hoped for riches. Anyway, back to WW1 and your reply!

"What I find impossible to accept though are those instances, and they weren't a rarity by all accounts, where wounded men were killed in cold blood or wounded soldiers on their way down the casevac chain were robbed of their personal possessions, items that very often were as precious to the owner as life itself."

I'm afraid I don't know enough about this - to be honest, I hadn't realised it occurred on any scale except maybe by a few "rotters" (quote from GF)

"Are you suggesting that society has, in some way improved itself during the years since WW2 ? If you are, then how do you explain the growing level of violence and other forms of anti-social behaviour on our streets that.. etc.."

No, I don't think that society has improved, but I do think that the remoteness of most of us from the horrors of war allows us to pontificate (maybe the wrong word and I am not saying that anyone on the board does it!) about how we would react in this situation - perhaps seeing your mates killed/wounded in terrible circumstances hardens you sufficiently that you lose respect for the dead (and the living or barely living) - survival of the fittest and all that? We all react differently to pressure and there can't be much more pressure than knowing (perhaps for years?) that you might be killed any minute. It's the same thinking that makes me sympathise with those who were executed for "cowardice" in WW1 - yes there probably were a few who let down their comrades - but how would I have reacted to "going over the top"?? Were they really cowards? or just unable to take the stress. So, my "modern era" is me who has never been in a war, expressing an opinion on WW1 "attitudes". However, as you say "That doesn't mean though that we can't give issues careful thought and express our opinions." We may be wrong but we will learn from others opinions - as I have done in this thread.

"However, the armed forces is a disciplined institution. If it isn't that, it's nothing ! So what went wrong Phil ?"

Harry - same as society. We should live in a society that is disciplined because we should have regard to the rights of others in society. We also have the discipline of laws, of the police, of our parents, teachers, bosses etc - but there are always plenty of "wrong-uns" - not sure that there were more wrong-uns in the WW1 forces than there are in society as a whole. Were there?

"Are you saying that those who murdered an injured and helpless adversary so that he could steal his watch or those who stole from a wounded colleague while he was helping to carry him to safety deserve to have allowances made for them?"

No - some things are "beyond the pale" to me (sitting with a glass of wine in a warm room in front of the computer!) but I do wonder whether thes cases were very rare (I haven't a clue how common they were) and yet get far more "publicity" than they deserve. I'm a teacher (not history!!) and often find myself saying "huh, the youth of today" when walking in town because one sees the cases of bad behaviour. On the other hand, I probably walk past hundreds of "youths" who are behaving perfectly well - but do I say "What a good kid"? Reminds me of a chat I had with head of Sixth Form the other day - I asked him how thigs were going and he said "Much the same as usual - spending 90% of my time sorting out 1% of the pupils - the rest are great" - was it the same in the Army?

One further point - I mentioned GF's German watch, helmet and other GF's German binoculars and I suddenly remembered another bit of GF's diary where he said (words to effect of) "took over old German dugouts today - what luxury and so deep that it is no wonder they sat out our bombardment" - I wonder whether, in the haste of retreat a watch, a helmet and pair of binocs were left behind?? Is that how most souvenirs were obtained?

Another bit of diary said

"Fine rat hunt this afternoon -killed one big one, thirteen young ones and found in her nest two handkerchiefs, two gas goggles, a sunshade & Shee's wristlet watch."

Sounds like even the rats were taking souvenirs!!

Actually Harry, I find that I am in agreement with you (and most other posters) 90% and the things I disagree about I am basing on personal opinion with no evidence to back up so can't put forward a decent argument. On the other hand, I have been persuaded to change my (opinion based) views on quite a few things - the value of the board? Never too old to learn!

"Now where's that wine ?"

At my lips!!!

Regards

Phil

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Beau

I somehow double-posted a version of this then lost the lot when I tried to delete one (to be honest, & unashamedly, I became emotional as I wrote it & so got things wrong), so let's try again.

Within the theme of your thread let me describe a poignant battlefield souvenir sent to Accrington.

Thank you H for sharing that with us all. It shows doesn't it that souveniers, properly collected and sent on to loved ones, can do so much good even in times of immense worry and grief.

Thak you again,

Harry

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Not GW, but still trench warfare and an illustration of that the problems of "souvenirs". The Finns in the Second World, especially the Continuation War, were very short of optics for sniper rifles, and hence sniper rifles for their snipers. There was a bounty placed on captured ones by command, and the troops were asked to hand captured one's in. These guns were never handed in. Many snipers where in peace time hunters of elk and deer, and retained/used the captured Russian and German weapons after war, since the army never knew they had an extra rifle.

Sako the Finnish hunting rifle company for many years after the war had to run a special scheme to "make new rifles out of old bits", and hence issue serial numbers to allow them to be licensed and repaired professionally if damaged.

