Armistices vs. Forcing a Surrender

 

I’ve been thinking of what kind of problems ensue when leaders try an armistice to end a war rather than insist on the enemy surrendering. I’m sure that experts can provide instances where it has worked well but consider these two important examples:

  1. WW 1 ended in an armistice between the western powers and Germany. For the next 20 years Germany moved from serious poverty to a major power in the world — and filled with notions of anger and revenge. This armistice ended when the biggest and most murderous war in history started.
  2. The Korean War ended in an armistice between Korea, China and the United Nations (mostly the Unites States). We are now faced with a rather putrid result in North Korea.

If North Korea starts another major war or major conflict then it seems we have every reason to agree with Douglas MacArthur that we should have gone in against the Chinese and settled things permanently. I’m not belittling the risks with that nor do I know enough to authoritatively criticize what the leaders were up against but I really do think that the Chinese Communists couldn’t stand up to us and Mao needed to be slapped down. It’s clear also that the Soviets were behind the whole thing, too — that definitely makes one wonder what to do. However, giving Mao a defeat and uniting Korea into a western-oriented government could well have been better.

Think about the arguments these days about how we shouldn’t have forced unconditional surrender terms on Germany and Japan. Also, with regard to the Civil War, Lincoln and Grant wanted a clear defeat of the South. These two conflicts generated some problems, I admit (Cold War and balkanization of the South) but we ended up with the major points being resolved and two good and worthy allies in Western Germany and Japan. Instead, WW1 ended up with the Germans fuming and filled with hatred and North Korea has caused mischief all over the world and is now a possible flashpoint for a major conflict or war.

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  1. Matt Balzer Member
    Matt Balzer
    @MattBalzer

    The issue with WWI was not the armistice, it was the Treaty of Versailles that imposed harsh sanctions on the Germans. Had the Allies not imposed the terms they did, there probably wouldn’t have been as much revanchist sentiment in Germany. There’s a case to be made that America’s entry into the war actually made things worse for the settlement of the war.

    • #1
  2. Al Sparks Thatcher
    Al Sparks
    @AlSparks

    I first started reading Victor Davis Hanson’s columns after we had taken Iraq militarily, and were in the middle of trying to govern it, with all the terrorist attacks occurring on our troops.

    He said at the time (going by memory) that one problem the Bush Administration was dealing with is that they hadn’t killed enough of the enemy; hadn’t rubbed their noses, including civilians, in the dirt enough (figuratively speaking).

    And he not only used Japan and Germany post WWII as examples, but the United States civil war, and Sherman’s march to Atlanta.

    • #2
  3. Larry Koler Inactive
    Larry Koler
    @LarryKoler

    Matt Balzer (View Comment):
    The issue with WWI was not the armistice, it was the Treaty of Versailles that imposed harsh sanctions on the Germans. Had the Allies not imposed the terms they did, there probably wouldn’t have been as much revanchist sentiment in Germany. There’s a case to be made that America’s entry into the war actually made things worse for the settlement of the war.

    Well, good point to drill down a bit but for this argument I think of these two things (armistice and treaty) as being together. It’s obvious that the western powers were upset with Germany — if they had taken that just a bit further and got them to surrender it might have turned out better. Instead, they did it in half measures.

    • #3
  4. Al Sparks Thatcher
    Al Sparks
    @AlSparks

    Matt Balzer (View Comment):
    There’s a case to be made that America’s entry into the war actually made things worse for the settlement of the war.

    I’ve gone back and forth on this.  I think Wilson’s meddling after the war made things worse.

    But while Kaiser Wilhelm was no Hitler, he was a bad influence, and it was a good thing he was removed from power.

    • #4
  5. Larry Koler Inactive
    Larry Koler
    @LarryKoler

    Al Sparks (View Comment):
    I first started reading Victor Davis Hanson’s columns after we had taken Iraq militarily, and were in the middle of trying to govern it, with all the terrorist attacks occurring on our troops.

    He said at the time (going by memory) that one problem the Bush Administration was dealing with is that they hadn’t killed enough of the enemy; hadn’t rubbed their noses, including civilians, in the dirt enough (figuratively speaking).

    And he not only used Japan and Germany post WWII as examples, but the United States civil war, and Sherman’s march to Atlanta.

