The Morality of Total War

Feb 2019
1,140
Serbia
In a setting of ''total war'' all the resources of a nation, military and civilian alike are mobilised for the purpose of waging war and civilian needs come second to military needs. Likewise, in such a setting of total war all civilian and military entities are legitimate targets. This includes infrastructure, factories, sources of natural resources and manpower of the nations involved. Destruction of infrastructure and industry could certainly prove crippling to the recipient nation or territory. The workers who work in said industry to fuel the war effort are not military personnel and are technically non-combatants and civilians.

Is total warfare an acceptable method of waging war? Should the factory workers and industry operators, and the industry and infrastructure they operate, be treated as resources at the disposal of the enemy nation or should they be disregarded and their destruction avoided? What do you think.
 

pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
9,977
In a setting of ''total war'' all the resources of a nation, military and civilian alike are mobilised for the purpose of waging war and civilian needs come second to military needs. Likewise, in such a setting of total war all civilian and military entities are legitimate targets. This includes infrastructure, factories, sources of natural resources and manpower of the nations involved. Destruction of infrastructure and industry could certainly prove crippling to the recipient nation or territory. The workers who work in said industry to fuel the war effort are not military personnel and are technically non-combatants and civilians.

Is total warfare an acceptable method of waging war? Should the factory workers and industry operators, and the industry and infrastructure they operate, be treated as resources at the disposal of the enemy nation or should they be disregarded and their destruction avoided? What do you think.
War has rules for reasons. Oppoents rarely disagreed entirely about how tings hsuld function andthere is often agreement about wider power staructures and society even if there is disagreememnt about who hold what posts or posistiuons. War becames for expensive if the losing side keeps mobilizing resources and must be utterly defeated. Almost all wars end in political settlement. If the enemy will not be taken prisoner and they and victories became much more expensive. people will be reluctant to support a regime that makes all of them expendable. Once civislians are legimate targets why should the enemy play by the rules,. How do find who9 is actually the enemy, if just keep killing mostly civilians , your regime will make more enimies.
 
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Reactions: Futurist
Nov 2016
1,598
Germany
Is total warfare an acceptable method of waging war? Should the factory workers and industry operators, and the industry and infrastructure they operate, be treated as resources at the disposal of the enemy nation or should they be disregarded and their destruction avoided?
The problem has three levels:

1) Are military facilities legitimate war targets? - 2) Are civilian facilities for the production of military equipment legitimate war targets? - 3) Are civilian facilities useful for military operations legitimate war targets, if it implies civilian casualties?

1) must be answered in the affirmative according to international law.

3) is to be answered unequivocally in the negative.

The answer to 2) is controversial. This is primarily about armament factories with civilian workers. It must be balanced whether the reduction or destruction of resources of the enemy combat force justifies the death of civilians.

There are two moral philosophical approaches. One is that an action is good if it pursues a good goal, even if there are bad side effects (collateral damage). The other says that a bad action can have a good effect.

This means in the case of the armament factory, (1) that it is good to bomb the factory because it reduces the killing potential of the enemy, even if it leads to the death of civilians, which is bad, or (2) that bombing the factory is a bad action because it leads to the death of civilians, but overall it has a good effect because it reduces the killing potential of the enemy.

As you can see, the difference is purely rhetorical. No matter whether one calls the bombing good or bad, the death of civilians is accepted in order to achieve a supposedly higher good.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,995
Dispargum
All war is immoral, but given that a state of war exists, the most moral thing one can do is to end the war as quickly as possible. Most war crimes and atrocities derive from activities that increase death/suffering/destruction without moving the war toward a conclusion. Examples include: killing non-combatants, bombing protected targets (churches, hospitals, museums, schools, etc), or using weapons that go beyond what is necessary to win battles (dum dum bullets, poison gas, etc).

To the extent that civilians support the war effort their status as non-combatants has effectively become somewhat gray. The protection of non-combatants was a 19th century ideal that preceded the military capacity to bomb cities.The modern legal standard is that it's OK to bomb a militarily useful target like a munitions factory, but it's not OK to deliberately target civilians. Which is where the term 'collateral damage' comes from. No law-abiding country deliberately targets civilians, but civilians do become unintended casualties.

There probably is a gap between the theory and practice of war. The Law of Armed Conflict is partly a public relations tool in that armies that fight by the rules enjoy better public and international relations. And yet, not everything that harms an army's reputation is universally recognized as illegal. Air strikes, in particular, can be perceived as causing more collateral damage than militarily useful results.
 

tomar

Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
14,285
- 3) Are civilian facilities useful for military operations legitimate war targets, if it implies civilian casualties?



3) is to be answered unequivocally in the negative.
That is not the practice.... The term "dual use" has been coined so that anything can be attacked (e.g. a car factory, since trucks may be produced there that can be used by the military)... Even radio/TV stations have become "legitimate" targets ever since the yugoslavian war, although they are not used for military operations per se
If ennemy fighters are thought to be hiding in a school or a religious building or any other civilian building, those are often bombed

The above occurs even without "total war" being in effect.
 

