Quotes on War

Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.

— Winston Churchill

Whensoever hostile aggressions…require a resort to war, we must meet our duty and convince the
world that we are just friends and brave enemies.

— Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Andrew Jackson (3 December 1806)

Let us recollect that peace or war will not always be left to our option; that however moderate or unambitious we may be, we cannot count upon the moderation, or hope to extinguish the ambition of others.

— Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers #34

Political economy has disapproved equally of monopoly and communism in the
various branches of human activity, wherever it has found them. Is it not then
strange and unreasonable that it accepts them in the industry of security?

— Gustave de Molinari, 1849

The patriot volunteer, fighting for country and his rights, makes the most reliable soldier on earth.

— Thomas J. Jackson

This bloody past suggests to us that enemies cease hostilities only when they are battered enough to acknowledge that there is no hope in victory – and thus that further resistance means only useless sacrifice.

— Victor Davis Hanson

We took the liberty to make some enquiries concerning the ground of their pretensions to make war upon nations who had done them no injury, and observed that we considered all mankind as our friends who had done us no wrong, nor had given us any provocation. The Ambassador [of Tripoli] answered us that it was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as Prisoners, and that every Musselman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.

— John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, Letter from the commissioners (John Adams, Thomas Jefferson) to John Jay, 28 March 1786

In war there is no second prize for the runner-up.

— General Omar Bradley

If the battle for civilization comes down to the wimps versus the barbarians, the barbarians are going to win.

— Thomas Sowell

Datos, ne quisquam seruiat, enses. (The sword was given for this, that none need live a slave.)

— Marcus Annaeus Lucanus

I also think there are prices too high to pay to save the United States. Conscription is one of them. Conscription is slavery, and I don’t think that any people or nation has a right to save itself at the price of slavery for anyone, no matter what name it is called. We have had the draft for twenty years now; I think this is shameful. If a country can’t save itself through the volunteer service of its own free people, then I say : Let the damned thing go down the drain!

— Robert Heinlein

Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men. It is the spirit of men who follow and of the man who leads that gains the victory.

— General George S. Patton, Jr.

War may be too much a part of history to be eliminated—ever.

— Elie Wiesel

A nation which can prefer disgrace to danger is prepared for a master, and deserves one.

— Alexander Hamilton, Letter to the Daily Advertiser (21 February 1797)

The concentration of troops can be done fast and easy, on paper.

— Field Marshal Radomir Putnik

It is not a field of a few acres of ground, but a cause, that we are defending, and whether we defeat the enemy in one battle, or by degrees, the consequences will be the same.

— Thomas Paine

What the horrors of war are, no one can imagine. They are not wounds and blood and fever, spotted and low, or dysentery, chronic and acute, cold and heat and famine. They are intoxication, drunken brutality, demoralisation and disorder on the part of the inferior … jealousies, meanness, indifference, selfish brutality on the part of the superior.

— Florence Nightingale

Cry “havoc!” and let loose the dogs of war,
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.

— William Shakespeare

An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.

— Winston Churchill

The only power tyrants have, is the power relinquished to them by their victims.

— Étienne de la Boétie

War is not violence and killing, pure and simple; war is controlled violence, for a purpose.

— Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.

— Sir Winston Churchill

When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.

— Edmund Burke, Thoughts on the Cause of Present Discontents

Those who “abjure” violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf.

— George Orwell, Notes on Nationalism

War is a game that is played with a smile. If you can’t smile, grin. If you can’t grin, keep out of the way till you can.

— Winston Churchill

No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.

— Calvin Coolidge

Humanize war? You might as talk about humanizing hell!

— British Admiral Jacky Fisher

No state has an inherent right to survive through conscript troops, and in the long run no state ever has. Roman matrons used to say to their sons: ‘Come back with your shield, or on it.’ Later on, this custom declined. So did Rome.

— Robert Heinlein

War is mainly a catalogue of blunders.

— Winston Churchill, The Second World War, Volume III : The Grand Alliance (1950)

You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.

— Margaret Thatcher

If you love peace more than freedom, you lose both.

— Dick Armey

If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

Let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom, and let us re-consecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.

