Small Wars Journal

Clausewitz: In Praise of Hate

Clausewitz: In Praise of Hate

William M. Darley

ACT 1, SCENE VIII. A field of battle.


I'll fight with none but thee; for I do hate thee.


We hate alike:
Not Afric owns a serpent I abhor
More than thy fame and envy. Fix thy foot.

The Tragedy of Coriolanus

William Shakespeare

Over the last fifteen years, the U.S. government has wrestled continuously with how properly to approach the ongoing phenomena of burgeoning regional terrorism and global insurgency. In an effort to cognitively frame the rising power of ethnic and racial groups resident in formerly weak or powerless states that are the main sources of current conflict, it has settled upon characterizing the new operational environment as “complex.”1 To some, this characterization may seem to imply that the socio-political and socio-cultural operational environments in which military forces had to operate previously were not complex; that the operational environments in which such conflicts as the American Civil War, World War I or II, or Vietnam were fought were simpler.

Irrespective, the reason the now somewhat voguish term complex may have gained its current ascendancy in the lexicon is that it expiates semantically the frustration strategists and policy makers feel toward pesky conflicts not only in Iraq and Afghanistan waged by resilient adversaries, but emerging conflagrations throughout the Middle East and Africa led by stateless entities such as Al Qaida and the Islamic State that they have not been able to effectively contain. Consequently, policy befuddlement over the seeming intractability of such conflicts and policy failure to deal effectively with them is exculpated by their ‘complexity.’    

At this writing, the doctrinal military solutions for dealing with so-called complex environments have settled uneasily on the foundations of relatively recent wartime experiences—with disputable claims of success—tethered to debatable interpretations of supposed lessons learned from counterinsurgency histories that occurred prior to 9/11. One major consequence is that, in waging war, the traditional emphasis the pre-9/11 U.S. military previously placed on winning wars primarily by applying closely synchronized and decisive large-scale violence using conventional means has been largely supplanted by decidedly non-military emphasis on dealing with conflicts in complex environments by employing diverse measures textured by cultural understanding.2 Such an approach is presumed to successfully lead—with patience—to the co-opting of populations, which is assumed to be the key factor determining the sustainability of terrorist and insurgent movements.3 As a result, primacy for developing cultural understanding appears to be what complexity actual is interpreted to mean and is the unifying thread among, and underlying foundation for, the current doctrinal hegemony of counterinsurgency, stability operations, security assistance, and all-things Information Operations in their multiple permutations.4

There have been no shortage of critics both in and outside the military with regard to the heavy reliance placed on employing the Human Dimension of cultural understanding as a  main line of effort for dealing with conflict resulting in considerable debate.5 However, close examination of the criticism reveals that the crux of the debate actually balances on an obscured fulcrum of dispute: that is fundamental disagreement, especially pronounced among civilian government policy makers, over what war actually is together with disagreement over whether we are actually engaged in one at present. An example of such disagreement is on display in the below excerpt from a media interview with Rep. Nancy Pelosi, congressional representative from California on the Rowan Farrow Show, MSNBC, 15 September 2014.

RONAN FARROW: Madame Leader, are we at war?

REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, people use the term—we have the War on Drugs and the war on this and war on that. We have initiated hostilities against ISIS, that's for sure. We are not at the term of war; that would require a declaration of war by the Congress of the United States. But this is deadly serious … . it's not just about the military. So when you talk about this, it's not just about the military, it's about a conflict that has a political solution.”6

Pelosi’s response exemplifies the source of strategic policy disagreements over what an enemy actually is—or if there even is a military enemy—which, not surprisingly has led to great strategic confusion regarding how we most appropriately deal with enemies we have not agreed to clearly define. And, subtly, but pervasively, there is an embedded issue: how much of a role benevolence should play in the planning and execution of modern war? In the absence of clearly defined enemies, benevolence is what employing cultural understanding in a complex environment actually means in practical application.7

However, failure to agree on what constitutes war and who is an enemy, combined with efforts to somewhat mindlessly inject large doses of benevolence into combat operations transmogrified as cultural understanding without much strategic forethought regarding second order effects, has to date done little more than distort and undermine our war efforts, placing national policy in the sweeping disarray we enjoy today. Such disarray is on full display, for example, in failure to come to agreement over what the status is of, and what to do with, recalcitrant detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Are they enemy prisoners of war (POW)? Or, merely criminals? If POWs, should they be held until the so-called war against their ideological comrades-in-arms is over as is customary and appropriate in war? If so, how will we know when to release them? If not POWs, are they criminals who should be tried in courts of law? If tried, what crimes should they be indicted for? For example, if their crime is that they organized themselves like soldiers, and primarily fought like soldiers in the field against our soldiers, precisely what criminal charges should be brought against them?8

