What created the Fourth Generation?

The Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld has an interesting hypothesis concerning where the seeds of the Fourth Generation’s military bypass of the state were planted:

Many of the distinctions between army and people which had been established by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century international law also broke down. Armed violence, far from being limited to combatants, escaped its bounds. Terrible atrocities, including even the planned starvation of tens of millions, were carried out against the inhabitants of occupied countries both in Europe and in Asia. The populations themselves did not acquiesce with their lot. Occupation per se was now regarded as a monstrous injustice and resisted. In places such as Yugoslavia, Tito’s partisans, though comprising neither government nor army, came close to waging full-scale conventional conflict; and indeed in retrospect this may have been the most important of all the changes which the War brought about. Meanwhile the sky was filled with mighty fleets of heavy bombers—later, flying bombs and ballistic missiles—headed in both directions. They deliberately set out to kill civilians, women and children not excluded. Entire cities were destroyed by firestorms in a manner not seen in Europe for three centuries. A climax of violence was reached in 1945 when two nuclear bombs were dropped on Japan, killing 150,000 people in flat disregard of the fact that peace negotiations were already going on in Moscow at the time. Officially the destruction of enemy civilians was justified by their wickedness. In practice, often they had to be declared wicked so that they could be destroyed by the indiscriminate weapons available….

Metternich, looking back from the eve of his resignation in 1848, might have felt satisfied with the results of the Congress of Vienna despite several limited revolutionary outbreaks that had taken place in the meantime. Similarly, a backward glance from the perspective of 1990 makes the attempt to put the genie back into the bottle appear successful up to a point; those who set out to establish a new world order after World War II did their work reasonably well. The principal reasons for this outcome were the ever-present fear of nuclear Armageddon and, of course, sheer war-weariness. At any rate, to date there has been no repetition of “total” conflict on the model established by both World Wars. When the principal military powers went to war—always excepting the “low-intensity conflicts” which, though they formed a large majority, hardly counted as a war—they usually abided by the rules. Whatever may be said about the Falkland War, it did not witness either the breakdown of distinctions between the military and civilians or, consequently, large-scale atrocities. The same is true about the Arab-Israeli Wars, except perhaps for the first; though in this case things might have looked different had victory gone to the other side.

The point, however, had been made and would not be forgotten. Whatever else total war may have done, it put an end to any idea that armed conflict, including specifically the largest ever fought, is necessarily governed by the Clausewitzian Universe. Historically speaking, in fact, trinitarian war—in other words, a war of state against state and army against army—is a comparatively recent phenomenon; hence, the things that the future has in store for humanity may also be very different indeed.

The interesting thing here is that he presented this idea that war had moved beyond the state and trinitarian war in his book The Transformation of War, which was published in 1991. After all, if since the people have become the targets of total war, they have been made participants whether they will or no. And so, as Lind told a group of Marines at Quantico in his Four Generations of Modern War lecture: “[4GW doesn’t want to fight you, it wants to bypass you and go straight after the society you are supposed to be defending.”