    Wow, I’m in good company. This whole subject occurred to me after listening to the two interviews of VDH by Peter Robinson about his new book, The Second World Wars.

    However, it is very important to always mention with regard to the Iraq War that our media and much of the world’s media was working for the enemy. This single fact can make the other side stay in place and last much longer than they otherwise would. Media and propaganda is critical to the success of any endeavor and Bush not fighting on this crucial front was part of the problems we saw.

    • #5
  6. Al Sparks Thatcher
    Al Sparks
    @AlSparks

    Larry Koler (View Comment):
    However, it is very important to always mention with regard to the Iraq War that our media

    I agree, but another way to put this is that we weren’t united going into Iraq.  And one area that Bush was not forthcoming, either to us or himself, was the level of committment required after we took over.

    We kept troops in Japan and Germany for a good 50+ years after the military conflict was over.

    Bush should have been honest about that.

    • #6
  7. Larry Koler Inactive
    Larry Koler
    @LarryKoler

    Al Sparks (View Comment):

    Larry Koler (View Comment):
    However, it is very important to always mention with regard to the Iraq War that our media

    I agree, but another way to put this is that we weren’t united going into Iraq. And one area that Bush was not forthcoming, either to us or himself, was the level of commitment required after we took over.

    Even Hillary and John Kerry voted for going into Iraq. 2 or 3 months later they both said that Bush lied them into war. This is traitorous behavior. But, Bush should have made them pay for that and he definitely didn’t defend the country nor himself on what was being said about him and the war.

    The level of commitment should have been in the 20 years or more category — I agree. But, we should have attacked the Iranians for their support, too. Bush didn’t even make that case. And then the media again was behind all this — in not doing their job. Instead, they had Abu Ghraib.

    We kept troops in Japan and Germany for a good 50+ years after the military conflict was over.

    Bush should have been honest about that.

    He wasn’t dishonest but he should have made the case.

     

    • #7
  8. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Al Sparks (View Comment):
    I first started reading Victor Davis Hanson’s columns after we had taken Iraq militarily, and were in the middle of trying to govern it, with all the terrorist attacks occurring on our troops.

    He said at the time (going by memory) that one problem the Bush Administration was dealing with is that they hadn’t killed enough of the enemy; hadn’t rubbed their noses, including civilians, in the dirt enough (figuratively speaking).

    And he not only used Japan and Germany post WWII as examples, but the United States civil war, and Sherman’s march to Atlanta.

    WWII is also the last time any of our ‘wars’ achieved the stated goal and made it last any length of time.  The other times it’s either still a stalemate, we didn’t achieve our goals (all of Bill Clinton’s efforts), or the perfidy of the Democrats gave back any gains made.

    My formula since 9/11 has been that the way to beat terrorism is with horror.  The full horror of total war, WWII style, completely eliminating their capacity to resist in any way.

    • #8
  9. Larry Koler Inactive
    Larry Koler
    @LarryKoler

    Judge Mental (View Comment):
    My formula since 9/11 has been that the way to beat terrorism is with horror. The full horror of total war, WWII style, completely eliminating their capacity to resist in any way.

    There’s reason to believe that it’s actually better for the enemy or at least the inhabitants of the enemy’s country.

    • #9
  10. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    Matt Balzer (View Comment):
    The issue with WWI was not the armistice, it was the Treaty of Versailles that imposed harsh sanctions on the Germans. Had the Allies not imposed the terms they did, there probably wouldn’t have been as much revanchist sentiment in Germany. There’s a case to be made that America’s entry into the war actually made things worse for the settlement of the war.

    The sanctions imposed on Germany were not nearly as harsh as the sanctions the Germans were planning to impose on France.

    Basically, as far as I can tell, WW I was just a really bad war,  because the issues  could have been negotiated to a reasonable settlement by reasonable people.

    This is not to make a fetish of negotiation. Indeed, there are some issues that cannot be negotiated. “How much of Europe would you like to gobble up and oppress, Mr. Hitler?” and “How many slaves would you be satisfied with, O’ Southerners?” might have been “negotiated” had the negotiations been done properly and sooner, but often this requires a willingness to plausibly threaten violence. Rattling the saber can focus the mind of the parties involved, but the saber has to be sharp and unsheathed and the rattle can’t be mere noise.