— Dwight Eisenhower

Battle is the most magnificent competition in which a human being can indulge. It brings out all that is best and it removes all that is base.

— General George S. Patton

I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.

— Dwight Eisenhower

Silent leges inter arma. (Laws are silent in times of war.)

— Marcus Tullius Cicero, Oratio Pro Annio Milone, IV.

Superior firepower is an invaluable tool when entering negotiations.

— General George S. Patton

Deos fortioribus adesse. (The gods are on the side of the stronger.)

— Tacitus, Annales (AD 117)

You can have peace, or you can have freedom. Don’t ever count on having both at once.

— Robert Heinlein

Even peace may be purchased at too high a price.

— Benjamin Franklin

It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.

— William Tecumseh Sherman

In the long run luck is given only to the efficient.

— Helmuth von Moltke

All free men remember that in the final choice a soldier’s pack is not so heavy a burden as a prisoner’s chains.

— Dwight Eisenhower

If you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may even be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves.

— Winston Churchill, The Second World War, Volume I : The Gathering Storm (1948)

Older men declare war. But it is the youth that must fight and die.

— Herbert Hoover

There is one source, O Athenians, of all your defeats. It is that your citizens have ceased to be soldiers.

— Demosthenes

The God of War hates those who hesitate.

— Euripides, Heraclidæ, 722.

He who stays on the defensive does not make war, he endures it.

— Field Marshal Colmar Baron von der Goltz

Only the dead have seen the end of war.

— George Santayana, The Life of Reason

If ever there was a holy war, it was that which saved our liberties and gave us independence.

— Thomas Jefferson, Letter to John W. Eppes (6 November 1813)

Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realise that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events. Antiquated War Offices, weak, incompetent, or arrogant Commanders, untrustworthy allies, hostile neutrals, malignant Fortune, ugly surprises, awful miscalculations – all take their seats at the Council Board on the morrow of a declaration of war. Always remember, however sure you are that you could easily win, that there would not be a war if the other man did not think he also had a chance.

— Winston Churchill, My Early Life: A Roving Commission (1930)

The essence of war is violence. Moderation in war is imbecility.

— British Sea Lord John Fisher

I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.

— John Adams

Like a baseball game, wars are not over till they are over. Wars don’t run on a clock like football. No previous generation was so hopelessly unrealistic that this had to be explained to them.

— Thomas Sowell

No war is over until the enemy says it’s over. We may think it over, we may declare it over, but in fact, the enemy gets a vote.

— James Mattis

In war there is no substitute for victory.

— Douglas MacArthur

Miseram pacem vel bello bene mutari. (Even war is better than a wretched peace.)

— Tacitus, Annales (AD 117)

It’s been my responsibility, my duty and very much my honor to serve as Commander in Chief of this nation’s Armed Forces these past eight years. That is the most sacred, most important ask of the Presidency. Since our nation’s founding, the primary obligation of the national government has been the common defense of these United States. But as I have sought to perform this sacred task as best I could, I have done so with the knowledge that my role in this day-to-day-to-day effort, from sunrise to sunrise, every moment of every hour of every day of every year, is a glancing one compared to yours. … But it’s not just your fellow Americans who owe you a debt. No, I believe many more do, for I believe that military service in the Armed Forces of the United States is a profound form of service to all humankind. You stand engaged in an effort to keep America safe at home, to protect our allies and interests abroad, to keep the seas and the skies free of threat. Just as America stands as an example to the world of the inestimable benefits of freedom and democracy, so too an America with the capacity to project her power for the purpose of protecting and expanding freedom and democracy abroad benefits the suffering people of the world.

— Ronald Reagan

Victory in war does not depend entirely on numbers or courage; only skill and discipline will ensure it.

— Flavius Vegetius

If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared.

— Niccolò Machiavelli

Right is more precious than peace.

— Woodrow Wilson

Once we have a war there is only one thing to do. It must be won. For defeat brings worse things than any that can ever happen in war.

— Ernest Hemingway

The Sergeant is the Army.

— Dwight Eisenhower

No man can sit down and withhold his hands from the warfare against wrong and get peace from his acquiescence.

— Woodrow Wilson

At no time has the world been without war. Not in seven or ten or twenty thousand years.

