Confusion, uncertainty and decisions that affect life and death
The "Fog of War":
"War is the realm of uncertainty; three-quarters of the factors on which action in war is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty...
“All action takes place, so to speak, in a kind of twilight, which, like fog or moonlight, often tends to make things seem grotesque and larger than they really are.” -Carl von Clausewitz
Source: Clausewitz, Carl von. On War. Edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984.
- What does the phrase ‘fog of war’ refer to?
- Does having understanding for the ‘fog of war’ that makes decision making in battle difficult excuse the occurrence of atrocities?
What does it take to win a war?
“We were all unbalanced during the war; had we been otherwise we could never have won.” -Claud Mullins
“Not kennt kein Gebot” (translation: necessity knows no law, meaning in times of emergency there is no law)
-Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg
Source: Bredt, D. Der Deutsche Reichstag Im Weltkrieg: Gutachten. Berlin: Deutsche Verlagsges. Für Politik Und Geschichte, 1927.
- Had the Germans won the war would the atrocities committed have been excusable?
This quote states a case where Germans believed that the British had unfairly captured a hospital ship. This was used as justification, or an excuse, for why German forces might mistreat a British hospital ship.
The German claim to justification for a departure from this provision is best recorded by Admiral Scheer, "On October 17, 1914, a half flotilla engaged in laying mines in the Downs was attacked and destroyed by the English cruiser Undaunted. The English saved as many of the survivors as possible. After we received the first wireless message that action had been begun, no further news of the torpedo boats was forthcoming, and as we had therefore to assume that they had been lost, we sent out the hospital ship Ophelia to pick up any survivors. However, the English captured her and made her prize, charging us with having sent her for scouting purposes, although she was obviously fitted up as a hospital ship and bore all the requisite markings." The trail before the Prize Court left no doubt that the Ophelia has been used as a signaling ship, but this is the reason given by Admiral Scheer why, "we also considered ourselves released from our obligations and with far more justification took action against hospital ships which, under cover of the Red Cross flag, were patently used for the transport of troops.”
Source: MacPhail, Andrew. Official History of the Canadian Forces in the Great War 1914-19 : The Medical Services. Ottawa: F. A. Acland, King's Printer, 1925. https://archive.org/details/medicalservices00macpuoft
- Is alleged Allied mistreatment of hospital ships an excuse for Germans to retaliate?
Click here to return to Basic Sources.