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Gen. Ridgway: "War is the Ultimate Tragedy of Mankind"

July 2024
1min read

In his articles, books, speeches, and interviews General Ridgway has expressed only a secondary interest in the fact, the decision, and the act. He has placed greater emphasis on the reasoning, or the philosophy, that leads to action. He has placed primary emphasis on the need to project that reasoning into the future. He has hoped that such projection might serve as a guide in deciding for or against comparable action in similar situations and might benefit those who may be charged with responsibilities comparable to those he carried. His thirtyeight years of experience as a soldier and twenty more as a civilian observer have led him to these basic conclusions:

1. The United States cannot reorder the world. We cannot impose a Pax Americana on other nations. We must recognize the limitations of our national power.

2. War is the ultimate tragedy of mankind. It is a ghastly, wasteful business that settles nothing unless the cause is right and the political objectives are clear-cut and limited.

3. Unlimited military effort—"total war"—would now mean turning the clock back several thousand years.

4. The United States should categorically reject “preventive” war employing nuclear weapons. The use of such weapons would be a deliberate move down the road of international immorality past the point of no return.

5. A precept of Clausewitz has momentous validity today: “The most important single judgment a political or military leader can make is to forecast correctly the nature of the war upon which the nation is to embark. On this everything else depends.”

6. We should reject any political involvement that might gradually commit us to military efforts that would jeopardize our basic security and those vital American interests that cannot be compromised. We should ask ourselves: What are the basic purposes behind our major policy decisions? What do we seek to accomplish? Are those purposes and objectives clearly within the scope of our vital national interests? Are we in danger of squandering our resources on a nonvital secondary objective? In the field of foreign relations each and every one of our major political objectives should be seen to lie within the zone of our vital interests, and in each the military objectives should be in conformity with and subordinate to the political objectives.

7. Civilian control of the military establishment is fundamental and unchallengeable in our society and must remain so.

8. Civilian authorities must scrupulously respect the integrity and intellectual honesty of the officer corps. If the military adviser’s unrestricted advice is solicited, he should give a fearless and forthright expression of honest, objective, professional opinion. He should neither be expected nor required to give public endorsement to courses of military action against which he has previously recommended. Once the decision has been made and announced by proper civilian authorities, he should give his full support to its execution. He should not be blamed for policy decisions made not by the military but by duly elected or lawfully appointed civilian authorities acting in accord with our constitutional procedures.

9. Our planners must not ignore the moral factor when they consider the use of the immense destructive capability that now exists.

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