"Victory" has nearly dropped out of the minds and vocabularies of modern Westerners, replaced by compromise, mediation, and slogans such as "There is no military solution" and "War never solved anything." In contrast, I agree with that bracing t-shirt counter-slogan, "Except for ending slavery, Fascism, Nazism, Communism and Baathism, war has never solved anything."
In my view, wars end only through defeat and victory; if you don't win a war you lose it. In today's world, I call for a U.S. victory over radical Islam and an Israeli victory over the Palestinians. This emphasis on victory fits into a long line of military analysis. For example:
Sun Tzu, about 350 B.C.: "Let your great object be victory."
Karl von Clausewitz, author of "On War."
Aristotle, about 340 B.C.: "Victory is the end of generalship."
Quintus Ennius, about 200 B.C.: "The victor is not victorious if the vanquished does not consider himself so" ("Qui vincit non est victor nisi victus fatetur.")
Raimondo Montecuccoli, 1670: "The objective in war is victory."
Karl von Clausewitz, 1832: "War … is an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will."
Harold L. George, U.S. Army lieutenant general, 1934: "the object of war is now and always has been, the overcoming of the hostile will to resist. The defeat of the enemy's armed forces is not the object of war; the occupation of his territory is not the object of war. Each of these is merely a means to an end; and the end is overcoming his will to resist. When that will is broken, when that will disintegrates, then capitulation follows."
Winston Churchill, 1940: "You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival."
Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1944: "In war there is no substitute for victory." (Also stated by Douglas MacArthur in 1951.)
Douglas MacArthur, 1952: "It is fatal to enter any war without the will to win it."
Ronald Reagan, 1979, on his strategy for the Cold War: "We win, they lose."
But that was then. Here are occasional contemporary quotes on the topic of victory, or its absence, in reverse chronological order:
John David Lewis, Bowling Green State University: His book, Nothing Less than Victory: Decisive Wars and the Lessons of History (Princeton University Press) establishes by looking at six wars that only through victory can a lasting peace be established. He notes the "astonishing" changes in U.S. doctrine after World War II:
The change in American military doctrine behind these developments occurred with astonishing speed; in 1939 American military planners still chose their objectives on the basis of the following understanding: "Decisive de-feat in battle breaks the enemy's will to war and forces him to sue for peace which is the national aim." But U.S. military doctrine since World War II has progressively devalued victory as the object of war. "Victory alone as an aim of war cannot be justified, since in itself victory does not always assure the realization of national objectives," is the claim in a Korean War–era manual. The practical result has followed pitilessly: despite some hundred thousand dead, the United States has not achieved an unambiguous military victory since 1945.
This shift deserves careful study. In another passage, Lewis offers a useful corollary to Clausewitz' notion of the need to attack the enemy's center of gravity:
The "center" of a nation's strength, I maintain, is not a "center of gravity" as a point of balance, but rather the essential source of ideological and moral strength, which, if broken, makes it impossible to continue the war. A commander's most urgent task is to identify this central point for his enemy's overall war effort and to direct his forces against that center—be it economic, social, or military— with a view to collapsing the opponent's commitment to continue the war. To break the "will to fight" is to reverse not only the political decision to continue the war by inducing a decision to surrender, but also the commitment of the population to continue (or to restart) the war.
Lewis argues that, in each of the seven examples he analyzes in his book, "the tide of war turned when one side tasted defeat and its will to continue, rather than stiffening, collapsed." (July 7, 2011)
Iran: The old ideas still prevail in the non-Western world, as Harold Rhodes indicates in his discussion of "The Sources of Iranian Negotiating Behavior":
In politics, Iranians negotiate only after defeating their enemies. During these negotiations, the victor magnanimously dictates to the vanquished how things will be conducted thereafter. Signaling a desire to talk before being victorious is, in Iranian eyes, a sign of weakness or lack of will to win.
(September 13, 2010)
Barack Obama, president of the United States, asked by an interviewer to define a U.S. victory in Afghanistan:
I'm always worried about using the word "victory" because, you know, it invokes this notion of Emperor Hirohito coming down and signing a surrender to [Douglas] MacArthur. … when you have a non-state actor, a shadowy operation like al-Qaeda, our goal is to make sure they can't attack the United States. … What that means is that they cannot set up permanent bases and train people from which to launch attacks. And we are confident that if we are assisting the Afghan people and improving their security situation, stabilizing their government, providing help on economic development so they have alternatives to the heroin trade that is now flourishing.
Comments: (1) In addition to the concept of victory, Obama's flawed knowledge of history reappears here (for another example recall his mention of 1979 and 1989 as exemplary years for U.S.-Muslim relations); Emperior Hirohito did not sign Japan's surrender to the Allies. Rather, Japan's Foreign Minister Shigemitsu Mamoru and Gen. Yoshijiro Umezu did the honors on board the U.S.S. Missouri; see the accompanying photograph for the former's signing. Also of note is that John McCain's grandfather, Vice Admiral John S. McCain, was present at the ceremony. (2) Why am I not surprised that the media fails, Quayle-like, to pick up on Obama's factual errors? (July 23, 2009)
Japanese foreign minister Shigemitsu Mamoru signed his country's surrender on Sep. 2, 1945.
Related Topics: US policy
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