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Historic Military Quotes

a collection of quotations and aphorisms from military history, compiled by Eric Lewan alphabetically by speaker. The Big Page O' Military Quotes page has more quotes on the science and art of warfare, leadership and strategy

Ancient Times Age of Muskets World Wars I & II Cold War Viet Nam Desert Storm & beyond

note: due to the nature of the subject, several unsavory individuals and foolish ideas are presented within this page besides those noble and true. Inclusion of a quote or a source does not imply my agreement with, nor endorsement of, the person or the sentiment. Consideration of the occasion and circumstances of the quote, as well as the personal characteristics of the speaker, is essential to contemplate its fullest meaning.

Ancient Times

Veni, vidi, vici. (I came, I saw, I conquered)
- Julius Caesar
"Although ancient states were great, they inevitably perished when they were fond of war"
- Sima Rangju
"Romans not only easily conquered those who fought by cutting, but mocked them too. For the cut, even delivered with force, frequently does not kill, when the vital parts are protected by equipment and bone. On the contrary, a point brought to bear is fatal at two inches; for it is necessary that whatever vital parts it penetrates, it is immersed. Next, when a cut is delivered, the right arm and flank are exposed. However, the point is delivered with the cover of the body and wounds the enemy before he sees it.
... However, they are given that double-weight shield frame and foil, so that when the recruit takes up real, lighter weapons, as if freed from the heavier weight, he will fight in greater safety and faster. But when field training was ended through negligence and laxity, the equipment (which the soldiers seldom put on) began to be seen as heavy."
- Flavius Vegetius Renatus (in Epitoma Rei Militari) ...applicable to the use of whole forces, as well as individual weapons
Cry "Havoc," and let slip the dogs of war.
- William Shakespeare: "Julius Caesar"
In peace, there's nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness, and humility; but when the blast of war blows in our ears, then imitate the action of the tiger, stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood...now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide, hold hard the breath, and bend up every spirit to its full height!
- William Shakespeare: 'The Life of King Heenry V'
Si vis pacem, para bellum. (He who desires peace must prepare for war)
- anonymous

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Age of Muskets

The truth is that the fall of Napoleon is the hardest blow that our taxing system ever felt. It is now impossible to make people believe that immense fleets and armies are necessary.
-William Cobbett
We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.
- Benjamin Franklin
I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.
- Nathan Hale
My views and feelings (are) in favor of the abolition of war--and I hope it is practicable, by improving the mind and morals of society, to lessen the disposition to war; but of its abolition I despair.
- Thomas Jefferson (1743 - 1826)
The provision of the Constitution giving the war-making power to Congress was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons. Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This, our Convention understood to be the most oppressive of all Kingly oppressions; and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us.
- Abraham Lincoln
"Perhaps my dynamite plants will put an end to war sooner than your [pacifist] congresses. On the day two army corps can annihilate each other in one second all civilized nations will recoil from war in horror."
- Alfred Nobel