     

    • #10
  11. Bishop Wash Member
    Bishop Wash
    @BishopWash

    Al Sparks (View Comment):
    I first started reading Victor Davis Hanson’s columns after we had taken Iraq militarily, and were in the middle of trying to govern it, with all the terrorist attacks occurring on our troops.

    He said at the time (going by memory) that one problem the Bush Administration was dealing with is that they hadn’t killed enough of the enemy; hadn’t rubbed their noses, including civilians, in the dirt enough (figuratively speaking).

    And he not only used Japan and Germany post WWII as examples, but the United States civil war, and Sherman’s march to Atlanta.

    Iraq is another example of an armistice not working. The first Gulf War ended with a cease fire and not a surrender. Yeah, the coalition might have been built on kicking Saddam out of Kuwait and nothing further, but we should have taken those allies willing to continue with us and finished the job. Instead, Bush 43 went in ten years later and it probably was a lot harder than it could have been.

    I don’t understand why the administration focused on WMDs and not the cease fire. They could have told us that the cease fire had agreements and Saddam wasn’t holding up his end of the deal. Therefore, based on that and the world stage after 9/11, we were resuming fire.

    • #11
  12. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Well said, Larry. I think you are 100% spot on.

    • #12
  13. danok1 Member
    danok1
    @danok1

    Larry Koler (View Comment):

    Matt Balzer (View Comment):
    The issue with WWI was not the armistice, it was the Treaty of Versailles that imposed harsh sanctions on the Germans. Had the Allies not imposed the terms they did, there probably wouldn’t have been as much revanchist sentiment in Germany. There’s a case to be made that America’s entry into the war actually made things worse for the settlement of the war.

    Well, good point to drill down a bit but for this argument I think of these two things (armistice and treaty) as being together. It’s obvious that the western powers were upset with Germany — if they had taken that just a bit further and got them to surrender it might have turned out better. Instead, they did it in half measures.

    In post-WWI Germany there was the “stabbed-in-the-back” myth, essentially saying the German army didn’t lose the war, but was instead betrayed by the civilians on the home front. If the Germans had been forced to an unconditional surrender, rather than an armistice, this myth could not have taken hold.

    I do think that forcing the issue was unlikely. Britain and France had been bled white by the four years of unrelenting battle. There was really no way they could have pushed to an unconditional surrender. Only the US committing many more troops would have achieved that.

    • #13
  14. Larry Koler Inactive
    Larry Koler
    @LarryKoler

    Kate Braestrup (View Comment):
    The sanctions imposed on Germany were not nearly as harsh as the sanctions the Germans were planning to impose on France.

    And we know that the Germans were very hard on the Soviets when they got out of the war early – but Lenin wanted absolute power over the Russian people for his “experiments” in making omelets so he accepted the dread results of the negotiations at the Brest-Litovsk Treaty.

    • #14
  15. Larry Koler Inactive
    Larry Koler
    @LarryKoler

    Bishop Wash (View Comment):
    Iraq is another example of an armistice not working. The first Gulf War ended with a cease fire and not a surrender.

    Of course, you are right — this is the same disease I’m talking about, isn’t it? I supported it at the time but it turned out in hindsight to be short-sighted. It left the same belligerent in power who started the whole thing.

    • #15
  16. Larry Koler Inactive
    Larry Koler
    @LarryKoler

    danok1 (View Comment):

    Larry Koler (View Comment):

    Matt Balzer (View Comment):
    The issue with WWI was not the armistice, it was the Treaty of Versailles that imposed harsh sanctions on the Germans. Had the Allies not imposed the terms they did, there probably wouldn’t have been as much revanchist sentiment in Germany. There’s a case to be made that America’s entry into the war actually made things worse for the settlement of the war.

    Well, good point to drill down a bit but for this argument I think of these two things (armistice and treaty) as being together. It’s obvious that the western powers were upset with Germany — if they had taken that just a bit further and got them to surrender it might have turned out better. Instead, they did it in half measures.

    In post-WWI Germany there was the “stabbed-in-the-back” myth, essentially saying the German army didn’t lose the war, but was instead betrayed by the civilians on the home front. If the Germans had been forced to an unconditional surrender, rather than an armistice, this myth could not have taken hold.

    I do think that forcing the issue was unlikely. Britain and France had been bled white by the four years of unrelenting battle. There was really no way they could have pushed to an unconditional surrender. Only the US committing many more troops would have achieved that.

