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Lt. Col. (ret.) Ulrich Scholz: War – a pathology of the West

Lt. Col. (ret.) Ulrich Scholz

former fighter pilot, NATO planner and lecturer on air warfare


The Pathology of the Western Paradigm of Warfare

Schön guten Morgen, good morning. I’m going to talk to you about war, and I’m going to call it a pathology of the West.

Let me start first to say a few words about myself, so that you get the feeling that I’m not just talking as a naïve peace activist. I have been a warrior half of my life: I’m an American-trained fighter pilot; I knew how to drop bombs. I taught people how to drop bombs, even nuclear bombs, and I enjoyed it. I did my General Staff education with the U.S. Air Force. I’m very much fond of the American culture; I have a lot of friends among them, very good people. And I think I have to say this, because from what I’m saying afterwards, you might doubt that I’m still very friendly with America.

I’m going to use three metaphors, and I’m going to teach you three questions to ask, to come to the conclusion that war must not be a means of politics any more. So that’s the bottom line. I use metaphors, because I have learned that’s the best way to get adults to learn without them knowing that they’re learning.

Two metaphors on this picture: Who knows the movie the picture comes from? Louder — Planet of the Apes, that’s right. And I’m not going to tell you the plot of this movie, because the movie fits right into the center of what this conference is all about; and in the break, if somebody doesn’t know, I will tell them. It’s worth watching, with Charlton Heston; and if you haven’t seen it yet, just get the DVD and get it; it’s fascinating.

OK. It all started with these two sympathetic people, Carl von Clausewitz, a young general of the Prussian army, and his wife. After the Napoleonic wars, Clausewitz sat down and tried to grasp the essentials of war by studying Napoleon, and he wrote this book. Unfortunately he died before he could finish it. So his wife, Marie, finished the book after the first chapter. She took his notes and wrote the book. It was an extraordinary thing for a woman at this time to write a book on war.

Clausewitz, one of his essentials is this famous sentence: War is the continuation of politics by other means. Again, it is a reduction of a description of what he studied, and now the unbelievable: Politicians and generals still, today, take this, Clausewitz’s observation, like a cookbook. We just must study wars to apply it properly, to drive home political interests. And this is a scandal. If you look at the facts, the last 200 years, in major wars, we had over 150 million dead. In the moment, we have 4,000 nuclear

weapons, armed, active, in this world. And in our charters of international law, we have written down that war is prohibited.

And still, politicians and generals still think about how to use war to drive home interests. I think there’s some pathology behind that. Because, with these facts, I think nobody who is sensitive — I always say, “War is an offense to human intelligence.” Because, if you look at these facts, who could think of going to war?

I’m going to use the other is the famous German poet, Goethe, and I’m going to use a little rhyme he used as a metaphor. He wrote,

“In breathing, there are two graces,

drawing the air in, and exhaling it.

One constrains, and the other refreshes.

So wondrously life is mixed.

You thank God when He presses you,

and thank him when He once again releases you.”

Now, I’m comparing this metaphor of breathing to the capitalist system. For me, breathing in, is growth. In our systems, we have learned to inhale; unfortunately, we have forgotten how to exhale. And war is for me, the ultimate, desperate way to try to inhale. You know, the disease behind this is asthma; people with asthma cannot exhale.

The Western economic system is asthmatic.

So what do we have to do, to get a balanced way of breathing into our world? A change of paradigm, that’s what we talk about. We must change. And my first step to that is to let go of this old war paradigm. So that’s where I want to get to.

Now to the three questions. If you read or hear about a government going to war, you should always put into question, and ask questions about these three things: What is the political aim? How does the military want to achieve it? And what about our ethics when we do it? These three things, you can ask in the history of all wars, and I have just looked at the last 25 years of wars the West has waged. And the West fails in all of these three. And still, they go to war.

I’m going to use the current Operation Inherent Resolve. That’s the American bombing campaign against Daesh, against the Islamic State, just to show you how these three things are flawed.

This is the homepage of the Pentagon concerning Operation Inherent Resolve, which is accessible to the public. One thing a political aim must always have, for the military to go after it, with military means, is an end-state. What, if the military has done its job, does the world look like? And as we are in the West, and we like controlling, we like numbers. We like to know a figure. So, at this homepage, you can find it: Every day, they update the targets they have hit and destroyed. You can see it every day. This is 31st of May, 2016 (

They started counting in 2014. Unfortunately, what they haven’t done, they haven’t given out a number, when we have won. So you can do this counting forever. In Vietnam, they lost over counting — “body count”; you know that. They’re still doing it again. That’s pathological, isn’t it?

So, if you read, “destroyed buildings, 6,500,” I ask myself, “who else was in the building besides terrorists? Who was in the neighboring building?” OK

So, political aims must be clearly defined. There must be a clear statement of what the military must do. I give you the political aims of Inherent Resolve. It is “to militarily defeat Daesh, to increase regional stability.” Is there any stability in this region? Is there anything we can increase? Read it! It’s official. “To increase regional stability.” That’s fooling themselves, and fooling ourselves. This is baloney.

A second political aim is, “to defeat the ideology of Daesh.” How can you defeat an ideology with dropping bombs, tell me that? “To stem the global flow of foreign fighters in all of our nations.” Bombing in the Middle East will “stem the flow of terrorists in all of our nations.” Can you do this militarily?

So these two political aims are the basis of all the bombing we do there every day. You could stop right here. What a waste of lives and money.

Next, military doctrine. President Obama said in 9-14, no U.S. ground forces. Doctrine is the way we fight. And after Vietnam, the U.S. developed a doctrine of jointness — we use everything we have in our stock, Army, Navy, Air Force, Special Forces. We look at the problem and then we decide, can we do it, and how do we want to do it. Obama said “no ground forces.” A general should have said, right there, against all doctrine “we don’t do it.” They’re doing it anyway.

They’re using rebel forces on the ground, indigenous forces, they call it — sounds scientific. It has nothing to do with jointness: There’s no common military culture, there

is no common language, there is no common procedures, there is no force coherence. It’s just two different things happening. The Kurds and all the good guys are on the ground trying to do something, and the air war is taking place on top of them. Not very professional.

Waging war by air power alone — and the last 25 years America and NATO have done it in several countries — is useless. It’s just useless.

And now, the knockout argument: Ethics. Rebels and insurgents will always avoid big military engagements. They will mingle with the population. They do this deliberately. If you, with all your precision, and all your thorough targetting try to hit terrorists in Aleppo, or in Ar Raqqah, you will hit civilians. Now, I ask you, how many children will we kill, for one terrorist? I say: None.

In the air headquarters in Qatar, in the planning process, there is a legal advisor. NATO has it, the French have it, the Germans have it, a legal advisor, a lawyer who will tell the planner how many civilians a certain target is “worth.” He writes death sentences: He will say, 20? No. 10? OK. This happens every day, and we just don’t care. And that’s a scandal I think.

Now, to my last point: How can we get from the old paradigm of making war, how can we get to a new one? I think it’s a cultural change, and cultural changes do not work from above. That’s dictatorship; we have tried this before. To do cultural change from below is the guillotine, we have seen that before. It can only work when people learn. And learning can only happen when you try to incite discourses, inform people, encourage them to say “no.” Ask the politicians, ask the generals these three questions about aims, ethics and of course, military ways of doing things.

So, what I’m pleading for is, going away from a paradigm of waging war for political reasons; we should wage war only for humanitarian reasons. And this is the end of my speech.

Audio (mp3):




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