Quotations about   warfare

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Any historian of warfare knows it is in good part a comedy of errors and a museum of incompetence; but if for every error and every act of incompetence one can substitute an act of treason, many points of fascinating interpretation are open to the paranoid imagination. In the end, the real mystery, for one who reads the primary works of paranoid scholarship, is not how the United States has been brought to its present dangerous position but how it has managed to survive at all.

Richard Hofstadter (1916-1970) American historian and intellectual
“The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” Herbert Spencer Lecture, Oxford (Nov 1963)
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Reprinted in Harpers (Nov 1964).
Added on 6-Jan-21 | Last updated 6-Jan-21
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It is too true, however disgraceful it may be to human nature, that nations in general will make war whenever they have a prospect of getting anything by it; nay, absolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it, but for the purposes and objects merely personal, such as thirst for military glory, revenge for personal affronts, ambition, or private compacts to aggrandize or support their particular families or partisans. These and a variety of other motives, which affect only the mind of the sovereign, often lead him to engage in wars not sanctified by justice or the voice and interests of his people.

John Jay (1745-1829) American statesman, diplomat, abolitionist, politician, Chief Justice (1789-1795)
The Federalist #4 (7 Nov 1787)
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Added on 30-Sep-20 | Last updated 30-Sep-20
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The chief reason warfare is still with us is neither a secret death-wish of the human species, nor an irrepressible instinct of aggression, nor, finally and more plausibly, the serious economic and social dangers inherent in disarmament, but the simple fact that no substitute for this final arbiter in international affairs has yet appeared on the political scene.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
“On Violence,” Crises of the Republic (1972)
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Added on 25-Aug-20 | Last updated 25-Aug-20
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Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead!
In peace, there’s nothing so becomes a man,
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Henry V, Act 3, sc. 1 [Henry] (1599)
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Added on 12-Feb-18 | Last updated 12-Feb-18
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We fought a military war; our opponents fought a political one. We sought physical attrition; our opponents aimed for our psychological exhaustion. In the process we lost sight of one of the cardinal maxims of guerrilla war: the guerrilla wins if he does not lose. The conventional army loses if it does not win.

Henry Kissinger (b. 1923) German-American diplomat
“The Viet Nam Negotiations,” Foreign Affairs (Jan 1969)
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Sometimes paraphrased as "A conventional army loses if it does not win. The guerrilla army wins if he does not lose."
Added on 2-May-17 | Last updated 8-May-17
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It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence. And the alternative to disarmament, the alternative to a greater suspension of nuclear tests, the alternative to strengthening the United Nations and thereby disarming the whole world, may well be a civilization plunged into the abyss of annihilation, and our earthly habitat would be transformed into an inferno that even the mind of Dante could not imagine.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) American clergyman, civil rights leader, orator
“Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” National Cathedral, Washington, DC (31 Mar 1968)
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Added on 14-Oct-16 | Last updated 14-Oct-16
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You judge a war according to who is in the right as long as you have no interest in the outcome; if you’re one of the participants, or if the result is going to have a major effect on you, then you have to create the moral principles that put you in the right — that’s nothing new, everyone knows it.

Steven Brust (b. 1955) American writer, systems programmer
Dragon (1998)
Added on 5-Aug-16 | Last updated 5-Aug-16
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We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, that’s not cowardly. Stupid maybe, but not cowardly.

William "Bill" Maher (b. 1956) American comedian, political commentator, critic, television host.
Politically Incorrect (17 Sep 2001)

This controversy over this comment resulted in the series being cancelled.
Added on 6-Jul-16 | Last updated 6-Jul-16
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Morale is the greatest single factor in successful war.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Crusade in Europe (1948)
Added on 24-May-16 | Last updated 24-May-16
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The key lesson to me of Vietnam is that you cannot outlast insurgents in their own country. This idea that when Bush says, “Well, we can’t say we’re going to pull out in six months because they’ll only have to wait six months and a day” — they’ll wait a hundred friggin’ years if they have to!

William "Bill" Maher (b. 1956) American comedian, political commentator, critic, television host.
Real Time with Bill Maher (29 Oct 2004)

On the war in Iraq.
Added on 2-Mar-16 | Last updated 2-Mar-16
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One of the things that I noticed in war was how difficult it was for our soldiers, at first, to realize that there are no rules to war. Our men were raised in sports, where a referee runs a football game, or an umpire a baseball game, and so forth.

Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) American general, US President (1953-61)
Speech, Conference of the National Women’s Advisory Committee on Civil Defense (26 Oct 1954)
Added on 16-Feb-16 | Last updated 16-Feb-16
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As in law so in war, the longest purse finally wins.

Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948) Indian philosopher and nationalist [Mahatma Gandhi]
Bombay Provincial Cooperative Conference (17 Sep 1917)

See also Taft, DeFoe.
Added on 13-Aug-15 | Last updated 13-Aug-15
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At the present day, civilized opinion is a curious mental mixture. The military instincts and ideals are as strong as ever, but they are confronted by reflective criticisms which sorely curb their ancient freedom. Innumerable writers are showing up the bestial side of military service. Pure loot and mastery seem no longer morally allowable motives, and pretexts must be found for attributing them solely to the enemy.

William James (1842-1910) American psychologist and philosopher
“The Moral Equivalent of War” (1906)
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Added on 7-Nov-12 | Last updated 11-Aug-14
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But the Nature of the War is now alter’d,
`tis the longest Purse
Conquers the longest Sword.

Daniel Defoe (1660?-1731) English journalist and novelist
(Attributed)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 13-Aug-15
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