(The Guardian) -- In the summer of 1864 as the US General William Tecumseh Sherman surrounded the Confederate city of Atlanta, Georgia, he received a letter from the city's residents pleading for him to spare their homes from his scorched earth campaign through the rebel South.
Sherman wrote back:
"You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it."
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Only by terrorizing the people of Atlanta he argued, could the end of a war that had by that point taken so many young lives be hastened. Days later Sherman was true to his word. Atlanta was burned to the ground. In the 150 years since Sherman's statement about the harsh realities of armed conflict, war has remained unforgivably cruel. It's also, however, been repeatedly refined.