War Is Hell

Far too many observers of the Israeli retaliation against Hamas see war as a theoretical construct, not a battlefield reality.


The famed Union Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman is widely credited with popularizing the phrase “war is hell.” And he would certainly know, seeing action at some of the war’s bloodiest battles and captaining the controversial March to the Sea, where Union soldiers would run roughshod over Confederate lands from Atlanta to Savannah. That march, replete with the utter devastation of civilian infrastructure, farmland, and property, helped break the back of the Confederacy and has remained a textbook example of total war. The term ‘total war’ itself was a product of World War I, which saw entire societies mobilized for what they all saw – and some experienced – as existential combat. The sequel, which killed even more people and included the most heinous act of genocide in the modern era, was the last of these sorts of conflicts – or so many thought.

After the end of the Cold War – which was itself something of a totalizing rivalry – the mood in the West was triumphant, not just over Soviet Communism, but over History itself. Gone were the days of existential conflict, replaced by a world of progress where genuine alternatives to the liberal democratic capitalist world order were nowhere to be found. These naïve optimists were, however, flat out wrong. Alternatives to the American order have reared their ugly heads: from the CCP’s brand of techno-totalitarianism, to Vladimir Putin’s throwback imperialism, to the militant antisemitic Islamism of Tehran and Hamas, oppositional ideologies abound. And those ideologies are more than happy to engage in totalizing, existential conflict. We have seen that in Ukraine for the past 600-plus days, and we are seeing it in Israel now.

Make no mistake, the Hamas terror of October 7, combined with its genocidal ideology and the support of regional powers like Iran, poses an existential risk to the Jewish state. If Hamas is not utterly annihilated, Israel will face a future of constant attack from all fronts meant to eradicate the nation itself – and massacre its population in the process. Hamas and Iran have made this into a total war; Israel has recognized that reality and is responding in kind. And that’s where we run into problems.

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