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9. The Orchestration of War

The theater commander and his component commanders are responsible for conducting military operations that will lead to attainment of political objectives specified by the leaders of their country. To do so, they employ the air, sea, and ground forces needed to attain a military objective that supports the political objective of the war. The political and military objectives of both sides together establish the nature of the conflict.

Our purpose here is not to delve deeply into philosophical and theoretical questions surrounding political and military objectives; however, commanders at the operational level must consider the relationships between political and military objectives if they are to do their jobs properly.

Political, Military Objectives are Related

The political objective of a war can range from demanding unconditional surrender to asking the opponent to grant favorable terms for an armistice. The military objective that will produce the desired behavior on the part of the enemy will be related to the political objective and will in turn heavily influence the campaign plan designed to attain it. Examples from history abound.

In World War II, the political objective of the Western Allies was the unconditional surrender of Germany and Japan. The military objective given to all theater commanders was destruction of the enemy's armed forces preparatory to invasion of the homelands. The Allies actually destroyed most of Germany's armed forces, and most of her war industry, as they drove toward the heartland. In the case of Japan, the Allies strangled the home islands with sea and air power, eventually substituting aerial bombardment for ground invasion.
Both countries surrendered unconditionally because they had lost the ability to protect their people and maintain the integrity of the state. It is not conceivable that either would have surrendered unconditionally while they possessed effective means of resistance. The military objective thus had to be the virtual disarming of the enemy state by destruction of one or all of the branches of its armed forces, or by vitiation of its armed forces by denying them materiel needed to operate offensively or defensively.

The defeat of Germany and Japan exemplify the pure, unconstrained strategic offensive in pursuit of an unconstrained political objective. At the other end of the scale was North Vietnam's war against the United States.

The North Vietnamese had a simple political objective: They wanted the United States to withdraw from Indochina. They estimated that the Americans would only invest a certain amount of time, money, and lives in the enterprise. If the North Vietnamese could force their enemy to go beyond those limits, victory would be theirs. Thus, the North Vietnamese military objective was to inflict human and monetary costs on the Americans over an extended period of time. Given the enormous military power of the United States, the accompanying campaign plan had to be a strategic defensive. It succeeded.
Looking at World War II and the Vietnamese War together allows us to note simple principles that can be quite valuable.

Theater Commander's Position is Unique

In many cases, the theater commander may not have much say in establishing political objectives or even military objectives. He may be given both and told to develop a campaign plan simply to attain the latter. In some cases, however, he will be in a unique position to spot logical inconsistencies or physical problems not known or missed at the strategic level of command. The Germans encountered problems of this sort on the Russian front during World War II.

In the first instance (spotting logical inconsistencies), the General Staff opposed Hitler's plan to conquer the Caucasus region for economic exploitation before defeating Soviet ground armies.145

In the second case (spotting physical problems), the political leadership wanted to capture Soviet industry intact; therefore, it forbade the Luftwaffe to conduct a sustained campaign against Soviet armament factories in the first part of the war, even though doing so was a compelling military necessity.146

In both cases, the supreme command refused the counsel of the military and consequently made the jobs of operational commanders more difficult or even impossible. These disagreements will arise in virtually every war. The operational commander must make his views known, but he also must be ready with contingency plans in the event he is overruled.

Under some circumstances, the theater commander and his component commanders may be able to influence or even write the military objective for the war. What must they consider? The military objective must lead to the political objective, and the commander must have in place or have guaranteed to him, adequate forces to attain the objective. Military objectives will vary substantially, but they tend to fall in one of three categories.

First, the military objective can be the destruction -- or neutralization though maneuver -- of some or all of the enemy forces. The necessary degree of destruction will depend on the importance of the political objective as seen by the enemy. It also will depend on the enemy's capacity, as was the case in the Falklands war.

Great Britain won by destroying enough of the Argentine air force and navy that further Argentine operations on the Falklands Islands were impossible. The Argentineans were beaten even though large ground forces were available on the mainland.
Second, the military objective can be the destruction of some or all of the enemy's economy, especially his war-related economy. Japan surrendered because she no longer was able to protect herself from aerial attack and her industry was collapsing around her. Similarly, the destruction by air bombardment of petroleum production and internal transportation networks made Germany unable to wage modern war by the end of 1944. In both cases, destruction of key war industries was either complete or threatened to become so very quickly. Similarly, but at the other end of the scale, Israel attained her political objective of stopping Iraqi nuclear arms development by using her air force on 7 June 1981 to destroy Iraq's nuclear research center -- the military objective.

