Dr. Sam Mustafa
HIS – 294
Journal: Rules of War
The concept of total war isn’t some ancient device, in the sense that the term never truly existed in the ancient world. Particularly with the almost civilized method of warfare practiced by the 18th century Europeans, war became more and more restricted. Civilians became more and more of a protected class, to the extent that it was not until William T. Sherman’s march through the South during the American Civil War that this concept of war on civilian populations returned to Western military thought.
General William T. Sherman believed it was necessary to label the entirety of an enemy nation as the enemy itself. His attacks went beyond the destruction of military targets such as major railway junctions and enemy arsenals. The entire city of Atlanta had its population forcibly removed while the city itself was torched. His goal was simple, to bring the horror of war home to the Confederate populations, sensing that if they would never ‘love’ the union, they would be too afraid of the devastation to continue to fight it. While material destruction of the South was great, and did in its own right contribute to the cessation of hostilities, the ultimate Union goal of integrating these territories once again could be argued as having been harmed. Even further, Sherman was never explicitly given permission for the razing and pillaging that he embarked on, more often being condoned than permitted. Still, Sherman’s attacks took place against the civilians of a state that could be reasonably defeated. There was an end to Sherman’s violence, in the capitulation of the South. These areas, while perhaps not content with the prospect of defeat, now lacked the means to effectively wage war.
Sherman may have been the first in many years to revisit the idea of war on a civilian populace, but many have done so after him. One of the most memorable attacks on civilians in the America was directed by a man who saw his mission as god’s holy rite to attack the civilians of the nation he perceived to be his enemy. Osama bin Laden was a fundamentalist islamic jihadi who believed that any member of the enemy countries were legitimate targets. His fundamental belief was founded in the perception that a ‘Jewish-American’ alliance existed with the goal destroying Islam. His mission called for the destruction of Israel, removal of all Americans from the middle east, the mass establishment of Sharia law, and continued violent jihad against the non-believers. Any violent action was permissible for these goals, with the 9/11 attacks on the United States being one of the largest and most successful missions carried out by bin Laden’s Al Qaeda terrorist organization. While several attacks followed this, none was quite as successful.
While both men utilized terror as their means for war, their motivations and missions, and methods were drastically different. Sherman’s principle destruction may have inflicted suffering on the civilian populace with the burning of foodstuffs and theft of private property, but attacks on civilians themselves were extremely limited. Bin Laden’s 9/11 attacks alone killed over three thousand civilians, using civilian planes loaded with civilians as weapons for the attacks. Sherman’s end goal was the capitulation of the South, which had declared hostile intent with their secession from the Union and the preemptive attack on Fort Sumter. While several incidents throughout US history could be seen as hostile toward islamic nations, there never existed a ‘jewish run’ US government with the sole intent of destroying islam. Sherman’s march did contribute to a hastened end to a declared war, while Bin Laden’s jihad had little to no chance of ever achieving measured success in a war that never truly existed.