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World Wars I & II

"The infantryman slithers in the mud, while many teams of horses are needed to drag each gun forward. All wheeled vehicles sink up to their axles in the slime. Even tractors can only move with great difficulty. A large portion of our heavy artillery was soon stuck fast... The strain that all this caused our already exhausted troops can perhaps be imagined."
- General Blumentritt, chief of staff of the Fourth Army (about the situation in Russia at the winter of 1941)
"However much we may sympathize with a small nation confronted by a big and powerful neighbor, we cannot in all circumstances undertake to involve the whole British Empire in a war simply on her account. If we have to fight it must be on larger issues than that..."
- Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (1938, on the conflict between Germany and Czechoslavkia)
"We would fight not for the political future of a distant city [Danzig], rather for principles whose destruction would ruin the possibility of peace and security for the peoples of the earth."
- Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain
"I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat."
- Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill
"Never give in--never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."
- Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill
It is probable that future war will be conducted by a special class, the Air Force, as it was by the armored knights of the Middle Ages.
- Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill
"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."
- Prime Minister Winston Churchill (about the Royal Air Force)
"We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be; we shall fight on beaches, landing grounds, in fields, in streets and on the hills. We shall never surrender and even if, which I do not for the moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, will carry on the struggle until in God's good time the New World with all its power and might, sets forth to the liberation and rescue of the Old."
- Prime Minister Winston Churchill (after the fall of France)
"You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs. Victory in spite of all terrors. Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival."
- Prime Minister Winston Churchill
"To have the United States at our side was to me the greatest joy. Now at this very moment I knew the United States was in the war, up to the neck and in to the death. So we had won after all!...Hitler's fate was sealed. Mussolini's fate was sealed. As for the Japanese, they would be ground to powder."
- Prime Minister Winston Churchill (after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor)
"Britain and France had to choose between war and dishonor. They chose dishonor."
- Prime Minister Winston Churchill
"If the blood of France and of Germany flows again, as it did twenty-five years ago, in a longer and even more murderous war, each of the two peoples will fight with confidence in its own victory, but the most certain victors will be the forces of destruction and barbarism."
- Édouard Daladier, French Premier (1939)
"The enemy holds every trump card, covering all areas with long-range air patrols and using location methods against which we still have no warning... The enemy knows all our secrets and we know none of his."
- Grand Admiral Doenitz, Commander in Chief of the German Navy (1943)
"the battlefield in the air will be the decisive one"
- Douhet
"Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value."
- Marechal Ferdinand Foch [Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre] (circa 1911)
"The strongest army in the world [the French] facing no more than twenty-six [German] divisions, sitting still and sheltering behind steel and concrete while a quixotically valiant ally was being exterminated!"
- General J. F. C. Fuller (speaking of the "Phony War" between France and Germany)
Do you want total war? If necessary, do you want a war more total and radical than anything that we can even imagine today?"
- Josef Goebbel, Minister of Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda
"The battle we are now approaching demands a colossal measure of production capacity. No limit on rearmament can be visualized. The only alternatives are victory or destruction... We live in a time when the final battle is in sight. We are ready on the threshold of mobilization and we are already at war. All that is lacking is the actual shooting."
- Reich Marshal Hermann Göring, Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe (1936)
"We have resolved to endure the unendurable and suffer what is insufferable."
- Emperor Hirohito
"Germany is prepared to agree to any solemn pact of non-aggression, because she does not think of attacking but only acquiring security."
- Adolf Hitler (1933)
"National Socialist Germany wants peace because of its fundamental convictions. And it wants peace also owing to the realization of the simple primitive fact that no war would be likely essentially to alter the distress in Europe... The principal effect of every war is to destroy the flower of the nation... Germany needs peace and desires peace!"
- Adolf Hitler (May 21, 1935)
"A single blow must destroy the enemy... without regard of losses... a gigantic all-destroying blow."
- Adolf Hitler
Night gangsters! For this crime I will exact a thousand fold revenge!"
- Adolf Hitler (after the RAF's first attack on Nazi shipyard at Bremen)
"England, unlike in 1914, will not allow herself to blunder into a war lasting for years.... Such is the fate of rich countries.. .Not even England has the money nowadays to fight a world war. What should England fight for? You don't get yourself killed over an ally."
- Adolf Hitler (1939)
"The war against Russia will be such that it cannot be conducted in a knightly fashion. This struggle is one of ideologies and racial differences and will have to be conducted with unprecedented, unmerciful and unrelenting harshness."
- Adolf Hitler (1941)
"Casualties? What do I care about casualties?
- MGEN Hunter-Weston, Gallipoli, where halff-a- million were killed or wounded 1915-1916.
How is the world ruled and how do wars start? Diplomats tell lies to journalists and then believe what they read.
- Karl Kraus (1874 - 1936)
The more closely [the German army] converged on [Stalingrad], the narrower became their scope for tactical manoeuvre as a lever in loosening resistance. By contrast, the narrowing of the frontage made it easier for the defender to switch his local reserves to any threatened point on the defensive arc.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
"The League of Nations is still strong enough by its collective actions to avert or arrest aggression... There is no room for bargaining or compromise."
- Foreign Commissar Litvinoff (September 21, 1938)
"It is my earnest hope - indeed the hope of all mankind - that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past, a world found upon faith and understanding, a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish for freedom, tolerance and justice."
- General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Allied Commander of South-West Pacific (1945)
"I Shall Return"
- Gen Douglas MacArthur
"We are determined that before the sun sets on this terrible struggle our flag will be recognized throughout the world as a symbol of freedom on the one hand, of overwhelming power on the other."
- George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff
"Among the men who fought on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue."
- Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz (March 16, 1945)
"If they (the young pilots) are on land, they would be bombed down, and if they are in the air, they would be shot down. That's sad...Too sad...To let the young men die beautifully, that's what Tokko is. To give beautiful death, that's called sympathy."
- Admiral Takijiro Onishi (Note: Tokko means suicidal attack in Japanese)
"We want to get the hell over there. The quicker we clean up this Goddamned mess, the quicker we can take a little jaunt against the purple pissing Japs and clean out their nest, too. Before the Goddamned Marines get all of the credit."
- General George S. Patton, Jr (addressing to his troops before Operation Overlord, June 5, 1944)
"Sure, we want to go home. We want this war over with. The quickest way to get it over with is to go get the bastards who started it. The quicker they are whipped, the quicker we can go home. The shortest way home is through Berlin and Tokyo. And when we get to Berlin, I am personally going to shoot that paper hanging son-of-a-bitch Hitler. Just like I'd shoot a snake!"
- General George S. Patton, Jr (addressing his troops before Operation Overlord, June 5, 1944)
"The forty-eight hours after the march into the Rhineland were the most nerve-racking in my life. If the French had then marched into the Rhineland, we would have had to withdraw with our tails between our legs, for the military resources at our disposal would have been wholly inadequate for even moderate resistance."
- Dr. Paul Schmidt, Hitler's interpreter
"The atom bomb was no 'great decision.' . . . It was merely another powerful weapon in the arsenal of righteousness."
-President Harry Truman
"The Berlin-Rome-Tokyo alliance is a world-wide spiritual program of the young peoples of the world. It is defeating the international alliance of convenience of Anglo-Saxon imperialist monopolists and unlimited Bolshevist internationalism. It is showing the world the way to a better future."
- Albrecht Fürst von Urach
"The American forces have suffered terrible losses. The losses are far more than what Eisenhower has admitted, and worse is ahead. Tunis is only a foretaste of what is waiting for us in Europe."
- Roane Waring, Commander of the American Legion (after the victory at North Africa)
"In the first six to twelve months of a war with the United States and Great Britain I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success."
- Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander in Chief of the Japanese Navy (1940)
"A military man can scarcely pride himself on having 'smitten a sleeping enemy'; it is more a matter of shame, simply, for the one smitten."
- Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander in Chief of the Japanese Navy (about Pearl Harbor, 1942)
"The mindless rejoicing at home is really appalling; it makes me fear that the first blow against Tokyo will make them wilt at once...I only wish that [the Americans] had also had, say, three carriers at Hawaii..."
- Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander in Chief of the Japanese Navy (1942)
"India is not ready to take part in the present war, which would endanger its own freedom. The governments of France and England declared that they are waging war for democracy and freedom, yet they themselves betray the principles they espouse."
- Executive Committee of the Indian National Congress (September 23, 1939) "
I swear by God this sacred oath, that I will render unconditional obedience to Adolf Hitler, the Fuehrer of the German Reich and people, Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and will be ready as a brave soldier to risk my life at any time for this oath."
- German Armed Forces Oath of Loyality
"For the burned cities and villages; for the deaths of our children and our mothers; for the torture and humiliation of our people; I swear revenge upon the enemy… I swear that I would rather die in battle with the enemy then surrender myself my people and my country to the Fascist invaders. Blood for blood! Death for death!"
- Russian War Oath

