It was back in the early sixteenth century that Nicholas Machiavelli wrote The Prince. It was a guide to his employers, the Medici rulers of Italy, on how to profit from waging war. Nick became so unpopular for this work that his name became an alias for the devil (Old Nick). But his work survives because no matter what you think of him, or of war for that matter, Nicky boy had a point. If you've got to go to war then war should have a purpose and that purpose has to be gain.
Let’s say you wanted to acquire a large city with a population of say a million to work for you. They’ll make goods and provide services to enrich society, grow food to feed you and yours, and even add to the artistic output that so soothes the savage beast in our hearts. Also, they’d produce a trade surplus so you can enrich your coffers with taxes, but let’s skip that for now and pretend your goals are altruistic.
Now say you also wanted to establish a stronger border against your equally belligerent neighbours and, just for kicks, you always coveted the palace, gold, jewels and wife of the leader of the city you plan to conquer (a nasty little prick you’ve always hated). Read Machiavelli’s book and you’ll know who to kill, who to bribe, and who to marry. If you’ve got the military muscle, this book is a guide to how to get all the things your heart desires. When you’re about to embark on conquest, accept no substitute.
So you send your military in to do the job that bribery, politics and marital alliances can’t. Don’t worry, Nick will help you identify who falls into which group so you don’t accidentally marry some harpy you should have killed and spend the rest of your days regretting it. Your military machine sallies forth and a few months later the Generals return with good news. They’ve taken the city and quelled all rebellion. It’s all yours.
You prepare for your triumph only to find:
Your bloody generals have reduced the entire place to smoking rubble. The palace has been flattened and if you want the gold and jewels you’re going to have to dig.
They’ve emptied it of the civilian population so there’s nobody you can build an economy around. You can’t even move a new population in since there’s no food, water, or power, just corpses, lots of corpses.
Their brutal action has utterly destroyed any goodwill from the city’s residents towards their benevolent new ruler. You and your family have inherited enemies as yet unborn. This hatred will last for generations, possibly for as long as humans walk the earth. This is not good news when you consider the truth behind the sayings that: there’s always someone badder than you, and, every dog has his day. Even if you escape their vengeance, at some time your family is going to pay in blood.
Your generals have presented you with a bill that is a hundred times higher than any surplus the city might have produced. The only people who could possibly ever have profited from this exercise are the bastard arms dealers who produced and sold the weapons that so destroyed your objective. Unless of course you’re in the business of paying tens of millions to acquire hardcore for roads.
You now have a massive refugee problem headed your way because the civilians who fled won’t do the right thing and just lie down and starve to death! Some of the ungrateful bastards want to live in your city now you’ve razed theirs to the ground.
Oops. They’re not all civilians. You’ve just invented radical terrorism.
Modern military leaders – yes that’s you General Sir blah de blah – are morons. All of them. You think they go to military school to be clever, but they don’t, they go to military school to be brainwashed. They’re not taught how to win wars, they’re taught how to minimise their losses on the battlefield because dead soldiers aren’t politically expedient. The answer to minimising losses is simple: bomb and shell the f**k out of the place, reduce it to ashes nobody can live in, and your men will be fine. You can go home having won a war without any of your personnel dying. What a monumental lie. Of course you can’t WIN a war unless your soldiers die. All you can do is destroy things, which isn't clever, it's thick as pig s**t!
Can you believe today's military leaders and their political masters don’t know a pyrrhic victory is a clusterf**k of a loss? Do they even know what a pyrrhic victory is anymore? If they did, surely the stupid generals would point out to the even more stupid politicians that modern warfare is a dumbass way to wage war because you’ll win nothing but worthless bits of blown-to-pieces brick and mortar stained with the blood of babies.
Old Nick is dead but I’m sure if he were alive he’d tell the Medici that if their generals ever came up with anything so stupid they should be hung by the neck from the nearest bridge and left there to rot as a signal to all future generals that turning places into a pile of rubble, killing and displacing all the civilians, who are the only useful human assets in any society, since ARMIES DON’T MAKE ANYTHING, NOT EVEN BULLETS, is NOT the point of war.
If you’re in any way unsure about just how dumb and bereft of ideas modern military leaders are, or how weak and ineffectual they are at reminding their bosses there’s supposed to be a point to war, Google “Aleppo”, “Homs”, “Mosul”, or “Yemen”, and click on the images link.