John Arquilla: Can There Be War Without Hate?





John Arquilla is professor of defense analysis at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School and author of Worst Enemy: The Reluctant Transformation of the American Military.

Armed conflict is unquestionably one of mankind's worst innovations; but even the most terrible wars occasionally produce moments of grace. On this night 98 years ago, for example, nearly five months into the cataclysm of World War I, many soldiers on both sides put down their weapons. They serenaded each other with carols, met in no man's land to exchange simple gifts, and then on Christmas Day played soccer together. This amity persisted over the following days and weeks, with a kind of live-and-let-live philosophy emerging from the trenches. It took quite a while for generals on both sides to tamp down such sentiments and get back to the brutal business of mounting costly, fruitless frontal assaults that massacred millions for little or no ground gained.
 
There were other signs of decency amid the slaughter. It was not at all uncommon for a fighter pilot to invite a vanquished foe -- who survived the crash of his biplane on the victor's side of the lines -- to join him for dinner at his aerodrome. At sea, German surface raider captains generally acted with considerable care for the crews of the vessels they took; and, the sinking of the Lusitania and other dark incidents aside, U-boat skippers often took the risk of surfacing to stop their prey and allow the merchant seamen to get into their lifeboats before sinking their vessels. The Royal Navy took advantage of this by creating "Q-ships," gunboats disguised as tramp steamers -- and lured more than a few subs to their doom.
 
The Great War in Africa saw some chivalry as well. Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, the German commander in East Africa -- Tanzania today -- conducted a brilliant, frustrating guerrilla campaign that massive Allied forces were never able to quell. With only a few violent exceptions, both sides retained their essential humanity in this most difficult theater of war. When Lettow, in the bush and almost completely out of touch with his homeland, was promoted to general for his exploits, Allied intelligence, in the know, made a point of getting word to him. And at the end of the war, once convinced that an armistice had been reached, Lettow graciously opened his stores to the starving British soldiers who had been chasing him. But then again, he was only flush for having raided their supply depot.
 
None of the foregoing diminishes the horror of war; but these flashes of basic decency suggest the possibility of fighting, when one must, without hate...


comments powered by Disqus
History News Network