Thursday, December 15, 2005

Victory At All Costs

This has nothing to do with anything in particular, but.....

A fellow named David Shribman, whom I'd never read before today, has a column in the Yahoo news opinion section today where he backhandley berates Ulysses S. Grant for changing the definition of victor in war.

Indeed, other earlier conflicts may have been more difficult to end -- World War II comes to mind -- but their end was less difficult to imagine. Beginning with the Casablanca conference in January 1943, the Allies were committed to what Franklin Delano Roosevelt called the "unconditional surrender" of Germany and Japan, and never mind that the man standing beside him, Winston Churchill, had not signed onto the concept, which the president said "popped into my mind" as he was speaking.
The inspiration for FDR's commitment to unconditional surrender, of course, came from one of his presidential predecessors, Ulysses S. Grant, who, while a brigadier general directing the February 1862 attack on Fort Donelson in Tennessee, refused to accept anything less from his Confederate opponents. Stubborn and steadfast, Grant sent them a message: "No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted." It earned him the nickname Unconditional Surrender Grant, and it brought to an end a 19th-century tradition of negotiating peace terms roughly congenial to all parties.

What really gets me is the bold sentence. Shribman states this as if a negotiated peace was a good thing. A negotiated peace has rarely settled an argument.

Think about it. The Federals, or North if you will, forced the Confederates to surrender unconditionally at Appammatox in April 1865. The war ended and while there were, and still are hard feelings in the South, there was never another outbreak of violence. Germany, Japan and Italy surrendered under the same conditions. The end result has been Europe's most peaceful period EVER. Japan spurned its militaristic ways and is now a world leader instead of an isolated country looking to build an empire.

World War I ended with a negotiated peace, creating the conditions for WWII. The Korean War ended with a ceasefire creating the most heavily defended border on the planet with war potentially possible at any time. The American Revolutionary War did not, and could not have albeit, end with Britains total surrender, which set the state for the War of 1812.

All through medieval history wars ended with the losing side trading land or treasure in exchange for peace. Then they went right back square one. Nothing was ever solved so the seeds that started the previous war were always still in place for the next conflict.

How many times did Britain and France go to war?

Shribman's overall point with his column is that defining victory in Iraq will be difficult, to which I agree. Grant raised the bar of what victory in war should be, and rightly so. Will the US ever be able to sit down and demand the unconditional surrender of al Queda? Most likely not, but we can strive to totally destroy it as an entity, which is essentially the exact same thing.


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