Third, the military objective in support of a political objective, such as unconditional surrender, can be the destruction of the will to resist, either the will of the government or the will of the people. This objective is tenuous because it is difficult to get at "will" without destroying either armed forces or economy. In other words, the will to resist collapses when the armed forces no longer can do their job or when the economy no longer can provide essential military -- or civilian -- services. Judging the will to resist also is very difficult, as the following example indicates:

Almost anyone in 1941 would have judged the Germans to be more rational than the Japanese, yet it was the Japanese who surrendered when reason demanded it -- even while significant ground and air forces were still intact.
While direct attacks on the enemy civilian population may seem a viable way of breaking the national will (moral objections aside), difficulties abound. Populations have proven resilient, and the people may have little influence on the decisionmaking of their rulers. The indirect approach to the people is another matter. The North Vietnamese essentially attacked the will of the American people to resist. Similarly, the Allies in World War I succeeded in significant part because the economic blockade made life in Germany almost unbearable.147

"Liberators Instead of Destroyers"

In World War I, however, the Germans were not ruled by an irrational tyranny. One other possibility should be considered. The will to resist sometimes can be broken with kindness rather than with destruction. In retrospect, the Germans possibly could have defeated the Soviets had they gone into the Ukraine and other colonized areas as liberators, rather than as destroyers.

When a military objective has been chosen, it is necessary to act. To help guide the thinking needed to decide on a course of action, an analogy from personal combat is useful to suggest. When two antagonists meet, they have several choices. They can stand toe to toe and trade blows with each other until the weaker antagonist finally collapses. Assuming roughly equal strength at the outset, the outcome largely will depend on who can absorb the most punishment.

Another possibility is for one fighter to move in, strike a blow, and retire before the opponent can respond. In this case, the winner probably will be the smarter and faster fighter. If he has executed well, he may not suffer much in the process.

The third approach involves doing something unexpected, like using a club, pulling a third party into the fight, or striking indirectly at the antagonist by kicking over his water bucket or eliminating his manager. Given enough time, any such feint may do the trick at little cost.

The American bomber offensive against Germany in World War II started out like two fighters exchanging blows. It almost failed because the Germans were able to knock down too many machines and crews. The offensive shifted gears with the introduction of long-range fighter escort. The escorting fighters then took over the role of the fast moving, in-and-out puncher and kept the Germans sufficiently at bay to permit the bombers to do their work. Finally, the bomber offensive turned on German petroleum and thereby removed the sustenance of the entire war machine.
Could the order of the offensive phases have been reversed? In retrospect, early destruction of the petroleum system would have shortened the war and would have been a quicker means to an end than was the campaign that started out directly against aircraft and aircraft manufacturing.

The analogy from personal combat intimates that the first possibility, the toe-to-toe slugging match, is the least attractive and the least likely to be adopted. In fact, it is the orthodox approach and the one that most commanders have adopted for most campaigns and battles recorded in military history. The choice of an in-and-out campaign or of an indirect approach has been relatively rare and therefore is, by definition, radical. The orthodox approach also is, at the risk of oversimplification, the typical American approach and has been so since Gen Ulysses S. Grant's successful siege of Vicksburg* during the US Civil War. It certainly was the high command choice in World War II, when Marshall envisioned a relentless frontal attack on the German homeland, powered by American industry and led by overwhelming firepower.148

The initial concept of the air campaign against Germany in World War II was the same -- a massive frontal assault

that would roll over the opposition. The Southwest Pacific campaign was an anomaly in the last century of American military history, as were the first six months of the Korean campaign.

"Radical" Ideas May be Opposed

This fact of history, and especially of American military history, is relevant for the operational commander who might propose something other than orthodoxy. He must realize that officers on his own staff, and especially in higher staffs, will strongly oppose his "radical" ideas. They will do so with the best of motives, sincere in their belief that they are protecting against flights of fancy and against reckless adventures that may well lead to disaster. They could be right. The burden of convincing the deciding authorities that they are not will rest with the operational commander.

