This Christmas, Remember That War Is Hell

By Thomas Knapp

“You people of the South don’t know what you are doing,” William Tecumseh Sherman told David F. Boyd in 1860. “This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is all folly, madness, a crime against civilization! You people speak so lightly of war; you don’t know what you’re talking about. War is a terrible thing!”

Nine years later, Sherman re-emphasized that sentiment in an address to the Michigan Military Academy’s graduating class of 1879: “You don’t know the horrible aspects of war. I’ve been through two wars and I know. I’ve seen cities and homes in ashes. I’ve seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is Hell!”

In between, Sherman became one of the most famous – and, in the south, infamous – fighting generals of The Late Unpleasantness, aka the Civil War. Every time I quote him in a column, I receive an outraged comment or two from fellow southerners. His “March to the Sea,” culminating in his presentation of Savannah, Georgia to US president Abraham Lincoln as a “Christmas gift” 159 years ago this month, remains a sore spot down here.

I’m not going to stop quoting him, though. He’s someone I’d like American soldiers and policymakers to listen to.

When it comes to speaking knowledgeably about war, few can boast the credentials he amassed on the subject – two wars, one as a junior officer and one as a general, rounding out his career with command of the entire US Army.

As for politics: “I hereby state, and mean all I say,” he told Harper’s Weekly in 1871, “that I never have been and never will be a candidate for President; that if nominated by either party I should peremptorily decline; and even if unanimously elected I should decline to serve.” He reaffirmed that in 1884 when approached about seeking the Republican presidential nomination.

These days, most American generals seem to have one foot in the armed forces, one in politics, and both racing toward the revolving door that leads to big lobbying salaries from “defense” contractors.

While “civilian control of the military” strikes me as a good thing, there’s something to be said for emphasizing Sherman in America’s service academies and boot camps. To the extent that they advise politicians, officers should be recommending against, not encouraging, perpetual and deadly foreign military adventurism.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism. He lives and works in north central Florida.

Sourced from

Image: Sherman’s march to the sea, by F.O.C. Darley. Public Domain.

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1 Comment on "This Christmas, Remember That War Is Hell"

  1. “…The power to declare war is a serious responsibility. Why were the framers so vague in defining the parameters of war and the conditions under which it could be declared? Section 8, Clause 11 is the only place of significance where warfare is mentioned in the Constitution. Little wonder this power has been abused. Luther Martin [one of Maryland’s delegates to the Constitutional Convention] protested:

    ‘…the congress have also a power given them to raise and support armies, without any limitation as to numbers, and without any restriction in time of peace. Thus, sir, this plan of government, instead of guarding against a standing army, that engine of arbitrary power, which has so often and so successfully been used for the subversion of freedom, has in its formation given it an express and constitutional sanction….’40

    “John Quincy Adams predicted the consequences of America’s international military entanglements:

    ‘America … has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when the conflict has been for principles to which she clings…. Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions, and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.… She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy and ambition, which assume the colors, and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force; the frontlet on her brow would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished luster, the murky radiance of dominion and power. She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.’41

    “Because the framers provided no Biblical parameters, unbiblical warfare has been the rule ever since. Following is a list of the countries bombed by the United States since World War II:

    China: 1945-46; 1950-53
    Korea: 1950-53
    Guatemala: 1954; 1967-69
    Indonesia: 1958
    Cuba: 1959-60
    Vietnam: 1961-73
    Congo: 1964
    Laos: 1964-73
    Peru: 1965
    Cambodia: 1969-70
    Granada: 1983
    Libya: 1986; 2011
    El Salvador: 1980s
    Nicaragua: 1980s
    Panama: 1989
    Iraq: 1991-2001; 2003-09
    Sudan: 1998
    Afghanistan: 1998; 2003-09
    Yugoslavia: 1999.

    “From 1945 to the present, the United States has bombed nineteen different countries under the guise of defending America’s sovereignty and promoting democracy. But America is none the better for it, and not one of these countries has become a legitimate democracy – not that this would be anything to celebrate. Something is amiss. Wars fought for political gain or financial profit can only be classified as ungodly acts of aggression….”

    For more, see Chapter 4 “Article 1: Legislative Usurpation” of free online book “Bible Law vs. the United States Constitution: The Christian Perspective” at bible versus constitution dot org. Click on the top entry on our Online Book page and scroll down to Chapter 4.

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