Similarly, policy disarray stemming from lack of clear agreement on what war actually is is also promoting dangerous disagreement regarding when war actually ends. Apart from fueling academic policy debate over whether the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan actually ended, such disarray is currently causing real long-term peril for our armed forces and our nation, as for example, in getting policy agreement on the appropriateness of budget and personnel cuts due to sequestration resulting in downsizing of the military in the absence of having ascertained whether the so-called war against global insurgents is actually over. Similarly, lack of agreement is also causing a range of other disagreements over what many see as lax enforcement of border control and threats which may stem from minimally controlled illegal immigration, as well as trade agreements that might fund our adversaries if we are indeed still at war.          

Pursuant to the above, this article asserts that the survival of our country may very well depend on how effectively our policymakers are able cultivate the acumen to discern whether we are at war or not. To that end, as a necessary foundation for proposing an answer regarding how to usefully define war to guide policy making, the author opines that it is first essential to determine whether war is a humanly manufactured cultural construct governed by rules invented by human beings, much like the creation of a board game the nature of which can be arbitrarily changed by its creator. Or, is it rather a phenomenon with its own objective reality apart from conscious human design that is endemic to human nature, emerging from primal instinct when groups of people come into high-stakes competition with each other for various reasons?

In other words, should war be viewed as an invention, or a discovery? Is it a mere cultural artifice? Or, a discoverable phenomenon with an independent objective existence apart from human inventiveness governed by biological imperatives of nature embedded in human genes and societies that can be discerned and understood only by close observation and analysis like other  phenomena governed by natural law such as, for example, gravity?

Determining whether or not war has an independent objective reality is, therefore, perhaps the most important single policy responsibility war policy makers have since it is upon the foundation of such determination upon which war policy and planning are built. If war is merely an invention, it can be artificially modified, adding or subtracting ingredients according to the resourcefulness and manipulative whims of its creators, or theoretically even be done away with entirely through a cognitive decision and agreement among rivals to will it away.

On the other hand, if it has the quality of being effectively governed by biological laws of physical nature and only tempered by human culture, lack of a refined definition of war and analysis is then actually merely irresponsible and potentially catastrophic dereliction (slovenliness) of observation and analysis.

The purpose of this article is to assert the latter: that war is not a human invention, but rather a discoverable, naturally occurring social phenomenon that operates in accordance with biological forces underpinning human sociality which are activated periodically by special stresses. Owing to the impossibility of conducting experiments on war with scientific controls in a laboratory, nevertheless, the proof offered for such an assertion is the entire recorded history of mankind. Human history is nothing if not a multi-cultural and global moonscape of intermittent periods of technological innovation cratered by unremitting and continuous war among rival groups at some level of intensity, continuing up to and including the present. It is irrefutably in us.9

Therefore, coming to a determination of what war actually is is a vital responsibility for policy makers who hold the fate of the nation they serve in their hands because whatever other opinions may be offered with regard to defining war, one meaning clearly associates it with large-scale physical destruction that historically has threatened the viability and survival of polities that have become involved with it, and overthrown many. Therefore, good faith efforts to seek the wisdom of clarity regarding the true nature and essence of actual war is essential for tempering bureaucratic hubris by highlighting that the United States and its government leaders are not immune to the forces identifiable by human anthropology that have been played out in repeating cycles of human history leading to the rise and decline of civilizations among virtually all cultures.

Consequently, to effectively critique the premises of complex environment doctrine, and to differentiate what may have actually changed in the current as opposed to the pre-9/11 operational environments (ascribed to new complexity), it is paramount to find a definition of war formulated on the assumption (and from the perspective) that its nature is discoverable; that certain ineluctable behaviors manifest themselves in human sociality when war emerges. Moreover, that such exist despite their repugnance to those aspiring to civilized refinement who wish to view war as something unnatural to human nature altogether, or see it as something it is not when it is unfolding. Only from the proper perspective that results from candid acknowledgement of observable human characteristics that result in war can the mind’s eye truly focus on isolating those naturally recurring features of true war in order to effectively deal with them in the most pragmatic, efficient and least threatening way possible to a society’s own interests.

