I came across this quote by George Orwell in his review of military theorist B. H. Liddell Hart’s book The British Way in Warfare (1942). It is always interesting to see the clash of great minds. I honestly find strengths and weaknesses in both thinkers. But in this argument, Orwell comes off as the wiser man:
“Limited aims” strategy implies that your enemy is very much the same kind of person as yourself; you want to get the better of him, but it is not necessary for your safety to annihilate him or even to interfere with his internal politics. These conditions existed in the eighteenth century and even in the later phases of the Napoleonic wars, but have disappeared in the atomized world in which we are now living.
Orwell is referring to Liddell Hart’s reaction to “total warfare” and the horrific trench stalemate of 1914-18. There were good reasons for his critique. Unfortunately there are some conflicts that, even with the best of tactics, can only be resolved by a bloody and costly effort. They require the “annihilation” of the enemy’s ability to fight – whether physically or psychologically – because one is dealing with an opponent whose aims are not limited either by realism or moral scruples. This was certainly true in the war against Hitler. Orwell’s axiom is applicable to all forms of human conflict. When confronted with terrorists, thugs or ideological gangsters who refuse to “play by the rules,” there can be no room for naivete or compromise.