Port

Ad Honorem
Feb 2013
2,100
portland maine
That is not the practice.... The term "dual use" has been coined so that anything can be attacked (e.g. a car factory, since trucks may be produced there that can be used by the military)... Even radio/TV stations have become "legitimate" targets ever since the yugoslavian war, although they are not used for military operations per se
If ennemy fighters are thought to be hiding in a school or a religious building or any other civilian building, those are often bombed

The above occurs even without "total war" being in effect.
acceptable targets. Maybe the rules came after the War?
during WW2 both sides saw civilian targets as legitimate.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,995
Dispargum
acceptable targets. Maybe the rules came after the War?
during WW2 both sides saw civilian targets as legitimate.
During WW2 both sides tended to ignore the rules. One factor contributing to the rise of the bombing campaigns was retaliation/deterrence. When a German bomber accidentally bombed London, Churchill retaliated by bombing Berlin. It was less about following the rules of war and more about not letting the Germans get away with a violation. Had the bombing of London not drawn a response, Churchill, who did not know it was an accident, thought the Germans would bomb more British cities. Retaliation was intended to deter future attacks on cities. It didn't work, as Hitler escalated the Battle of Britain into a campaign of city bombings. The Allies retaliated with even more city bombings.
 

Belgarion

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,812
Australia
While these 'rules' have been formulated with the best of intentions, their main effect has been to needlessly prolong conflicts and therefore the suffering of those caught up in them. Look at any conflict in the last few decades. Two sides start fighting, the UN gets involved, trying to enforce the 'rules'. Each side uses the UN as it suits them, agreeing to cease fires and negotiations when needing a breathing space to rearm and recruit for the next go around. This cycle of truces and negotiations only allows the fighting to continue indefinitely.
 
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Apr 2018
43
Canada
In a setting of ''total war'' all the resources of a nation, military and civilian alike are mobilised for the purpose of waging war and civilian needs come second to military needs. Likewise, in such a setting of total war all civilian and military entities are legitimate targets. This includes infrastructure, factories, sources of natural resources and manpower of the nations involved. Destruction of infrastructure and industry could certainly prove crippling to the recipient nation or territory. The workers who work in said industry to fuel the war effort are not military personnel and are technically non-combatants and civilians.

Is total warfare an acceptable method of waging war? Should the factory workers and industry operators, and the industry and infrastructure they operate, be treated as resources at the disposal of the enemy nation or should they be disregarded and their destruction avoided? What do you think.
First if all sides/factions accept the premise of total war and are committed to pursuing it then all must accept the outcome on their military and civilian populations whether they are the victors or not.You cannot accept the premise and carry it through and at the same time ascribe more blame on the 'other side' whilst having done your utmost to harm that side since that reveals your own hypocrisy.

Second how far will the combatants go in their aim to destroy the enemy's capacity and will to wage war in pursuit of victory?

Can mutual destruction actually be avoided by mutual deterrence? Is war actually a reasoned rational exercise with precise calculations and logical impartial decisions that ensure the desired victory and peace?

Third what are the criteria by which you measure victory?

If the conflict escalates from collateral civilian casualties and targeted military attacks to weapons of mass destruction as each side makes greater efforts to cripple their enemy's capacity and will to wage war then can you stop at the brink of mutual destruction or will each 'side' retaliate with even more destructive attacks which in turn spawn retaliatory attacks aimed to equal or exceed the attacks inflicted?

This reminds me of the cold war first strike theory which held that if we get our missiles off and bombs away before the other guy does we will win.But the question became what if we don't? If the combatant nations populations are mostly dead or dying and the land air and water poisoned indefinitely then where is the victory?
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
23,561
SoCal
In a setting of ''total war'' all the resources of a nation, military and civilian alike are mobilised for the purpose of waging war and civilian needs come second to military needs. Likewise, in such a setting of total war all civilian and military entities are legitimate targets. This includes infrastructure, factories, sources of natural resources and manpower of the nations involved. Destruction of infrastructure and industry could certainly prove crippling to the recipient nation or territory. The workers who work in said industry to fuel the war effort are not military personnel and are technically non-combatants and civilians.

Is total warfare an acceptable method of waging war? Should the factory workers and industry operators, and the industry and infrastructure they operate, be treated as resources at the disposal of the enemy nation or should they be disregarded and their destruction avoided? What do you think.
Before I answer this, I would like to ask: Do you consider NATO's actions in Serbia in 1999 to be total war? I mean, there certainly wasn't anything comparable to total mobilization on the home fronts (and, in fact, there wasn't even a draft to my knowledge). On the other hand, though, NATO was quite willing to use its own air power to attack and destroy things such as Serbian infrastructure.