“… much of Sherman's thinking is currently inherent in American military doctrine of the last two decades: despite our power, our forces usually react to the aggression of others, target enemy command and control and the property of the government and elite, and seek—in Iraq, Panama, and Afghanistan—to liberate residents from an oppressive regime. Yet often such attack, however precise, makes life miserable for an enemy citizenry and therefore prompts them to act against the authors of their calamity. The Afghanis, like the citizens of Georgia in their animus shown the plantationists, will come to blame the Taliban for the general bedlam brought on by the American counterattack.”

—Victor Davis Hanson, An Autumn of War: What America Learned From September 11 and the War on Terrorism, New York: Anchor Books, 2002. (The article quoted above was written 25 September 2001)

For a contrary view, go to "The Lessons of Terror" / "Between War and Peace"

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and author of books such as The Wars of the Ancient Greeks (London: Cassell, 1999) and Carnage and Culture (New York: Doubleday, 2001). He is also a columnist for the National Review Online and print publications.

Hanson's An Autumn of War is a collection of essays written from 11 September 2001 to 22 December 2001. Each is valuable as a record of recent history and as a thought-provoking assessment of the way ahead.

As one example, Hanson writes compellingly of General Sherman and the American way of war. In an article written on 25 September he writes:

Often Sherman's type of war is misunderstood and said to be itself terrorist or inhumane. In that regard, contrasts can be made between Robert E. Lee and Sherman. The former, who wrecked his army by sending thousands on frontal charges against an entrenched enemy and whose family owned slaves, enjoys the reputation of a reluctant, humane knight who battled for a cause—states' rights and the sanctity of Southern soil—other than slavery. The latter, who was careful to save his soldiers from annihilation and who freed thousands of slaves in Georgia, is too often seen as a murderous warrior who fought for a cause—federalism and the punishment of treason—other than freedom.

Lee crafted the wrong offensive strategy for an outmanned and outproduced South that led to horrendous casualties. Yet Sherman's marches drew naturally on the materiel and human surpluses of the North and so cracked the core of the Confederacy with few killed on either side. Lee wrongly thought the Union soldier would not fight as well as the Confederate; Sherman rightly guessed that the destruction of Southern property would topple the entire Confederacy. The one ordered thousands to their deaths when the cause was clearly lost; the other destroyed millions of dollars of property to hasten the end of bloodshed. Yet Sherman—who fought on the winning side, who promised in the abstract death and terror, who was unkempt, garrulous, and blunt—is usually criticized. Lee—who embodies the Lost Cause, who wrote of honor and sacrifice, and who was dapper, genteel, and mannered—is canonized.

The lesson? By attacking the infrastructure of our enemies and thereby saving lives in the long run, we must, as Machiavelli warned, expect not to be lauded, but rather caricatured and even despised as cruel. Sherman also had a keen sense of sociology. In his view, the rich and landowning class of the South had instigated hostilities; yet more often the poor free whites of the Confederacy, who did not own slaves, were dying. In Sherman's view it was far more humane to attack the property of those responsible for the conflict than to end the lives of those who were not. Only that way could the entire population learn the wages of supporting a reckless but impotent Confederate government.

Henry Hitchcock, an officer on Sherman's staff, summed up his general's use of psychological warfare.

Not we but their leaders and their own moral and physical cowardice three years ago are responsible. This Union and its Government must be sustained, at any and every cost; to sustain it, we must war upon and destroy the organized rebel forces,—must cut off their supplies, destroy their communications, and show their white slaves (these people say themselves that they are so) their utter inability to resist the power of the U.S. To do this implies and requires these very sufferings, and having thus only the choice of evils—war now so terrible and successful that none can dream of rebellion hereafter, or everlasting war with all these evils magnified a hundred fold hereafter—we have no other course to take.

What can we learn in the present age from General Sherman about the waging of war? The real morality in war hinges not on damage wrought but rather concerns the moral imperative to reduce the number of dead and so end the killing as quickly as possible. To accomplish that goal an army must attack in overwhelming strength and be imbued with a clear moral sense. The presence of sixty-two thousand infantrymen in the heart of the South shocked the citizenry of the Confederacy and prevented various forces under Generals Bragg, Wheeler, and Hardee from offering any defense. Yet the Army of the West wrought such cruel material damage because it believed its cause was just—the South had prompted the war and owned slaves while midwesterners were ending it and freeing the unfree.

In the present context, General Sherman would advise our military planners to use crushing force against our enemies in the Middle East, targeted especially against those who started the war, the personal assets of the terrorists, and the government and military infrastructure of the Taliban and Iraq. And he would urge that we must wage such a full-fledged war constantly with the refrain that an attacked United States was seeking to end terrorism and to overturn the political hierarchy of those guilty illegitimate governments. Cheering in the streets of Arab capitals and posters of bin Laden will disappear only when the ignorant understand the terrible costs of supporting the murderers of Americans. Only with a spiritual element to our battle can a humane society stomach the sheer devastation its army unleashes. There is a soul to an army, Sherman wrote, as well as to the individual man, and no general can accomplish the full work of his army unless he commands the soul of his men, as well as their bodies and legs.