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All war is based on deception

Posted by Lewis on January 30, 2006

In Reply to: is all fair in love and war? posted by Smokey Stover on January 27, 2006

: : : : : : is all fair in love and war?

: : : : : Absolutely not. There are rules.

: : : : Could Erika be asking about 'All is fair in love and war?'

: : : ALL'S FAIR IN LOVE AND WAR -- "The rules of fair play do not apply in love and war. The proverb has been traced back to John Lyly's 'Euphues' . First attested in the United States in 'Horse-Shoe Robinson' . The proverb is found in varying forms. The proverb is frequently used to justify cheating." From "Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings" by Gregory Y. Titelman ( Random House, N.Y., 1996).

: :
: : Which is why I repeat, absolutely not. There are many people who would, for example, trample on our civil rights, invade our privacy, claim the right to spy without judicial review, blow away centuries of traditions about search warrants, while wrapping themselves in the flag of "we're at war, so anything I say goes." If they make the right sort of pious noises, the yokels would never impeach them.

: I haven't read Lyly's Euphues, but I'm not sure that proverb is the right word. Aphorism, yes. But I'm thinking that one of Lyly's characters might have used the expression to justify behavior that went beyond the permitted, without the approbation of the author. Perhaps instead of believing that the phrase is true, we should remind ourselves of that other "proverb," "good fences make good neighbors." When Robert Frost wrote that, he made it plain that it was not his belief, but that of his boorish neighbor. SS

All this goes back to that discussion of the expression that "in war, the first casualty is truth" - which lines up with Lau Tzu's maxim "all war is based on deception".

both love and war are based on rules though - in 'love' the rules are those of psychology and custom/etiquette and in war, societies have usually had rules about the conduct of war which are observed in order that violence is limited to the combatants so far as possible and that prisoners/casualties are dealt with appropriately.
when a military force breaks the rules of war - such as breaking a cease-fire during which the injured are taken from the battlefield, then they forego such rights as 'quarter' under which they can surrender rather than die.
many times in history, captured officers or noblemen were allowed freedom on their honour or 'parole' (by their word). breaching parole was considered very serious and a matter of great dishonour.
sometimes when a nation is intent on genocide, then the rules of war are ignored, as there is no motivation to minmise civilian casualties or to permit the taking of prisoners. however, in the absence of that wish to obliterate, rules govern the battlefield.

even though generals will use a "ruse de guerre" to gain advantage, such ruses are tricks and deceptions rather than breaches of honour. killing an enemy general during a parley under a flag of truce may seem 'clever', but it does not qualify as a ruse de guerre, but is seem as the worst kind of betrayal and dishonour. it is pragmatic that such rules are adhered to. a deception like the woooden horse of Troy is probably the perfect example of a ruse de guerre which would not be seen as dishonourable - the Trojans were deceived, but it did not breach any code of conduct for war in the same way that a retreat into "dead ground" where the enemy couldn't spot a force is not dishonourable.

the expression "all's fair in love and war" is used by cads and bounders, not by men of honour.