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Cold War

"Through most of its wars, the United States successfully used the attrition approach. It is easier to be proficient at this type of warfare. You need to master only the simplest military skills and possess enormous quantities of arms and munitions."
- James F. Dunnigan (How To Make War, 1993))
You have a row of dominoes set up; you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is that it will go over very quickly.
- Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1954
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.
- Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953
"Democracy has no convictions for which people would be willing to stake their lives."
- Dr. Ernst Hanftstaengl
Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.
- John F. Kennedy (1917 - 1963), Speech to UN General Assembly, Sept. 25, 1961
The hydrogen bomb is not the answer to the Western peoples' dream of full and final insurance of their security ... While it has increased their striking power it has sharpened their anxiety and deepened their sense of insecurity.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
The implied threat of using nuclear weapons to curb guerrillas was as absurd as to talk of using a sledge hammer to ward off a swarm of mosquitoes.
-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)
Revolutionary war is an antitoxin which not only eliminates the enemy's poison but also purges us of our own filth.
- Chairman Mao Tse-Tung
We are at war with the most dangerous enemy that has ever faced mankind in his long climb from the swamp to the stars, and it has been said if we lose that war, and in so doing lose this way of freedom of ours, history will record with the greatest astonishment that those who had the most to lose did the least to prevent its happening.
- Ronald Reagan, 1964