One could argue that the orthodox approach has worked acceptably well for the United States for more than a century and that it would thus be foolish to change it. Such might be the case if conditions remain similar to those encountered in past wars. In every war the United States has fought since the War of 1812, the country has had an industrial base capable of out-producing by far her every enemy. In the twentieth century, she also commanded the combined technology-production front. In any war to be fought in the future, the Americans possibly could follow the old conservative ways, as long as the enemy is disadvantaged in materiel and technology. If the enemy is not, then the old ways may be a recipe for disaster. Convincing key subordinate and superior officers that conditions have changed sufficiently to invalidate more than a century of experience may be exceedingly difficult.

The conceptual problems just discussed apply to all of our cases, but they are particularly pertinent to Case I, in which both sides in the conflict commence with approximately equal vulnerabilities. If the enemy is equal or superior in manpower and production, a frontal assault may not be the answer. If he is decidedly inferior, then it may not matter -- although the conservative approach possibly will take longer and cost more in blood and treasure than would an alternative. In chapter 4, we developed outlines for an offensive air superiority campaign and saw illustrations from the American experience against Germany in World War II. The Army Air Forces conducted that campaign very traditionally -- even though the objective of the campaign was radical and untried -- at least until the time when bomber losses became almost prohibitive. The same thing possibly could be done in a situation where both sides have vulnerable bases, although actual conduct of the campaign would be made more difficult by enemy action against base areas. What general rules, then, can be adduced for conducting a campaign?

Center of Gravity Must be Identified

In all cases, the enemy center of gravity must be identified and struck. For the air superiority campaign, that center of gravity can be any of the areas enumerated in chapter 4 -- enemy air equipment (aircraft and missiles), enemy logistics, enemy personnel, or enemy command and control. In choosing the appropriate center of gravity and in devising means to strike at it, the disposition of enemy forces can be especially important.

The Case I situation evokes the image of two opposing lines, or perhaps concentric circles, of opposing castles, where either side can sally forth and even besiege an individual castle -- mindful, of course, that help for the besieged will shortly come from elsewhere in the line if action is not taken to block it.

The Case II situation suggests besiegers surrounding a castle and attacking it at their leisure. The Case III situation brings to mind a castle surrounded by besiegers, under constant bombardment, and able only to defend. Finally, Case IV could be likened to a battle taking place midway between two castles, where the occupants of both castles could hurl missiles at the combatants, but not at the other castle.

Extending the castle analogy, we can conceive three basic approaches to defeating the enemy.

The first is a broad front approach where the object is to reduce every castle, either one by one or, if sufficient forces are available, by simultaneous attack.

The second approach is to reduce one or two castles, ignore the remainder, plunge through the gap, and win by seizing the capital.

The third approach is to figure out a way to avoid the castles entirely and go directly to the political center of gravity -- the capital or the king.

Assuming that all three approaches are physically practical, the third promises to be the quickest and cheapest, the second the next best, and the first the slowest and most costly.

The war against Japan could have been, and actually was, prosecuted using every one of these approaches. But the second and third proved decisive and provide excellent models of how to plan an integrated campaign that uses all available resources.

In the spring of 1942, the perimeter of the Japanese Empire ran from the Aleutians to Wake, through the Solomons to New Guinea, from New Guinea to Singapore via the Netherlands East Indies, and thence back to Japan by way of Burma and China. The Japanese had roughly a 12,000-mile front that in its most crucial areas was 2,500 miles from Tokyo. Following the Battle of Midway, the Japanese found themselves unable to move closer to Hawaii or to progress in the Aleutians. Consequently, they intended to continue operations in China and Burma while making two major moves against the Americans. The first of these major moves was in the southern Solomons, where a base on Guadalcanal would give them the ability to interdict American shipping to Australia. The second was a move across the Owen Stanley mountains to Port Moresby on the south coast of New Guinea, from where they could threaten Australia directly.149
What were the Allied choices to counter the Japanese?

One must remember that before World War II had started for the United States, President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill had agreed that the first priority would be the defeat of Germany. Until victory was assured in Europe, the Allies would stay on the strategic defensive in the Pacific. The emphasis on defeating Germany first remained in effect throughout the war. But a combination of political and military factors quickly transformed the strategic defensive in the Pacific to an expedient offensive, albeit an offensive that suffered because the European theater had first call on resources.