The Word ‘War’

Like all words, the word war itself is an arbitrary human invention with defining characteristics assigned to it to create a mental construct susceptible to meaningful discussion. However, unlike other invented words that are more disciplined in meaning by observation and agreement, war unfortunately has suffered in popular discourse by a notable lack of discipline in circumscribing its meaning and clearly distinguishing it from other types of large scale social intercourse.

For comparison, no matter who or how many times one drops a 10-pound weight 50 feet above sea level anywhere on the planet, the word gravity indicates that the weight will drop at exactly the same velocity of descent in exactly the same way every time given the same conditions. Therefore, it can be seen that the definition of gravity is disciplined by group agreement on what is collectively observed and what can be repeatedly tested. This establishes great precision in meaning resulting in near universal agreement regarding the objective reality and specific characteristics of the phenomenon defined as gravity that enables cooperative analysis, productive discussion of the observations made, and refined experimentation to resolve anomalies.  

In contrast, the word war has been used promiscuously, imprecisely, and flamboyantly in public discourse, without such discipline. This continues to cause destructive confusion. As a result, war is commonly used broadly to describe a range of activities many of which seem distantly, if at all, related to each other. It is used variously to describe human activity under a broad pavilion that encompasses not only the vast mass destruction of world war, nuclear weapons, and insurgency, but also a range of endeavors involving mass popular organization and activism aimed at addressing such goals as eradicating poverty, breast cancer, AIDS, or even sidewalk litter.

Nevertheless, and obviously, what persons who coined such terms employing the word war in contexts that did not involve violence meant to do was appropriate the concept of a large-scale, coordinated, and morally committed effort aimed at overcoming some great impediment stylized as an adversary to achieve a lofty, collective goal.

Not so obviously, as one follows the semantic vagaries that stem from such loose usage of the word war, defining it as every large-scale, concerted human endeavor aimed toward some lofty goal obscures and undermines discernment of the actual naturally occurring phenomenon of war that emerges in human relations under special conditions. This is exactly what has happened at the highest levels of U.S. government over the past decade as, for example, the danger of imprecision on defining war has been clearly showcased by the current administration as it has militantly insisted on classifying such activities as the overthrow of the Libyan government by a U.S. bombing campaign, continuous use of Predators against al Qaida elements in Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan, and the bombing of the Islamic State in Northern Iraq and Syria, as something other than war. An example  of this kind of unhelpful distortion was apparent in the secretary of State’s relatively recent efforts to distinguish counterterrorism from war,  

The U.S. is not at war with ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria], Secretary of State John Kerry insisted today, describing the military campaign outlined by President Obama as "a counterterrorism operation of a significant order."

Kerry made his comment to ABC News today a day after the president's address to the nation in which he described the administration's plan to lead a broad coalition of nations to "destroy" ISIS, which is also known as ISIL or the Islamic State. Obama said he would use American warplanes to "degrade" ISIS and he did not rule out having those jets attack ISIS in Syria. In addition, he announced he was sending hundreds of additional U.S. troops to Iraq to help coordinate the fight against ISIS.

In his national address, Obama avoided using the word "war," calling the offensive he outlined as a “counter-terrorism campaign.”

Kerry was asked today whether the U.S. was at war with ISIS.

"No. Look, we’re engaged in a counterterrorism operation of a significant order," the secretary responded. "And counterterrorism operations can take a long time, they go on. I think 'war' is the wrong reference term with respect to that, but obviously it involves kinetic military action."10

Such semantic contortions tend to obscure rather than clarify, and beg the question, “If bombing campaigns are not acts of actual war, how are they then different from acts that actually are?”

Having highlighted the essential need for obtaining something akin to broad, universal agreement on the meaning of the word war, this article suggests that there is no need for formulating a new description or definition of war. On the contrary, war as a phenomenon governed by naturally occurring objective laws of social intercourse among human beings has already been thoroughly, effectively, and sufficiently discovered, with its properties well catalogued, described, and analyzed in great detail by Prussian general Karl von Clausewitz in the completed chapters of his book, On War. Careful consideration of the elaborate analysis he provided renders no need for formulation of a new description of war, weapons of war, or enemies in war; but instead need only to be seriously consulted by policy makers to obtain the requisite clarity for policy discourse and formulation.

