[September 12, 2018] Today, I’m visiting Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri to witness an Engineer School graduation. Being here is a good time for me because I’m reminded of what the school’s Sergeant Major once told me. ‘When studying any conflict,’ he said, ‘remember that all wars begin before the first battle.’
I thought I understood what he meant at the time and that this was a profound observation. I’d never heard it said like this before but I had read Sun Tzu who postulated that wars are won (or lost) before they begin.1
“All wars begin before the first shot is fired and continue long after the last bullet has done its job.” – First line in the movie There Be Dragons (2011)
But there is, unsurprisingly, more to it than that. We know that wars are complex affairs that bridge the political, social, diplomatic, and economic realms of nations. This was true of World War I as any war; one of the most destructive of all human wars. After the Entente Powers (those countries opposing the Central Powers) won, the peace was made on the backs of the losers.
This set the stage for an even more destructive war, World War II, and that war ultimately came sooner than anyone could have predicted. This is why any conditions imposed on the losing side must be as humane and realistic as possible. If we are to punish the citizens of a losing country, there is always a risk of revenge. We found this out the hard way when the WWI armistice led to WWII.
I highly recommend you see the movie, There Be Dragons. It reinforces this point. The movie is about the horror of the Spanish Civil War that took place from 1936 to 1939 and was a prelude to WWII. The background to the war is fascinating and should be studied closely to better understand the interplay of democracy, fascism, and communism in modern times.
Good memories here at Fort Leonard Wood and at the U.S. Army Engineer School.
- “Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” – Sun Tzu, ancient Chinese general