In September 1864, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman occupied Atlanta and warned citizens to evacuate before he burned the town. The mayor and city council implored him to rescind the evacuation order, but Sherman—then commanding the Union’s Army of the West—politely refused and explained why. His response is worth revisiting today given the debate regarding Israeli operations in Gaza after Hamas terrorists sadistically massacred 1,400 Jews, and took 240 others hostage—several dozen of them United States citizens—on October 7.
In the letter, Sherman laid out the reasons for his occupation of Atlanta and forthcoming actions against the Confederate army. He wished no harm to the occupants of the city and offered to “make their exodus in any direction as easy and comfortable as possible.” Sherman wrote those words nearly 160 years ago, but they remain relevant for their insight into the necessity of effective force—as Sherman would go on to say years later, “War is hell”—as Israel seeks to eradicate the terrorists who made life miserable for both Israelis and Palestinians.
To have peace in all of America, Sherman explained, the Union Army must defeat the Confederate army wherever it stood, and destroy its ability to arm and sustain itself. Atlanta had been used for “warlike purposes … inconsistent with its character as a home for families.” Similarly, Israel cannot be at peace unless Hamas is destroyed. Gaza is the forward headquarters, and logistical and manpower base, of that organization. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) therefore reasonably ordered Palestinian civilians to evacuate much of Gaza.
Sherman continued, “You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out.” Gaza’s civilians are now essentially held captive by Hamas, but just as Southerners elected secessionist governments in 1860, Palestinians in Gaza knowingly elected Hamas in 2006 despite—or perhaps because of—its history of terror attacks.