The Idea of War

AuthorCraig Forcese
Chapter 16
The Idea of War
If the Wars of civilized people are less cruel and deruive than those of
savages, the dif‌ference arises from the social condition both of States in
themselves and in their relations to each other. Out of this social condition
and its relations War arises, and by it War is subjeed to conditions, is
controlled and modif‌ied.
— Carl von Clausewitz1
I   sense, “war” is violence designed to compel an
outcome.2 “War,” the Oxford English Dictionary reports, means
a “hostile contention by means of armed forces.” But in its prac-
tical use, war dif‌fers from mob violence by its degree of organization,
and usually from brigandage by its political objectives. As the full
Oxford English Dictionary def‌inition also suggests, we usually asso-
ciate war with a political state that is, at least one party to what we
term a “war” is a government.
States and governments are creatures of law. But while in its exer-
cise, war may be an organized clash between these legal creatures — or
increasingly, between one or more of them and some other oppos-
ing party we sometimes imagine war as the negation of law: the
famous “mere continuation of policy by other means.3 The origin-
ator of that phrase, the Napoleonic war veteran Carl von Clausewitz,
had little time for laws in war. He dismissed them as “self-imposed
restrictions, almost imperceptible and hardly worth mentioning,
termed usages of international law” that accompany war “without
essentially impairing its power.4

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