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Re: Total vs. Limited Wars

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  • Andrew S. Finch
    Jim I m not sure we have meet but I for one would just like to say how much I enjoy your thoughts on the war You re the first person I know who has accepted a
    Message 1 of 6 , Feb 28, 1999
      Jim I'm not sure we have meet but I for one would just like to say how much
      I enjoy your thoughts on the war
      You're the first person I know who has accepted a world view of the war and
      your perception of the differences in 21st and 19th century think is
      something we should all keep in mind as we portray our rolls
      Please keep in mind to visit the cav if we are at any sites you are present

      -----Original Message-----
      From: Jim Yaworsky [mailto:yawors1@...]
      Sent: Sunday, February 21, 1999 1:29 PM
      To: 'warof1812@onelist.com'
      Subject: [WarOf1812] Total vs. Limited Wars

      From: Jim Yaworsky <yawors1@...>

      We are the products of the late 20th Century - a century that has
      experienced several Total Wars. WW2 in particular was a fight to the finish
      with the Allies consciously committing themselves to an "unconditional
      surrender" demand against the Axis powers. There is considerable academic
      debate as to whether this policy, especially as applied against the Germans,
      resulted in some unnecessary bloodshed and destruction, and created a power
      vacuum in central Europe that put us all through the nastiness of the Cold
      War - although it is certainly hard to see how any sort of deal could have
      been cut with a Nazi Germany led by Adolf et al.

      "Total Wars" are characterized by totally unrestrained military action, the
      aim being to beat your enemy down to the ground. Interestingly enough,
      while some aspects of the Napoleonic Wars would fit this definition, such as
      the decision by the Allied Powers in 1814 and then again during the 100 days
      to insist on Napoleon being removed as ruler of France, there were numerous
      examples of a lack of what we would understand as "total war" in the Allies
      operations. For example, there was great care taken by Wellington, in his
      invasion of France, to treat the French population in a restrained manner
      and stick to the genteel "rules of war" that had prevailed during the 18th
      Century: pay for food, don't rape everything in skirts, etc. The "enemy"
      was General Bonaparte, not the French people. Perhaps the only army
      operating - or trying to operate - on a "total war: civilian population is a
      legitimate target" basis were the Prussians, who were anxious to get some
      "payback" in for French depredations in Germany in the preceding years.
      The classic "total war" of the Napoleonic period would be the Spanish
      resistance to the French, and there are examples too numerous to mention
      where the French and Spanish committed the most sickening atrocities against
      each other. What brings the difference between a "total" (no rules) and a
      "limited" (has rules of conduct) war in to very clear egion were
      contemplating "burning out" the Canadian population along the Thames river,
      to create a buffer zone, much like some British strategists wanted to create
      an Indian buffer-state out of Michigan and parts of Ohio, Illinois, and

      But by and large, the Anglo/Canadian and main U.S. forces were still
      "playing the game" by the "rules" for most of the War.

      I would suggest that our expectations of "victory" are (inevitably) tinged
      by our late-20th century outlook.

      Can there be any doubt that if the U.S. population had taken up the conquest
      of Canada as a national crusade, that they eventually would have succeeded?
      Or that the British had it in their power to attack and capture (and burn
      and destroy) practically any American city or town or village within a day's
      march of the sea?

      The massive fortifications built by the U.S. after the war to defend their
      east coast testify to knowledge by the Americans that they had been
      vulnerable in this regard. Official British plans for the defence of Canada
      in the 19th Century (and even in 1812) placed primary importance on the
      defence of Quebec City and Halifax. The Rideau Canal was built as a supply
      line away from the vulnerable St. Lawrence border route, Kingston was given
      some fortifications, but the basic game-plan remained the same. The plans
      for major fortifications back from the Niagara River (in the Short(?) Hills
      just south of what is now St. Catherines) were never implemented. The
      British realized that The Canadas would be very hard indeed to defend from
      determined U.S. attack and rather than station large and expensive garrisons
      in expensive fortifications, they chose to defend just a few key places in
      strength and rely on the Royal Navy to ship over reinforcements in time.
      Whether those reinforcements would ever be available and arrive in time (in
      1813, they were - just) would depend on the overall geopolitical
      situation... events in India etc. might be more important than attempting
      to hold on to Canada, etc.