For example, the first foundational element in the ‘chemical’ composition of authentic war that Clausewitz identifies that should help policy makers distinguish usage of war from words in other contexts is “primordial violence”, or the threat thereof.11 Though salivating over the obvious to some, the observation that real war necessarily employs violence is likely an epiphany to others, especially those who are wont to view war as inclusive of any large scale, mass human endeavor, including those that do not involve violence.

In an effort to discipline and refine collective agreement on definition, critically looking at use of the word war used so broadly begs the first question whether the use of the term war should be used properly in any other context except as describing an activity involving violence? For example, is there really such thing as a “war on poverty”, “war on drugs, “war of ideas,” or a “war on women?” If so, what features do these types of war realistically share with clashing armies at Omaha Beach, Gettysburg, the bombing of Nagasaki or improvised explosive devices and urban warfare in Fallujah? Did the public relations operative who coined the term “war on poverty,” for example, actually mean to imply that there should be employment of large-scale, destructive weapons used against poverty? This leads to the potential for other confusing digressions as, for example, what then is a weapon? How should one distinguish an anti-poverty ‘weapon’ from others? Would such a device or practice actually be a weapon at all?

Thankfully, in the interests of accuracy and clarity of meaning, Clausewitz’s observations regarding the nature and elements of war rule out activities in any other context than that which involves the threat or actual use of violence. Use of the word war for activities that do not involve violence are simply wrong, and they are dangerous. Consequently, such concepts as “war of ideas,” “war on poverty,” “war on cancer,” or any other linkages of the word war to anything not involving violence should be viewed by policy makers as anathema and should be stigmatized in public and policy discourse not only as inaccurate, but as intellectually uncouth and destructive.

With the above said, though true war must always involve violence, Clausewitz’s observations also show that merely equating violence with war leads to an equally inaccurate definition of actual war. Indeed, the identify of a second elemental ‘atom’ within the ‘molecular’ composition of war emerges by considering critically the assertion that an activity involving violence—even large scale violence—by itself constitutes war. Such broad imprecision opens the door to suggest that the word may properly describe not only armed forces in conflict with each other, but also criminal activity, and even natural catastrophes that kill large numbers of people and produce great suffering. Thus equating war with any activity involving large-scale violence potentially confutes war not only with organized criminal violence by drug cartels and Mafioso, but also urban plagues of common crime, and even the suffering and death caused by plagues or such natural catastrophes as volcanos, floods, and hurricanes. Are such manifestations of authentic war? Clausewitz again provides the necessary clarity,

“War is thus an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will….(p. 75) We see, therefore, that war is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, carried on with other means.”12

Thus, Clausewitz makes clear that the violence associated with true war is different from either other types of person-on-person violence or violence due to disease and natural or man-made disasters because it is a human activity waged consciously and exclusively for a political purpose. Such understanding helps clarify the difference between true war and violent criminality, which is motivated by venality or parochial individual passion rather than political objectives, as well as differentiating it from violence wrought by natural or manmade catastrophes (though all three types of violence may overlap concurrently on a given operational landscape).

Therefore, discerning true war as violence having a conscious political purpose rules out definitions of war that attempt to include violence linked solely to criminality as well as to hurricanes, floods, volcanos, or the like. In short, Clausewitz’ analysis from direct observation and experience, as well as profound study, clarifies that true war is humanly directed violence to achieve specific political goals, i.e. political violence, and nothing else.

A third distinguishing primal element in the ‘chemical’ composition of war Clausewitz describes—one that cannot be overlooked because it is essential to distinguishing war from other human activities involving violence—is hatred. Hatred is a natural and necessary basic element of true war and not a cultural artifice that can be eliminated by fiat because it is distasteful, repulsive, or regarded as uncivilized; moreover, it is an essential component for successfully waging war. Policymakers must come to recognize and accept that as without oxygen molecules water is not water, so without hatred war is not war. As observed by Clausewitz in his most basic description of elements that comprise war, he wrote, “its dominant tendencies always make war a paradoxical trinity--composed of primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force….”13

And how important is hatred to war? Enmity, Clausewitz appears to assert, is not only a natural occurring feature of war, it is a necessary feature. It is a necessary feature of human nature for promoting unity of community purpose against perceived enemies, commitment to the communal cause, resilience born of a groups’ thirst for revenge in the face of collective hardship and peril, and the necessary stimulant for achieving the requisite fever pitch of passion to psychological prepare individuals to kill strangers for a cause they may only dimly understand. He goes on to note, “This conception would be ineluctable even if war were total war, the pure element of enmity unleashed.”14