    Yes. Unfortunately, the democracies just couldn’t be expected to take any more killing of their young men. But, it was this lack of resolve that showed up at the beginning of WWII when the French will collapsed.

    • #16
  17. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    Bishop Wash (View Comment):
    I don’t understand why the administration focused on WMDs and not the cease fire. They could have told us that the cease fire had agreements and Saddam wasn’t holding up his end of the deal. Therefore, based on that and the world stage after 9/11, we were resuming fire.

    Agree.

    • #17
  18. Larry Koler Inactive
    Larry Koler
    @LarryKoler

    Kate Braestrup (View Comment):

    Bishop Wash (View Comment):
    I don’t understand why the administration focused on WMDs and not the cease fire. They could have told us that the cease fire had agreements and Saddam wasn’t holding up his end of the deal. Therefore, based on that and the world stage after 9/11, we were resuming fire.

    Agree.

    Me too.

    Remember, though, that it was the media who made up the lies about WMDs. Christopher Hitchens always insisted that they were lies – there were WMDs.

    • #18
  19. tigerlily Member
    tigerlily
    @tigerlily

    Nice post Larry. I’m in basic agreement with you on this.

    • #19
  20. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Larry Koler (View Comment):

    Kate Braestrup (View Comment):

    Bishop Wash (View Comment):
    I don’t understand why the administration focused on WMDs and not the cease fire. They could have told us that the cease fire had agreements and Saddam wasn’t holding up his end of the deal. Therefore, based on that and the world stage after 9/11, we were resuming fire.

    Agree.

    Me too.

    Remember, though, that it was the media who made up the lies about WMDs. Christopher Hitchens always insisted that they were lies – there were WMDs.

    Agree with Hitchens.  There were some highly suspicious stories going on at the time, that the media had absolutely no interest in covering.

    • #20
  21. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I think the big problem in both the Vietnam and Korean wars was the nuclear arsenal that China had amassed.

    I think we faced a terrible decision in both cases.

    • #21
  22. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    MarciN (View Comment):
    I think the big problem in both the Vietnam and Korean wars was the nuclear arsenal that China had amassed.

    I think we faced a terrible decision in both cases.

    China didn’t have nukes until 1964, so Vietnam maybe, but it wasn’t a factor in Korea.

    • #22
  23. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):
    I think the big problem in both the Vietnam and Korean wars was the nuclear arsenal that China had amassed.

    I think we faced a terrible decision in both cases.

    China didn’t have nukes until 1964, so Vietnam maybe, but it wasn’t a factor in Korea.

    I had to look that up, of course.  I was expecting it to be after Vietnam too.

    • #23
  24. Matt Balzer Member
    Matt Balzer
    @MattBalzer

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):
    I think the big problem in both the Vietnam and Korean wars was the nuclear arsenal that China had amassed.

    I think we faced a terrible decision in both cases.

    China didn’t have nukes until 1964, so Vietnam maybe, but it wasn’t a factor in Korea.

    I had to look that up, of course. I was expecting it to be after Vietnam too.

    I think you could have made it stick.

    • #24
  25. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):
    I think the big problem in both the Vietnam and Korean wars was the nuclear arsenal that China had amassed.

    I think we faced a terrible decision in both cases.

    China didn’t have nukes until 1964, so Vietnam maybe, but it wasn’t a factor in Korea.

    Okay. Thank you.

    But I still think war with China was the biggest concern in both cases.

    Perhaps I’m wrong. :)

    • #25
  26. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):
    I think the big problem in both the Vietnam and Korean wars was the nuclear arsenal that China had amassed.

    I think we faced a terrible decision in both cases.

    China didn’t have nukes until 1964, so Vietnam maybe, but it wasn’t a factor in Korea.

    Okay. Thank you.

    But I still think war with China was the biggest concern in both cases.

    Perhaps I’m wrong. :)

    I can’t remember who the general was, but when China entered the war in Korea, he wanted 50 nukes to deal with them.  (Possibly MacArthur, can’t remember.)

    • #26
  27. Vectorman Inactive
    Vectorman
    @Vectorman

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    MarciN (View Comment):
    I think the big problem in both the Vietnam and Korean wars was the nuclear arsenal that China had amassed.

    I think we faced a terrible decision in both cases.

    China didn’t have nukes until 1964, so Vietnam maybe, but it wasn’t a factor in Korea.