— Alexander Solzhenitsyn, November 1916: The Red Wheel: Knot II (1984)

Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.

— Thomas Paine, The Crisis: Philadelphia; 12 September, 1777

If you are not prepared to use force to defend civilization, then be prepared to accept barbarism.

— Thomas Sowell

The political object is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and the means can never be considered in isolation from their purposes.

— Karl von Clausewitz

Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.

— James Mattis

With reasonable men I will reason; with humane men I will plead; but to tyrants I will give no quarter, nor waste arguments, where they will certainly be lost.

— William Lloyd Garrison

The most important six inches on the battlefield is between your ears.

— James Mattis

The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.

— Hyman G. Rickover

Love is like war; easy to begin but very hard to stop.

— H. L. Mencken

If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.

— Thomas Paine

If we desire to secure peace, one of the most powerful instruments of our rising prosperity, it must be known that we are at all times ready for war.

— George Washington

Diplomats are just as essential in starting a war as soldiers are in finishing it.

— Will Rogers

We make war that we may live in peace.

— Aristotle

The secret of all victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious.

— Marcus Aurelius

If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget ye were our countrymen.

— Samuel Adams

Where there is no peril in the fight, there is no glory in the triumph.

— Pierre Corneille

…an imperfect plan implemented immediately and violently will always succeed better than a perfect plan.

— General George S. Patton

The object of war is not to die for your country, but to make the other bastard die for his.

— General George S. Patton

No arsenal or no weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women.

— Ronald Reagan, First Inaugural address (1981)

War is too serious a matter to be taught by the inexperienced.

— Robert Heinlein

Igitur qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum. (Therefore, whoever wishes for peace, let him prepare for war.)

— Vegetius, De Re Militari

If you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed, if you will not fight when victory will be sure and not so costly, you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no chance of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves.

— Winston Churchill

The best form of welfare for the troops is first-class training.

— Field Marshal Rommel

The price of freedom is the willingness to do sudden battle, anywhere, at any time, and with utter recklessness.

— Robert Heinlein, The Pupper Masters

One should never allow chaos to develop in order to avoid going to war, because one does not avoid a war but instead puts it off to his disadvantage.

— Niccolò Machiavelli

To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.

— Winston Churchill, 26 June, 1954

The soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.

— Douglas MacArthur

The sinews of war are not gold, but good soldiers; for gold alone will not procure good soldiers, but good soldiers will always procure gold.

— Niccolò Machiavelli

Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst.

— Robert Heinlein, Starship Troopers

To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace. A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined.

— George Washington

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.

— John Stuart Mill, “The Contest in America,” Fraser’s Magazine (February 1862)

When you have to kill a man it costs nothing to be polite.

— Winston Churchill, The Second World War, Volume III : The Grand Alliance (1950)

Some people live their entire lifetime and wonder if they ever made a difference to the world. Marines don’t have that problem.

— Ronald Reagan

Fight with a happy heart and strong spirit.

— James Mattis, A message to the 1st Marine Division in March 2003.

A really great people, proud and high-spirited, would face all the disasters of war rather than purchase that base prosperity which is bought at the price of national honor.

— Theodore Roosevelt

There is one tactical principle which is not subject to change. It is to use the means at hand to inflict the maximum amount of wounds, death and destruction on the enemy in the minimum amount of time.

— General George S. Patton Jr.

In War: Resolution. In Defeat: Defiance. In Victory: Magnanimity. In Peace: Good Will.

— Winston Churchill, The Second World War, Volume I : The Gathering Storm (1948)

What is our aim? Victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror; Victory how ever long and hard the road may be.

— Sir Winston Churchill

Weapons are an important factor in war, but not the decisive one; it is man and not materials that counts.

— Mao Tse-tung

The great body of our citizens shoot less as times goes on. We should encourage rifle practice among schoolboys, and indeed among all classes, as well as in the military services by every means in our power. Thus, and not otherwise, may we be able to assist in preserving peace in the world… The first step – in the direction of preparation to avert war if possible, and to be fit for war if it should come – is to teach men to shoot!

— Theodore Roosevelt