Henry Ergas praises Nazi “Will”

Henry Ergas, “What has happened to the West’s will to win?” (The Australian, 16 February 2024)  criticized lack of US “will” for “victory” in Gaza and Afghanistan under presidents Biden and Obama, while praising Franklin Delano Roosevelt for saying that the World War II task of the US Army was  “breaking the enemy’s will and forcing him to sue for peace”.

Ergas then enthusiastically praised the “Allies” which “ruthlessly crushed the Axis powers, reducing their cities to rubble, forcing their population into homelessness and starvation, and then building, on totalitarianism’s ashes, a shared future of freedom”.

Ergas does not seem to know that the WWII “allies” included the Soviet Union which continued to build one totalitarian system on the ashes of another!

Ergas then paraphrases Carl von Clausewitz about a need for a “second act” after first winning battle. This is the need to ensure that “victory should really be complete” by “shattering the enemy’s self-confidence and shocking the whole nervous system” of its fighting force.

 Ergas writes: “Those are the reasons for pursuing Hamas wherever it hides, including into Rafah. Inevitably, that pursuit entails civilian casualties: that is the tragedy of war.”

Ergas criticizes Biden for beginning to “distance itself from Israel” action in Gaza, which he says is “because the West has lost the will to win”.

But, what do we know about “will” and war apart from Ergas tells us?

Adolf Hitler’s lieutenants, such as Joachim Ribbentrop and Albert Speer, wrote much about his “will”. Indeed, in 1923 Hitler said: “The man who is born to be a dictator is not compelled; he wills it.” The film of the 1934 Nuremberg Nazi Party Rally was entitled, at Hitler’s suggestion, “Triumph of Will”. In late 1942 Hitler ordered Field-Marshall Rommel to hold the line in North Africa, telling him that “it would not be the first time in history that the stronger will prevailed over numerically stronger enemy battalions”.

Josef Stalin told an American journalist that he believed “in one thing only, the power of human will’. Nikita Khrushchev defended himself and others from criticism by saying: “We were all victims of Stalin’s will.”

Mao Zedong’s doctor, Li Zhisui, later wrote that “Mao was the centre around which everyone else revolved. His will reigned supreme.” Mao himself wrote: “Weapons are an important factor in war, but not the decisive factor; it is people, not things that are decisive. The contest of strength is not only a contest of military and economic power, but a contest of human will.”

Ergas concludes his article by suggesting that this lack of Western – particularly American — “will” is being noticed by “Russia, Iran and China” and that there will be severe physical consequences.

In Gaza, Israel is exerting its extreme and cowardly “will” over mainly women and children. Does Ergas suggest that the US and the remainder of the West take a similar approach to Russia and China? They might be surprised to discover that there are also notions of “will” in these countries – and that it is not only amongst their dictators – and that an Israeli-type approach will be met with a “will” to use nuclear weapons rather than the cries of children.