This ran for many years after the war, and a large number of weapons where "produced". I'm sure TonyE will tell us the exact number...

Regards

Mart

Thanks for that Mart. That conflict is pretty much a blank page to me so I found it particularly interesting. "Needs - Must" is an old saying and I suppose this was a good example where the soldiers need were seen as more important than the army they were serving in.

Harry

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Harry,

A ring was returned to us from a fallen family member on the Somme some 12 years later, recovered from his remains by a farmer. I am thankful that nobody had come along and cut off his finger to steal his ring!

MB

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My concern has always been that making civilised rules only serves to justify war and make it tolerable. It should be as brutal, bloody and horrific as possible because only in that way can it be brought to a swift end. Kill everyone and everything in your path.

Kid,

Be careful of what you wish for because it might come true. My late dad saw some of what the Nazis had been up to when he was in Germany with the U.S. Army in May 1945. Believe me we never want to see the like of that again. Even if war crimes are left out of the equation the awful destruction, the bombing of cities, and of civilian populations was truly horrific. That leaves out the people who wasted away and froze to death or starved.

If you think things couldn't get worse, then guess again. They could, they would, unless we constantly strive to prevent it from ever happening again. To our credit there have been no world wars since 1945.

Former Soldier

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Harry,

A ring was returned to us from a fallen family member on the Somme some 12 years later, recovered from his remains by a farmer. I am thankful that nobody had come along and cut off his finger to steal his ring!

MB

I bet you are Vortex. Thank you, nice example.

Harry

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My concern has always been that making civilised rules only serves to justify war and make it tolerable.

The hard reality is that sometimes war is justified.

No amount of hand wringing will change that. The world is already hypersensitive to war, to the point that a plurality of people think it's wrong to even retaliate against enemies who attack you first. Entire nations have unilaterally disarmed, preening in moral superiority and self-righteousness.

So the message has sunk in. War is awful. Everybody gets it. Yet the fighting continues, because sometimes there is no other choice.

But making total war isn't the answer. Ask the Russians. They've destroyed entire cities in Chechnya, killing hundreds of thousands, but the al Qaeda-linked terrorist Doku Umarov just declared the Islamic Caucasus Emirate in the republics of Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkana, Karachay-Cherkessia, and beyond. He's not ready to surrender, because he hasn't been made to suffer personally. He doesn't care how many of his countrymen are killed. In fact, he welcomes their deaths for propaganda purposes.

War-fighting is evolving. Precision strikes of devastating impact, targeting enemy leadership, weapon systems, and military-industrial complexes, are the way of the future. Cyber attacks. Covert operations that arm and train insurgencies. Economic warfare.

The goal isn't to kill everyone in your way; it's to make the enemy leadership suffer personally, so much so that it will either not start a war in the first place or will terminate hostilities sooner rather than later.

War is part of the human condition. The best way to deal with it is to make it more destructive, but only for far fewer people, not the masses.

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Kid,

Be careful of what you wish for because it might come true. My late dad saw some of what the Nazis had been up to when he was in Germany with the U.S. Army in May 1945. Believe me we never want to see the like of that again. Even if war crimes are left out of the equation the awful destruction, the bombing of cities, and of civilian populations was truly horrific. That leaves out the people who wasted away and froze to death or starved.

If you think things couldn't get worse, then guess again. They could, they would, unless we constantly strive to prevent it from ever happening again. To our credit there have been no world wars since 1945.

Former Soldier

Thanks Pete for that. In posting 79, TGWW described war in terms that were certainly relevant in the period 1914-18 which was a war of attrition, and also, to a very large extent during WW2 and you describe this very clearly indeed . He talked in terms of kill as many as you can before the opposition can kill you and then afterwards the talking can start. Maybe I should have developed my response that his view of war was "simplistic" but postings were coming in quite quickly and I didn't have time. Your posting has given me an opportunity to do it here.

During both world wars we saw how technological change especially in the context of new and improved weapon systems altered how those wars were fought. The most significant of these changes was undoubtedly the research and development work that resulted in the development of nuclear weapons.

By today's standards the two that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 were "primitive" but the damage and loss of life they caused was horrendous. However it was the psychological impact of those weapons that has really changed the political and military relationship between adversaries. Starting in 1950 the Korean War was the first "limited war" fought. It was limited geographically, politically (in terms of the goals sought) and in terms of the weapon systems deployed. The United States, in particular, resisted the temptation to use even "small" (what we today refer to as 'battlefield nuclear weapons') because of the fear of an escalation process that would draw the Soviet Union and China (more fully) into the conflict

This didn't stop the carnage, of course, but it did limit it and it set the scene for future wars.