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The war was won on both sides: by the Vietnamese on the ground, by the Americans in the electronic mental space. And if the one side won an ideological and political victory, the other made Apocalypse Now and that has gone right around the world.
- Jean Baudrillard, 1986
There is the guilt all soldiers feel for having broken the taboo against killing, a guilt as old as war itself. Add to this the soldier's sense of shame for having fought in actions that resulted, indirectly or directly, in the deaths of civilians. Then pile on top of that an attitude of social opprobrium, an attitude that made the fighting man feel personally morally responsible for the war, and you get your proverbial walking time bomb.
- Philip Caputo, 1982
By intervening in the Vietnamese struggle the United States was attempting to fit its global strategies into a world of hillocks and hamlets, to reduce its majestic concerns for the containment of communism and the security of the Free World to a dimension where governments rose and fell as a result of arguments between two colonels' wives.
- Frances Fitzgerald, 1972
Today, America can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam. These events, tragic as they are, portend neither the end of the world nor of America's leadership in the world.
- Gerald Ford, April 1975
All the wrong people remember Vietnam. I think all the people who remember it should forget it, and all the people who forgot it should remember it.
- Michael Herr, 1989
You can kill ten of my men for every one I kill of yours, but even at those odds, you will lose and I will win.
- Ho Chi Minh (to the French, late 1940s)
We are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.
- Lyndon Johnson, Oct. 1964
This is not a jungle war, but a struggle for freedom on every front of human activity.
- Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964
Now we have a problem in making our power credible, and Vietnam is the place. --John F. Kennedy, 1961
Vietnam presumably taught us that the United States could not serve as the world's policeman; it should also have taught us the dangers of trying to be the world's midwife to democracy when the birth is scheduled to take place under conditions of guerrilla war.
- Jeane Kirkpatrick, 1979
Some of the critics viewed Vietnam as a morality play in which the wicked must be punished before the final curtain and where any attempt to salvage self-respect from the outcome compounded the wrong. I viewed it as a genuine tragedy. No one had a monopoly on anguish.
- Henry Kissinger, 1979
Tell the Vietnamese they've got to draw in their horns or we're going to bomb them back into the Stone Age.
- Gen. Curtis LeMay, May 1964
Television brought the brutality of war into the comfort of the living room. Vietnam was lost in the living rooms of America- not on the battlefields of Vietnam.
- Marshall McLuhan, 1975
Above all, Vietnam was a war that asked everything of a few and nothing of most in America.
- Myra MacPherson, 1984
Let us understand: North Vietnam cannot defeat or humiliate the United States. Only Americans can do that.
- Richard M. Nixon, 1969
No event in American history is more misunderstood than the Vietnam War. It was misreported then, and it is misremembered now.
- Richard M. Nixon, 1985
We should declare war on North Vietnam. . . .We could pave the whole country and put parking strips on it, and still be home by Christmas.
- Ronald Reagan, 1965

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Desert Storm & beyond

I am quite confident that in the foreseeable future armed conflict will not take the form of huge land armies facing each other across extended battle lines, as they did in World War I and World War II or, for that matter, as they would have if NATO had faced the Warsaw Pact on the field of battle.
- H. Norman Schwartzkopf
Pentagon's readiness and modernization problems are not due to budget cuts. The are the result of habitual modes of conduct evolved during the Cold War and a desire by the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex (MICC) to protect its comfortable life style in a world that is changing rapidly.
- Chuck Spinney
"Actually, the uniqueness of the Gulf War to a very great extent keeps us from being able to draw lessons and experiences from it...in fact, just how much in the way of important, long-term experiences and lessons can be drawn from the Gulf War is a major issue."
- Center for Strategic and International Sttudies
"this war demonstrated without a doubt that, whether with regard to politics or logistical support, the U.S. military must rely on friendly states and allies. Without the considerable help of other countries, the United States has no way to carry out any major emergency operation. Other than in small operations, the option of 'going it alone' is basically unworkable, and all diplomatic and defense policy decisions must be based on this understanding."
- Center for Strategic and International Sttudies
the Goldwater - Nichols DOD Reorganization Act ensured that the three military services would pull together to fight the same war.
- Congressman Les Aspin
Desert Storm was a war which involved the massive use of air power and a victory achieved by the U.S. and multinational air force units. It was also the first war in history in which air power was used to defeat ground forces.
- General Merrill McPeak, USAF
"Aerial combat was the decisive factor for victory in the war against Iraq... High technology weapons were effectively used, and not only were they the key reason that air and ground troops demonstrated remarkably in combat, they also were the key reason United Nations forces were able keep their casualties and fatalities so low.
- Congressman Les Aspen
"Even talking about change can be threatening to entrenched interests...Careers in the Pentagon, the board room, or the halls of Congress are not advanced by creating the disruptions that go with real change, so there are very few voices willing to speak up for the future and move beyond rhetoric to make serious choices,"
- Rep. Mac Thornberry,

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This web site is not associated with or endorsed by the United States Air Force or any government organization. All opinions are solely the author's. All material is copyright (c) 1999, 2001 by Eric Lewan and may only be copied with his permission. Last Update: July 2001