In a certain sense, the strategy against Japan at the highest level was a broad front approach, with counterattacks to be launched in Burma, China, the southwest Pacific, the south Pacific, the central Pacific, the north Pacific, and finally, completing the circle, in the northwest, when the Russians could be induced to enter the conflict. In fact, resources simply were not available for large-scale operations outside the southwest and central Pacific areas, so the grand broad front approach never was seriously executed.150

Any of the three approaches to reducing the Japanese citadel possibly could have been chosen, even in the relatively bounded area of the southwest through central Pacific. Keep in mind that this "bounded" area created a front of almost 6,000 miles. As a help in visualizing the enormity of the area, consider that New Guinea alone was longer than the entire Russian front, from the Caspian Sea to Leningrad. Early in the war, the idea was to move forces toward Japan for an eventual invasion of the homelands. Given the geography, these forces necessarily would have to move from island to island, and all would have to be reduced in the process. Air was seen as an adjunct of ground and naval surface forces.151

The Joint Chiefs of Staff, in July 1942, directed that this methodical reduction process be started in the Southwest Pacific theater (under Gen MacArthur) and in the South Pacific theater (under Adm Robert Lee Ghormley, commander of Allied naval forces in the South Pacific in 1942, who directed the attack against the Solomon Islands in August 1942). Adm Ghormley was to move up the Solomons chain toward the great Japanese base at Rabaul on New Britain, while Gen MacArthur was to take northeast New Guinea, finish off the Solomons, and finally lay siege to Rabaul.152

After this part of the Japanese line was destroyed, the Joint Chiefs envisioned peripheral movements to reduce Japanese positions in the rest of New Guinea to the west and in the Ellice, Gilbert, Marshall, and Marianas islands to the east and north.153

Air Seen as a Supporting Arm

In this early period of the war, the principal commanders, including Gen MacArthur, continued to see air as a supporting arm. The evolution in thinking, especially on MacArthur's part, makes the Pacific campaigns so important to study and understand.

Recall from chapter 2 that MacArthur had made the radical decision to conduct an intermediate campaign for air superiority. He was still thinking conventionally, however, in that he believed it necessary to reduce every Japanese redoubt -- or "castle," to continue the earlier analogy -- in his area. He still thought it necessary to occupy Japanese bases in northeast New Guinea, then those in the Bismarck archipelago, and finally to seize Rabaul at the north end of New Britain. After carrying out this conventional campaign, based on an unconventional concept, he intended to continue the reduction of Japanese positions on the rest of New Guinea, and then move further west toward Borneo before starting island by island towards the Philippines.

Then a radical idea came from an unexpected source, the Joint Chiefs in Washington.154

By the late summer of 1943, MacArthur had made significant progress in the Huon Peninsula area of New Guinea (Lae, Finschafen, and Salamuau). This campaign was to lay the base for the eventual investment of Rabaul. The Joint Chiefs, however, in conjunction with the British at the Quadrant meeting in Quebec in August 1943, directed MacArthur to complete the Huon Peninsula operation and then to move along the New Guinea coast toward Volgelkop. He was directed to bypass Rabaul, to leave it for neutralization by air attack as required. MacArthur had opposed leaving Rabaul unoccupied, because in conventional terms it was a serious threat to his right flank.155
Although MacArthur had strongly opposed bypassing Rabaul, the Joint Chiefs directive to do so started him thinking about the possibility of bypassing other places. Combining the concept of an air superiority campaign with the concept of bypassing enemy positions, MacArthur envisioned a campaign that would take him to the Philippines, while whole armies of Japanese -- but not Japanese air armadas -- remained intact behind his lines.

In brief, he captured only those areas necessary to support air operations against Japanese airfields, and then used the captured fields to extend air superiority out as far as possible. Air superiority established, he jumped over intervening Japanese ground positions to occupy new bases from which air superiority could be further extended. He continued this process to Leyte Gulf, where he leaped beyond the range of his land air, and depended entirely on the cover of carrier air. His decision might have led to catastrophe, because portions of the Japanese fleet succeeded in penetrating Leyte Gulf after the US 3rd Fleet moved away in pursuit of another portion of the Japanese fleet.156

Gen MacArthur recognized his error and back-tracked to establish land air bases on Mindoro -- which he had intended to bypass -- to support his invasion of Luzon.157

The foregoing has been a necessarily brief account of concepts and operations that carried MacArthur to the Philippines in January 1945. The key lessons are several:

Within the context of these very broad lessons, the Southwest Pacific theater, as we saw in chapter 3, also offers rare insights in achieving air superiority. Additionally, the war against Japan illustrates the possibility of ignoring completely the line of "castles" and going directly to the political center of gravity.