      The War of 1812 was an unwanted side-show to the British and they were happy
      enough to end it when they did. At various points of the war, some
      strategists, administrators, and politicians might have flirted with ideas
      of trying to adjust the U.S.-Canadian border by annexing northern Maine, or
      parts of the largely uninhabited frontier areas of the midwest and upper
      Mississippi. In the end, it was far more important to stop this irritating
      This decision had more to do with factors in Europe and Britain than the
      situation "on the ground" in North America. Such factors as the fact taxes
      were too high in a war-weary U.K. and the british army was necessary back in
      Britain to pose a credible factor in the British/Austrian/French "alliance"
      to stop the Russian/Prussian powerblock which was trying to grab large hunks
      of Poland and Germany. The Brits hadn't fought the French for 20+ years to
      stop them from dominating Europe, just to have Alexander, Tsar of Russia,
      step in to Napoleon's shoes.
      And of course, there is also the factor that very few people in Britain
      cared enough about what was going on in North America to get very excited
      about prospects of "re-conquering" large tracts of bush, etc.
      I am reminded of the Michigan/Ohio "border-war" over Toledo in the 1830's(?)
      when a fairly narrow strip of land on the north bank of the Maumee river was
      awarded to Ohio instead of to Michigan. The Federal government gave
      Michigan some land to compensate it for giving up its claim - the ENTIRE
      NORTHERN PENINSULA of what is now Michigan (i.e. the lands between Lake
      Superior and Lake Michigan)!!! Literally many thousands of square miles of
      bush were considered to be necessary compensation for a few hundred square
      miles of partly-developed land. This gives some idea of attitudes
      prevailing at the time, because I believe Michigan still thought it had
      gotten screwed! Why would British negotiators looking at very large-scale
      maps of wilderness get very excited about what they were doing?

      The Americans had many war aims, one of which was the conquest of Canada.
      The advocates for attacking Canada no doubt believed - and assured the rest
      of the American establishment - that it would be an easy task. Hey! - they
      gave it a shot a few times, and it turned out to not be. It turned out to
      be more effort than the American government in late 1814 was willing to put

      One side can start a war (although ultimately the other side always has the
      choice of surrendering instead of fighting so in a sense it always "takes
      two to tango") but it definitely and always takes both sides to formulate a
      peace in a "limited war".

      The Americans in 1814 could see no point in continuing the war either. The
      predictions and expectations of both sides had started very divergent from
      each other (which is, of course, what started the War in the first place:
      only idiots or people left with no other option start a war they KNOW they
      are going to lose) but as events confirmed or negated those predictions and
      modified expectations to a more realistic level, the two sides found
      themselves prepared to negotiate a peace treaty.

      This is a totally normal process and I don't recall a clause in the Treaty
      of Ghent wherein either of the parties was formally required to take on
      blame for starting the war or acknowledge that they had been bested...

      Unlike a "total" war, which ends in complete victory for one side and
      complete defeat for the other (although the cost of victory can be so high
      as to make it almost indistinguishable from defeat...), it was (and is -
      witness the Gulf War of 8 years ago, or the Falklands of the '80's)
      perfectly normal for a "limited war" to end with each side somewhat happy
      with what went on - or at least, as in the case of the Falklands, even the
      loser accepting a "limited" military result without insisting on a fight to
      the death.

      Should the Brits have "nuked" Buenos Aires if Argentina had not
      unconditionally surrendered? Insisted that the Argentinian navy and air
      force surrender their hardware at Port Stanley like the Allies made the
      Germans surrender the High Seas Fleet at Scapa Flow at the end of WW1? I
      don't think anyone would assert that the Brits wimped out & let the
      Argentinians off the hook too easy, would they?

      As each side was fighting for its own unique reasons, it is even possible
      for both sides to consider they "won", with varying levels of 'objective'
      validity to those claims. Just check out Iraqi versions of the Gulf War:
      they stood up for Arab pride against the might of the arch-devils!

      But to say the word "objective" validity, as opposed to "subjective"
      validity, is to perhaps touch the very heart of this little debate we've
      been having.
      Ultimately, for the participants in a war and their immediate heirs (which
      all of us are, to a varying degree), it is virtually impossible to have
      anything but a "subjective" opinion. War is just too intense and searing of
      an experience for any nation to be viewed in a completely objective manner
      by its citizens.

      Mayhaps when we eventually contact the Vulcans, Mr. Spock will have a look
      over the evidence, and give us an objective critique of who won the War of

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      The War of 1812: In Europe, thousands fought over the fate of hundreds of
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