Observing the necessary linkage of hatred to violence in true war, Clausewitz goes on to observe,

“Essentially combat is an expression of hostile feelings….Modern wars are seldom fought without hatred between nations….Even when there is no national hatred and no animosity to start with, the fighting itself will stir up hostile feelings: violence committed on superior orders will stir up the desire for revenge and retaliation….That is only human (or animal if you like), but it is a fact. Theorists are apt to look on fighting in the abstract as a trial of strength without emotion entering into it. This is one of a thousand errors which they quite consciously commit because they have no idea of the implications.”15

In Praise of Hatred

Thus, perceiving and acknowledging the essentiality of hatred to war is absolutely necessary for policy makers to grasp as it reveals both the true stark and brutal nature of the policy instrument they may be considering using. It is vital for them to understand that hatred is necessarily connected to the unleashing of deeply rooted, dark, and malevolent human instincts and emotions that facilitate the primordial act of killing other human beings, and once released become difficult to control. This is often difficult to discern because such dark emotion is sublimated in peacetime communities due to cultural conditioning that does not demand killing of other humans as an expected routine activity. Such sublimation enables societies to function and relate to each other under social mores that generally resolve conflict through mechanisms and social expectations established for that purpose in peacetime. However, war awoken invokes hatred which then becomes a crucible of molten emotion that modifies and simplifies perception, reconditioning and focusing the individual to life under a starkly different set of mores and social expectations that psychologically justify the necessary brutality of individual combat action on the ground.

Additionally, policymakers need to accept as crucial their responsibility for conditioning such hatred and putting in place strong measures to restrain and channel it because the simple fact is that in order to efficiently kill people one does not personally know, it is necessary to dehumanize those designated as enemy personnel in the minds’ of combatants by stereotypically grouping them and hating them as a group. Consequently, to be successful in war, unquestionably, properly conceived military training stems from properly conceived policy that forthrightly acknowledges, and then manicures and disciplines such hatred to achieve political ends.

Such training and indoctrination of human hatred aims to clear the mind of subtlety, intensify the natural animosity toward the collective enemy, foster intense focus on mission accomplishment, and remove tendencies for indecisiveness when called upon to make quick decisions in combat; to act instinctively in terms of killing perceived enemies without hesitation. Hate thus enables individuals to temporarily set aside peacetime revulsion for killing or maiming fellow human beings, increasing the probability that soldiers will engage enemies with less hesitation and greater effectiveness than those without such stimulation and discipline of emotion.16

Additionally, hatred provides the individual human soul a way to psychologically compartmentalize acts of war as discrete from those social mores regulating peacetime social orders, making the enemy culpable for what happened in war rather than the individual him or herself. In this way, a combatant has a viable avenue of moral rationalization that can help distance him or herself from what he or she may have done in war when later attempting to reintegrate into peacetime society. Thus, officially sanctioned and encouraged hatred enables many soldiers to later disassociate and psychologically exculpate themselves from individual responsibility for the killing that they did. This becomes a factor later on when surviving soldiers leave the war and attempt to reconcile their wartime actions with their return to a life that no longer sanctions killing under peacetime mores of orderly civilian society.17

Unfortunately, such acknowledgement of the necessary role of hatred in war runs contrary to the spirit of the current doctrinal approach that appears to eschew hatred as an essential component of both war policy and combat training. One result is that there is a tendency to encourage training that aims to foster the expansion of benevolence in combat operations through cultural awareness in lieu of stoking antipathy in an effort to instill empathy, or even sympathy, for an enemy’s point of view.18

For those who reject the notion that hatred needs to be encouraged as a necessary psychological prerequisite to fight wars—the author of this article opines that well-meaning encouragement of such benevolence actually damages the persons subjected to it far more in the long run by encouraging conflicting moral attitudes at a time when soldiers are already conflicted by the complicated moral ambiguity and intense stress war imposes. Suggesting that soldiers have a responsibility to be benevolent toward an enemy in combat makes soldiers less psychologically fit for dealing with the reality of doing what is necessary to kill people; and, therefore makes them less prepared to deal psychologically with the consequences of having engaged in such brutality should they survive the conflict.19

It can be expected that encouraging ill placed benevolence toward enemies sows doubt and promotes both trepidation and vacillation of action. This cultivates a serious psychological dilemma creating weakness in combat situations that threatens not only the individual combatant, but the safety and efficiency of the combat team and thus the team itself.

