Magnificent, But Was It War?
“C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre.” Thus in 1854 did a French observer dismiss the Light Brigade’s charge into the Russian guns at Balaklava during the Crimean War. War consists less of shooting than it does of figuring out objectives worthy of killing and dying for, and then of applying means proportionate to the ends. Because the British commanders in the Crimea had not thought through the relationship between ends and means, the Light Brigade’s heroism produced only dead bodies.
One year after the Gulf War, are we, too, compelled to say that it was magnificent but that it was not war? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that the U.S. achieved disproportionately less than its massive and technically flawless military effort warranted—and precisely because George Bush failed at the essential test of thinking through what the enemy was about, what our objectives should be, and what we had to do to achieve them. But no, in the sense that there can be little doubt that the world is better off—at least for a little while—than it would have been had the war not been fought.
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