War Never Changes

“Although a soldier by profession, I have never advocated war except as a means of peace. So seek peace, but prepare for war, because war, war never changes. War is like winter, and winter is coming.”

–Ulysses S. Grant

This quote is one I’ve seen chopped, abused, misused, and misquoted quite a few times.  Most often, of late, I’ve seen the first sentence used in relation to current events… missing entirely the meaning of the full statement.  I’ve seen it in video games, heard it in speeches, read it in books.  It is a quote that speaks to anyone who has ever served in combat, because we understand it at our souls.

Why does this come up now, of all times?  Because in times like these, when terrorists attack innocent people and we, in turn, bomb the places where they have support, it is something to remember.  Humanity will never truly be without war, because we will always have differences and disagreements.

Conflict is wired into us, just as firmly as the tribalism that causes us to identify into groups of “us” and “them.”  While diplomacy and discussion are methods to bring peace, they rarely bring any satisfaction or long-term resolution when between social groups.  The human brain is wired for conflict, to settle issues in the most basic fashion: I win, you lose.

What happens in war, at least modern war, is that the conflict is such that neither side wishes to surrender until defeat is proven, until a side is forced to admit their defeat.  This was the paradigm for World War II.  The Allies continued the war until the Germans and Japanese forces were defeated, until they surrendered and afterwards their nations were occupied and restructured by the victors.

Yet the price of such a war is catastrophically high.  Millions die.  Not just soldiers, but civilians.  Cities were bombed, civilian populations were targeted, and the societies that suffered such casualties rejected war, empirically, in order to prevent its future outbreak.

What they did, what they hoped to do, was to contain human nature, to tame it, to pacify the beast with law and diplomacy.  Yet this can only work until some people feel that their grievances are such that the law and diplomacy will not suffice.  When the animal parts of their brain tells them that they are right and everyone else is wrong… and the best way to prove that is to do violence on them until they surrender.

When individuals do this, it is murder or assault.  When a society, or even just a  large minority of a society does this, it is war.  Make no mistake, we are at war.  When a societal band declares that they will harm you until you do what they want, they have declared war in the most basic way possible.  This conflict is one based upon economic, societal, and lastly religious reasons.  This is not the time for diplomacy, for discussion.  Logic and empathy both have their places, but only when it comes to moderating our response.

When someone attacks you, you don’t make apologies for them, you don’t discuss why they are called to violence or what harms you have done them.  You hurt them back.  You hurt them until they stop hurting you.  The same goes for nations and societies.

The people who attacked in Paris are the same people who have attacked in Bengazi, they are the same people who have attacked on 9/11/2001.  They are the same people who bombed the USS Cole and the Marine Barracks in Beirut.  They are the products of a radicalized version of their religion, one which promotes violence, victim-hood, and which feeds off of provocations.  Their stated intent is to draw the West into returning their attacks, to then mobilize more of their society to support them.

We have tried for years to prevent a full-scale war.  We have targeted terrorists, we have moderated our responses.  As a result, we have emboldened those who think such restraint is a sign of weakness.  They don’t understand our desire to hold back the full strength of our response.  In our position, they would wipe us out (or try, because in truth extermination of a people is far harder than they realize).

We have come to the point where these two world-views can no longer coexist.  When a society does not restrain its members, when a people encourage their children to kill ours, then we have come to a point where we are left with no recourse.  Conflict must have resolution.  Restraint, taken too far, is just a suicide pact.  Diplomacy will falter when one side does not bargain in good faith.

“Although a soldier by profession, I have never advocated war except as a means of peace. So seek peace, but prepare for war, because war, war never changes. War is like winter, and winter is coming.”

Read it again: War’s purpose is to settle a conflict.  To end a difference, to use force upon those who will accept no other bargaining point.  Because there will always be those to whom violence is the first choice.  There will always be those who must be stopped, despite the costs.  Seek peace, seek diplomacy, but never forget that war will come and we must always be prepared.  Prepared to fight for what we believe in, to protect our families and our way of life.

War has come.  Winter is upon us.

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