For those repulsed by the suggestion that hatred for enemies should be formally encouraged among those about to enter combat, the author suggests that what such critics really object to is the inhumanity and degradation of war itself, which is a wholly laudable sentiment, but wholly out of place if used as an attempt to temper the needed psychological preparation of those preparing to actually fight a war. Such naiveté accomplishes exactly what Clausewitz warned against when he noted,

“Kind-hearted people might of course think there was some ingenious way to disarm or defeat an enemy without too much bloodshed, and might imagine this is the true goal of the art of war. Pleasant as it sounds, it is a fallacy that must be exposed: war is such a dangerous business that the mistakes which come from kindness are the very worst.”20             

On the other hand, psychologically compartmentalizing wartime actions due to hatred for an enemy in a way that promotes the perception that that enemy deserves to be killed according to official sanction effectively transfers the responsibility to policymakers responsible for conducting the war. This is a far superior balm to individual conscience when a conflict is over than killing in circumstances where policymakers have failed to define the enemy or explain why that enemy deserved to be killed. As an example of such transfer of moral responsibility to facilitate reintegration into civil society, Navy SEAL Chris Kyle said, “But in that backroom or whatever it is when God confronts me with my sins, I do not believe any of the kills I had during the war will be among them. Everyone I shot was evil. I had good cause on every shot. They all deserved to die.”21

Training that Properly Emphasizes Hate

Consequently, logical measures for preparing soldiers for combat appropriately includes training that aims at dehumanizing and stereotyping the enemies they will face. Such preparation appropriately promotes the “us-against-them” mentality needed for engaging in all out combat under the most grueling of conditions. Under such circumstances, demeaning, dehumanizing, and demonizing the enemy is not only appropriate, it is essential.

However, it is unfortunately true that promoting hatred of an enemy in such a way may encourage violence toward noncombatants from the same ethnic communities from which enemy fighters come. This tendency is likely to increase in conflicts where the enemy hides among the population-and especially among a population where significant support for enemy combatants does in fact exist. In such circumstances, troops will have a natural tendency to view everyone as the enemy. The mindset that “everyone is the enemy” has the potential to cause human rights abuses, war crimes, and population alienation.  

However, this does not invalidate the vital need to stimulate hatred for the enemy, but rather emphasizes the need for first acknowledging, and then taking steps in training to rigidly manage and direct the natural hatred that is going to emerge irrespective of efforts by some to deny its existence or downplay its importance in war. Instead, awareness of the natural emergence of hatred highlights the necessity for structuring and rehearsing strict rules of engagement through disciplined and demanding drill to ensure tight fire control and accountability during combat operations to control the energy and impulses of hatred and help ensure such is directed only against lawful, enemy combatants.

An additional, and major, benefit of Clausewitz’ having identified hate as a basic element of war is that it also helps to illuminate the principal policy flaw at the locus of the current U.S. center of psychological gravity that largely accounts for the haphazard and dysfunctional war policies that currently prevail. This policy flaw is failure to recognize and acknowledge the inescapable presence of visceral community hatred among competitor states as a natural feature of global politics and routine national policy even in peacetime. (Can anyone seriously question that the leaders of Iran, Russia, China, Venezuela, and North Korea don’t actually hate the United States?)

Unfortunately, where public hatred for enemies should be understood, promoted and directed to achieve policy objectives on a global scale, such hate is currently disparaged and dismissed as either uncivilized or a non-factor. This policy of denial has encouraged our enemies who hate us to take advantage of what they perceive as weakness and lack of resolve not only in policy, but national character. In a closely related development, our diminished capacity to hate, has diminished our perception of what we love (e.g., what we actually support and stand for). As a consequence, failure to discern between them has is that it has undermined the confidence our allies formerly had in our reliability, wisdom, resolve, and honor, and their trust in our ability to see clearly and willingness to work with us. This is now reflected in our policy retreat around the globe which has left power vacuums into which our adversaries are expanding.   

The United States government used to understand the necessity for promoting naturally occurring hatred in the people and armed forces as a key conditioning element for instilling fear in its enemies as well as community resolve to fight wars in its own interests. Perusal of wartime political statements and official information from the World War II-era Office of War Information easily demonstrates this. However, we have forgotten.22

By contrast, our enemies have not forgotten.

At the operational level, the webpages of the Islamic State and al-Qaida together with a host of others representing like-minded terrorist and insurgent groups are filled with invective aimed specifically at stimulating and directing the hatred of their populace together with potential sympathizers globally toward us, and proselyting new converts who are attracted to their announced objective of killing us.