Identifying air superiority as the objective in the Southwest Pacific theater did not make the gaining of air superiority happen. What made it happen was the application of the general principles already discussed. In the Pacific, the means did not exist in the first three years of the war (up to 1944) to do much about the sources of aircraft and pilots. Similarly, no apparent way was seen to attack enemy command and control on a theater basis. That lack led to direct attacks on aircraft and personnel, attacks on logistics, and exploitation of doctrinal weakness. We saw in chapter 2 how Gen Kenney, in a series of well-conceived operations, attacked and exploited all three areas.

Broad Front, or Indirect Approach

The theater-commander must decide whether to adopt a broad front or indirect approach -- or something in the middle. Ideally, he would make a decision even before the war began that would provide a coherent plan leading to victory, even if that victory were years away. Given the uncertainties, the friction and fog of war, the fact that he faces a human enemy who will attempt to impose his will during the course of the conflict, and perhaps most important, the fact that he will grow and learn as the days pass, he probably will not be able to craft a perfect plan. Thus, he must be flexible and ready to change when circumstances demand it.

Having chosen or been assigned a military objective, and having chosen at least his initial broad plan, the theater commander must determine whether he can best attain his objective with air, sea, or land forces. All three probably will not have an equal role. If they do not, the key force must be identified, so that the other two can stand in support.

The concept of identifying a key force may make some people uncomfortable, especially if they are in an environment where inter-Service cooperation is stressed, and where cooperation means either subordination (air support of the army, for example) or that each Service has a precisely equal role, regardless of circumstances. In former times, everyone accepted the fact that some things could be done only by a navy, and some things could only be done by an army. On occasion, a reason might exist for them to work together. But for the most part, each had a specific job to do that if done correctly would lead to meeting the objectives of the war. The only difference between then and now is the third dimension of air power -- which must be evaluated as a potential key force in the same way that the army or navy in the past was evaluated.

To understand the concept of a key force and the relationship among complementing forces, thinking about another art form -- the concerto -- is helpful. A composer writes a concerto to say something, to attain some objective. Having selected an objective, the composer decides how best to reach that objective. Should it be a piano concerto, a violin concerto, or a flute concerto? Only one will get him to the objective he has chosen; clearly, a piano cannot say what a violin can say, and vice versa. That he has chosen an instrument to be his key force does not mean that the other instruments do not have roles. To the contrary, the other instruments are vital, for they provide the support that allows the key force to do things it could not do by itself.

During the course of the concerto, the key force will be the only instrument active at certain times; the rest are in repose, awaiting their turn. At other times, the key force is silent while the complementing forces bear the whole burden. The composer, and later, the director, has the task of orchestrating -- not subordinating nor integrating -- his instruments so that each can do its job -- whether that be as the key force or the supporting force. In the process, he does not try to make one instrument sound like another, or do another's job; rather, he uses each to do what it is naturally constituted to do and what only it is capable of doing.

Orchestration, not subordination or integration, is the sine qua non of modern warfare.

If we carry the concerto analogy to the realms of warfare, we can say that a particular war, or campaign, or phase of a campaign could be a sea concerto if sea power were the key force. Likewise, we would say that a war or campaign was an air concerto if air forces had the dominant role. We also would say that the theater commander had the job of orchestrating his forces in such a way as to achieve his objectives. How does the commander decide what his key force in a campaign should be?

Sea Forces Easiest to Choose or Reject

The easiest of the three forces to choose or reject is the sea. It is clearly not appropriate if the campaign is against a continental power that has little sea commerce and where the area of hostilities is not bordered by oceans. On the other hand, it may be entirely appropriate if the campaign is against an island power which can be isolated and starved into submission if its sea lines are cut. If the sea is chosen as the key force for the campaign, air may still be crucial to allow appropriate sea operations. Ground forces may be needed to take or occupy land areas controlling critical sea passages.