It's interesting that instead of a war of attrition (1914-18 and to a real extent 1939-45) we find terms appearing in the vocabulary of conflict like "limitations", "cold war" and so on. The term 'cold war' is interesting. It wasn't a war at all in the real sense. It was a period of stand-off if you like where the US and the Soviet Union confronted each other as adversaries but didn't actually go to war. Tensions were high at times (The Cuban Missile Crisis for example) but no one actually pulled the trigger.

Earlier I talked in terms of the fear of escalation. It was that which lay behind the 'cold war'. Shortly after the end of WW2 The Soviet Union acquired nuclear weapons of its own and achieved what has been described as "mutual assured destruction." Put simply, this means that if either side attacks first, without warning and uses all the weapon systems in its armoury, the other side will still be able to strike back and impose catastrophic and unacceptable losses on the aggressor. It's no wonder that the acronym was MAD !

Both super powers (and if The Soviet Union lost that status with the breakup of its Empire it is well on the way to achieving it again today) have world wide interests. Competion is a natural feature of their relationship but it's a relationship that is carried out without the belligerency of a Khrushchev and the "gentle touch" of a Richard Nixon. Hopefully, Bush and Putin can carry it on.

When you said Pete that we haven't had a world war since 1945 you were of course absolutely right. The Falklands, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan etc have all been limited in scope. But if the decision makers become complacent.......................

As you pointed out Pete, if people think things couldn't get worse, then they had better guess again. They could, and they would, unless those in power constantly strive to prevent it from ever happening again.

Harry

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The hard reality is that sometimes war is justified.

No amount of hand wringing will change that. The world is already hypersensitive to war, to the point that a plurality of people think it's wrong to even retaliate against enemies who attack you first. Entire nations have unilaterally disarmed, preening in moral superiority and self-righteousness.

So the message has sunk in. War is awful. Everybody gets it. Yet the fighting continues, because sometimes there is no other choice.

But making total war isn't the answer. Ask the Russians. They've destroyed entire cities in Chechnya, killing hundreds of thousands, but the al Qaeda-linked terrorist Doku Umarov just declared the Islamic Caucasus Emirate in the republics of Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkana, Karachay-Cherkessia, and beyond. He's not ready to surrender, because he hasn't been made to suffer personally. He doesn't care how many of his countrymen are killed. In fact, he welcomes their deaths for propaganda purposes.

War-fighting is evolving. Precision strikes of devastating impact, targeting enemy leadership, weapon systems, and military-industrial complexes, are the way of the future. Cyber attacks. Covert operations that arm and train insurgencies. Economic warfare.

The goal isn't to kill everyone in your way; it's to make the enemy leadership suffer personally, so much so that it will either not start a war in the first place or will terminate hostilities sooner rather than later.

War is part of the human condition. The best way to deal with it is to make it more destructive, but only for far fewer people, not the masses.

Thanks Tom for a super posting,

I agree with a lot of what you say.

In terms of your comments of "a just war" please see a previous thread of mine "Warrior Priests". The concept of a "just war" is dealt with there. I don't disagree with anything you say on this.

I also agree with your description of "modern war" and the idea that it has replaced the way the 1914-18 war was fought, a war of attrition . ( See my recent posting on this very topic).

For what it's worth, I also agree with your description of the political purpose of war.

Where you and I differ though is on the "nature of man". I prefer the model offered by J.J Rousseau in his "Social Contract" to that in Thomas Hobbes' "Leviathan" which you seem to support in the latter part of your posting. I don't accept that "the best way to deal with war is to make it more destructive but only for far fewer people, not the masses." How does one do that ? I'm not here talking about "surgical strikes" etc. I'm talking about controlling escalation when you appear to be losing. No Tom the best way is to avoid it completely and hopefully man will one day be capable of that.

Harry

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My grandfather, a gentle and gentleman, brought a whole host of stuff back from WW2. Flags, medals, bayonet, a cross out of a french church (he was an atheist) and three beautiful watches taken from German soldiers...one a superb, museum standard self winding example. I don't know whether the items were taken from the living or the dead, am I going to criticise my grandad for it, of course not, do I care whether they were dead or alive? probably not, can I understand the circumstances in which this looting was carried out? no. Like many men of his age my grandfather lost his dad in WW1 and watched his mother work herself to death trying to keep the family of four children together. He joined the TA in 1938 in the knowledge that sooner rather than later he would be able to have a go at the Germans and exact revenge on his fathers killers. He admitted that his whole raison d'etre during the war was to kill as many Germans as possible, something that he admitted to on his death bed, and something that had worried him for 40 years. I think that deep down the only thing that he actually regretted was not stopping a group of Canadian troops leading away and shooting German prisoners shortly after D-Day**

Andy

** Of course, Kurt Meyer was convicted by a Canadian court for his part in the illegal killing of canadian prisoners shortly after D-Day....a case of victors justice??

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