Neither is the importance of stimulating hatred overlooked as at the strategic level as a policy imperative among would-be enemies such as Iran or even Russia, whose policy makers constantly stoke domestic as well as international hatred toward the United States and the West in public discourse. This is exemplified in the state-sponsored weekly mass population chants of “Death to America” in Tehran that reverberate globally and are taken seriously in every capital of the world except our own. Unlike our own policymakers who pause briefly on their way to the golf course to give tepid statements of condolence to the families of Americans beheaded by ISIS or draw meaningless red lines in the dust, the policy makers of our adversaries continue to recognize the necessity of displaying passionate and engaged emotion against those perceived as state enemies as a policy responsibility, and together with it the necessity for promoting national hatred against those whom they believe the state is at war.23

In summary, advocates for promoting greater benevolence in the execution of war, however charitable their intentions, are nevertheless guilty of denial regarding the essential objective reality of the nature of war itself. It is true that adverse effects of the recent trending inclination to increase importation of benevolence into the prosecution of modern war at the boots on the ground level are not documented. However, the observations Clausewitz’s made in describing his theory suggest that interjecting into training or tactical planning a component of sympathy for the enemies’ point of view do a great disservice to those who psychologically must prepare for actually fighting and killing human beings in war.

Setting aside the toxic influence of advocating benevolence at the tactical level, a case for the toxic influence of this trend can clearly be made with regard to its debilitating effect on the Nation’s recent war efforts at the strategic policy level. Denial of the role of hatred in the relationships among rival nation who see themselves either at war with the United States—or virtually at war—has slowed down over all policy formation as well as decision making in crises that has resulted in a string of related policy failures unprecedented in modern times. These include misshapen and poorly executed policy failures affecting conflicts in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Nigeria-not to mention larger failures with regard to North Korea, Iran, and the Russia-Ukraine conflict and delusional self-deception toward the real intentions of China toward the United States as expansion over the South China sea moves ahead basically unchallenged.

Such have stemmed in large part from a failure to heed the warning from Clausewitz that politicians tend to regard war as “something autonomous” rather than “an instrument of policy” and therefore invariably try to convert it into “something that is alien to its nature”, especially with disregard for the impact as well as resilience of hatred as a factor on in international policy, which cannot be wished away.  As he elsewhere warned, “War is no pastime; it is no mere joy in daring and winning, no place for irresponsible enthusiasts. It is a serious means to a serious end … .”24 p 86


William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Coriolanus, accessed 4 May  2015.

End Notes

1. U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Pamphlet (TP) 525-3-1, The U.S. Army Operating Concept: Win in a Complex World (Fort Eustis, VA: U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, 2014), iii, 22; For a detailed critique of band wagon acceptance of the asserted “complexity” of the post 9/11 world, see Michael J. Gallagher, Joshua A. Geltzer, and Sebastian L. v. Gorka, “The Complexity Trap,” Parameters, Spring 2012. accessed 4 May 2015.  

2. See William D. Wunderle, Through the lens of cultural awareness: A Primer for US Armed Forces Deploying to Arab and Middle Eastern Countries (Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: Combat Studies Institute Press, 2007), 1-6.

3. U.S. Government Counterinsurgency Guide, (Department of State: Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, January 2009), iv (Preface), 1-2 accessed 20 May 2015; FM 3-24, Insurgencies and Countering Insurgencies, May 2014, 1-20. accessed 4 May 2015.

4. Joint Publication 3-24, Counterinsurgency, 22 November 2013, III-8 accessed 4 May 2015; FM 3-24;  See also, William D. Wunderle, Through the Lens of Cultural Awareness: A Primer for US Armed Forces Deploying to Arab and Middle Eastern Countries (Combat Studies Institute Press: Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 2006) accessed 4 May 2015; Field Manual 3-07, Stability, June 2014 accessed 5 May 2015; Field Manual 3-13, Inform and Influence Activities, January 2013, accessed 5 May 2015.

5. Karl W. Eikenberry, “The Limits of Counterinsurgency Doctrine in Afghanistan,” Foreign Affairs, September/October 2013 Issue accessed 4 May 2015; See also Gian Gentile, Wrong Turn: America’s Deadly Embrace of Counterinsurgency (New York: The New Press, 2013).