Choosing between ground and air as the key force for the campaign is far more difficult; given enough time, money, and blood either can theoretically accomplish what the other can do. That is, to kill every enemy ground soldier by air attack is theoretically possible, and capturing and controlling enemy means of production with ground forces also is obviously possible. Let us begin the decision process by identifying clear-cut cases.

Ground must be the key force if air cannot make a substantial or timely contribution to the campaign effort. Air is of marginal value in a fight against self-sustaining guerrillas who merge with the population. In this case, no significant target exists for air attack. Ground also should be the key force if short-term occupation of limited pieces of territory is the military objective for either side and will in itself end the war -- as did German occupation of Prague in 1939. In the very short term, air cannot stop large bodies of men. Interdiction takes time to work; and attacks on war production take even more time. Ground must be the key force if time is of the essence, and it is agreed that ground action can lead to the political objective significantly faster than could air action.

To some extent, time drove British and American strategy against Germany. Quite conceivably, Germany could have been defeated through air attack. But the certainty of her defeat by air alone decreased if the Soviet Union made a separate peace with the Germans. Veiled Soviet threats to do so, if a second front in France was not opened expeditiously, helped drive the British and Americans to choose the ground approach, not the air approach.
Before discussing air as a key force, one must remember two points about ground campaigns.

First, territory is a dangerous enchantress in war. Serious wars are rarely won by capturing territory, unless that territory includes a vital political or economic center of gravity, the loss of which precludes continuing the war. The capture of France in 1940, significant though it was, did not win the war for the Germans. France was not the center of gravity of the anti-Axis coalition -- even before the United States entered the conflict. After World War II, the United States, not Western Europe, became the center of gravity in any conflict between the Soviets and the western powers. Territory may well be the political objective of a campaign, but it rarely should be the military objective. Territory will be disposed of at the peace conference as a function of the political, military, and economic situation at the war's end.

Second, assumptions about time are apt to be dangerous. Few things are more difficult to predict than how long a war or a campaign will last. Germany planned for a short war and was unable to endure a long one. Outside observers were almost unanimous in predicting that the Soviets would fall by Christmas 1941. MacArthur talked about sending troops home for Christmas from Korea in 1950. Johnson's "end of the tunnel" prediction was tragically wrong in Vietnam. In contrast, British and American forces covered more ground after the breakout from Normandy in three months than they had planned to cover in a year.158

Air May be Key Force

Territory is beguiling and time deceiving: The commander must beware of both. Air must be the key force when ground or sea forces are incapable of doing the job because of insufficient numbers or inability to reach the enemy military center of gravity.

The German campaign against Britain after Dunkirk was based on air, because the army and navy could not get at the British. Although a submarine campaign was underway against Britain at the same time the Battle of Britain was in progress, the submarines could not defeat Britain, nor could they establish the conditions needed for invasion., The German navy, then, was -- or should have been -- in support of the primary air campaign.
Air may be the key force when enemy ground forces can be isolated or delayed while air works directly against political or economic centers. Similarly, air could be the key if enemy power were confined to a relatively small area, such as an island. Pantelleria, an island between Malta and Tunisia, surrendered after intensive air attack,159 and Malta, as previously mentioned, was on the verge of surrendering. Air may be the key for a phase of a campaign that is leading to a point where sea or land becomes dominant. It should be the key if the military objective of the war is destruction of the enemy's war production capability. Lastly, air may be appropriate to select as key, under an even wider variety of circumstances if time is not a significant constraint.

In the last several paragraphs, we have suggested guidelines for deciding what the key force of a campaign should be. Making the decision frequently will be difficult, but it is a task that cannot be shirked. Once decided, each participating component can see what its role is. When all these things are known, the jealousy and suspicion that often are part and parcel of such an intense human activity as war will be less likely. Just as a concerto must have a key force to meet the objective of its composer, so must a war plan have a key force.

Unfortunately, however, many wars have been fought when the "composer" had only an amorphous objective and failed to identify a key force, and where each "instrument" either thought it was dominant or didn't realize what its role was in producing a coherent performance. Wars of this kind have been expensive -- and frequently fatal.

The concepts of objectives and orchestration have been presented. So we can turn now to the air campaign itself, whether it is intended as the dominating or supporting instrument of the concerto of violence.