    Okay. Thank you.

    But I still think war with China was the biggest concern in both cases.

    Perhaps I’m wrong. :)

    I can’t remember who the general was, but when China entered the war in Korea, he wanted 50 nukes to deal with them. (Possibly MacArthur, can’t remember.)

    Russia also supported the North Korea. Many of the  MiG-15 pilots were Russians. The Russians had the atomic bomb by 1949. I’m sure that fact also weighed on Truman.

    • #27
  28. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    Kate Braestrup (View Comment):
    Basically, as far as I can tell, WW I was just a really bad war, because the issues could have been negotiated to a reasonable settlement by reasonable people.

    Doubtful. I’ll start with the unconventional wisdom reasons and then go to the conventional.

    Consider the background. There had been a process of unification of Germany. France had already lost the Franco-Prussian War.

    France wanted a general war with Germany to get Alsace-Lorraine back. They realized that demographics meant that war had to be soon and had to be a general war with Germany fighting on two fronts. That was not negotiable.

    Germany also was in a position to begin to assert its power relative to Austria-Hungary. As alluded to, Prussia then Germany had been unifying the German-speaking world over the prior century and Austria-Hungary was the main remaining source of Germans. A political solution could only be temporary. It might have just cemented Germany’s political leadership in central Europe and set up a giant “Anschluss” in the 1920s, creating an unstoppable Germany destined to ultimately move east. To a great extent, the original sin of Versailles was braking up Austria-Hungary to effectively prepare the German-speaking parts for a smaller-scale Anschluss.

    Now back to the conventional wisdom. Russia and Austria-Hungary were both between rocks and hard places. Both had problems of internal ethnic tensions. Russia also had communists. Only by being seen as a strong pan-Slavic leader against Germanic aggression, could the Czarists hold on to power.

    OTOH, Austria had to balance control over non-German-speakers with maintaining loyalty and faith of German speakers. Austria needed to totally crush Serbia in such a way as to discredit any Serbian (or other) separatism within Austria. But the crushing of Serbia would conflict with Russia’s credibility as pan-Slavic protector.

    • #28
  29. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Vectorman (View Comment):
    Russia also supported the North Korea. Many of the MiG-15 pilots were Russians. The Russians had the atomic bomb by 1949. I’m sure that fact also weighed on Truman.

    Okay. That makes sense. Russia was involved against us in the Korean War, as well as China. Thank you. The China-Russia friendship was a big problem for the world until Kissenger made it his goal to disrupt it by creating a friendship between Communist China and the United States in the early 1970s.

    I looked into this in 2003 because of John Kerry’s opposition to GW’s war in Iraq. I wanted to know why we had pulled out of both Korea and Vietnam. By the time I closed my books, I was convinced that we were afraid in both cases of triggering a world war, and having opened Pandora’s box of nuclear armaments, we didn’t want war. We didn’t want to use the nuclear weapons we had, and we didn’t want anyone else to either.

    What piqued my curiosity about the similarities in the Korean and Vietnam wars what that I realized one person was instrumental in both: Richard Nixon.

    I have always had trouble accepting that this young kid–John Kerry–was responsible for our getting out of the Vietnam War. I know now my instincts were right–it was Richard Nixon, the guy who worked for Eisenhower when we had gotten out of the Korean War who orchestrated both. I think John Kerry provided some political cover for Nixon. That’s all he did. Nixon wanted us out of Vietnam.

    Thank you. I should have refreshed my memory before I commented.

     

    • #29
  30. Roberto the Weary Member
    Roberto the Weary
    @Roberto

    Judge Mental (View Comment):
    My formula since 9/11 has been that the way to beat terrorism is with horror. The full horror of total war, WWII style, completely eliminating their capacity to resist in any way.

    I wonder if you should not restate the question Koler. Should conflicts be Total War or nothing, only engage in conflicts when fully committed or like a dilettante throw some troops here or there whenever it seems like an okay thing to do.

    I incline towards the former, but am uncertain regarding the latter. ISIS has been essentially annihilated because the CinC allowed the military to do their job, there was no grand effort there by the populace.

    On the other hand ISIS existed in the first place because a bunch of dolts looked at what the 3rd ID did in Fallujah and said to themselves, yeah that’s good enough. No need to secure that,  everything will be fine from here on in.

    • #30
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