6.  An example of policy level confusion caused by lack of definitive definition is apparent in excerpt from an Interview with Nancy Pelosi, congressional representative from California, on Rowan Farrow Show, MSNBC, 15 September 2014: accessed 5 May 2015

7. FM 3-24, Insurgencies and Countering Insurgencies, 3-2.

 8. Jess Bravin, The Terror Courts: Rough Justice at Guantanamo Bay (New Haven, Yale University Press: New Haven, 2013); See also article posted on website Legal legacy: Guantanamo Prisoners, posted by James A Borderick, 21 February 2015 accessed 5 May 2015.   

9. Leonard Berkowitz, “Biological Roots: Are Humans Inherently Violent?” in Psychological Dimensions of War, ed. Betty Glad (Newbury Park, California: SAGE Publications, 1990), 24-40.

10. Alexander Marquardt, Obama's ISIS Offensive Is Not 'War,' Kerry Insists, 22 September 2014 accessed 5 May 2015.

11. Carl von Clausewitz, On War, ed. and trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), 89.

12. Ibid., 87.

13. Ibid., 89.

14. Ibid., 605.

15. Ibid., 137-138; see also, John Dollard and Donald Horton, Fear in Battle, (Washington D.C: The Infantry Journal, 1944), 48-49. The authors interviewed and conducted surveys among 300 veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, who had been fighting against fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War. Eighty-three percent of respondents agreed that 'hatred toward the enemy' had been a major motivational factor. Additionally, seventy-nine percent agreed that revenge had been a factor in motivating them to be either “a much better soldier” or “a somewhat better soldier.” However, it is of note that all of the members of this unit were expatriate volunteers with strong ideological motivation for their participation in the conflict, the attitudes of whom may not necessarily be generalized across a broader population of combatants.

16. J. Glenn Gray, The Warriors, Reflections on Men in Battle (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1959), 132-135. 

17. Anthony Kellett, Combat Motivation, The Behavior of Soldiers in Battle (Hingham, Massachusetts: Kluwer Nijhoff Publishing, 1982), 171, 191-193. The author details the uneven influence hatred has on soldiers with diverse backgrounds and motivation, (e.g., the author asserts some soldiers and units are highly motivated by hatred, others not so much depending on the circumstances of the conflict and the reasons for their participation in it.); See also, Moran, Lord, The Anatomy of Courage, 2d ed. (London: Constable, 1966), 52-59. In an account that contradicts itself, Moran both disputes and acknowledges the role of hatred as he has observed it in war.

18. Gray, 158-160. 

19. Ibid., 172-175.

20. Clausewitz, 75.

21. Chris Kyle, American Sniper, The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History (New York: W. Morrow, 2012), 430; See also Ibid., 1: “SAVAGE, DESPICABLE EVIL. THAT’S WHAT WE WERE FIGHTING IN IRAQ. That’s why a lot of people, myself included, called the enemy “savages.” There really was no other way to describe what we encountered there. People ask me all the time, “How many people have you killed?”… . The number is not important to me. I only wish I had killed more. Not for bragging rights, but because I believe the world is a better place without savages out there taking American lives. Everyone I shot in Iraq was trying to harm Americans or Iraqis loyal to the new government.”

22. For examples of U.S. efforts to promote animus toward enemies in World War I, see Axelrod, Alan. Selling the Great War: The Making of American Propaganda (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 129-132, 143; For examples of U.S. efforts to promote animus toward enemies in World War II, see For World War II overview, Clayton D. Laurie, The propaganda warriors: America’s crusade against Nazi Germany (Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1996) p. 50; See also, Allan M. Winkler, The Politics of Propaganda: The Office of War Information, 1942-1945 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978).

23. See for example, Thomas Erdbrink and William Branigin, “Supreme Leader of Iran: Muslim Nations ‘Hate America’” Washington Post Foreign Service, 4 June 2009 accessed 21 May 2015; also, Mikhail Klikushin, “Russians Rage Against America,” New York Observer, 29 December 2014 accessed 21 May 2015.

24. Clausewitz, ed. Paret, 86.

About the Author(s)

Colonel William M. Darley, U.S. Army, retired, served thirty-one years on active duty in the U.S. Army, primarily as a public affairs officer. After retirement, he served as a social anthropology team leader for the Human Terrain System in Ramadi, Iraq. He is a 1977 graduate of Brigham Young University and its ROTC program. He is currently employed as an editor at Military Review, an official journal of the U.S. Army at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.