Academic journal article Military Review

Retaining the Moral Element of War

Academic journal article Military Review

Retaining the Moral Element of War

Article excerpt

MUCH DEBATE and philosophical resonance in US military and academic circles today focuses on whether or not we are entering into, in the midst of or departing from a revolution in military affairs (RMA). This speculative fog masks an important component of future warfare-the moral element of war.2 Regardless of the inherent arguments, changes and any definition or innovations of the socalled RMA, the moral element of war will remain unchanged and constant in the foreseeable future. This integral component is often overlooked by forward-thinking optimists, force developers, doctrine writers and technologists when they proselytize about the profound changes that the future holds for warfare. Although our Army is in the midst of the RMA debate, the enduring relationship between the human participants and the conduct of war ensures that the moral element will remain one of war's dominant and constant elements. This realization is important to our Army's future because of our increasing tendency to rely too heavily on technology to accomplish our goals while slighting the moral element's importance.

Technology alone cannot win wars. Human interaction and imposition remain vital determinants to the efficient application of that technology. As we enthusiastically rush toward the 21st-century battlefield with a multitude of unanswered questions, we should look to the past to capture and benefit from truths that military history offers. Indeed, history may not be able to prove much of anything. It does, however, demonstrate the relationship between human actors and circumstance, between cause and effect, and between dynamic change and its results. Reflected in history's annals are certain constants, of which life's uncertainty, warfare's confusion and the human participant's nature and character are the most significant.

The moral element of war-consisting of those dynamic forces encompassing human performance, emotion, motivation, group performance, leadership and intangible natural forces during war-will remain a vital component of war and unchanged in the future for two essential reasons.3 First, the true nature of war--the essence of war itself, not the manner in which it is conducted-will not substantially change, and thus its components retain their validity. Second, human beings and human nature will not change. Future war will be conducted by people either controlling or benefiting from highly advanced, technological devices and weapon systems. This means that individual actions, human imperfections, performance thresholds and varying personalities will still influence and determine a conflict's outcome.

The terms war, conduct of war, nature of war, moral element of war and RMA are characteristically abstract and host to numerous definitions. Nevertheless, a working understanding of their meanings is necessary in order to understand the parts' relationship to the whole as illustrated in the figure.

War and RMA

Prussian General Helmuth von Moltke would probably be shunned by segments of the military community today because he generally opposed the idea that systems could replace human talent. He defined war as "the violent action of nations to attain or maintain purposes of state."4 This definition remains convincing, as does Carl von Clausewitz's trademark interpretations that "war is the continuation of policy by other means," and "war is an act of force intended to compel our enemy to do our will.''5 Clausewitz also recognized that the art of war could not be exclusively considered a science, as it encompassed "living and moral forces."6 He recognized that human participation in war would forever make it an unpredictable, sometimes illogical and imperfect endeavor. War, then, is aggression of physical and nonphysical means between at least two parties to accomplish a political purpose when other recourses have failed.

Conduct of war. The conduct of war pertains to the manner in which a party carries out the physical and nonphysical acts in war. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.