This question came up for several reasons mainly because of the news out of Afghanistan and Iran plus the book I am currently reading about the Second World War . Victory is an elusive thing because in war defining victory is perhaps the major strategic goal of the belligerents. I suppose that one could take the Clausewitzean the ideal of destroying the enemyâ€™s force or means to fightÂ as victory but that really isnâ€™t it.
As we saw in Iraq the destruction of the enemy army does not necessarily mean that the war is over. Unless the population of The enemy country, nation, or tribe is convinced that they have been defeated the fighting will not stop. The dilemma then, that planners are faced with is that they have to decide how to fight a war to convince the enemy population that they have been defeated. It is obvious that the in Iraq the vast majority of the population was not convinced that their defeat therefore, they provided tacit support to the insurgency. This lack of acceptance of their defeat made consolidating the military victory extremely difficult. This tends to demonstrate that absent any acknowledgement of defeat victoryÂ itself is a mirage.
The U.S. is currently seeing that phenomenon at work as well in Afghanistan. Our problem there is that Afghan Society is so splintered that a general acknowledgement of defeat is impossible on a countrywide scale. I fear that the eventual American solution to the quandary in Afghanistan is a simple declaration of victory and we leave. This leads us back to the question of what victory actually is? I would argue that victory is not simply the defeat or destruction of the enemy military and forcing the enemy population to acknowledge that they have been beaten. Historical examples tend to support my view.
For example, despite the destruction of multiple armies y Hannibal during the Punic Wars the Roman people never admitted defeat, They continued to field new armies until they were eventually successful. Another example is the Prussians after their defeat by Napoleon in 1806, the Prussians did not truly accept their defeat, instead they reformed their military and prepared for a resumption of resistance against Napoleon. Similarly in 1941 the Russian refused be defeated by the exceptional German success is in the opening months of Operation Barbarossa, instead they continued to reconstitute armies and continue the fight until they eventually achieved victory.
A good example of the destruction of the military not meaning enemy defeat is the Franco-Prussian war of 1871. In that instance, the French army was essentially destroyed in the field at Metz and Sedan but the French people refused to admit defeat. It took the Prussian army a further seven months and the bombardment of Paris to convince the French people to capitulate.
It seems that in essentials Clausewitz was correct. The essence of victory is convincing the enemy nation or people that regardless of the sacrifices they are willing to bear, they cannot be successful. Â The modern method of western warmaking in seeking a supposedly decisive battle with minimal civilian and military disruption and then declaring the war over obviously does not work. What modern western methods do is convince our enemies that because of an aversion to casualties if they can hold out long enough the weak public’s in western nations will force withdrawal and our enemies will eventually achieve victory. It worked in Vietnam, Afghanistan against the Soviets, Somalia, and elsewhere so why will it not work again?
If you actually think about it, modern western ,military methods cause more suffering long term than if we just went in and killed and terrorized our enemies into submission. The hope of our enemies of eventual victory through western exhaustion prolongs individual suffering. A thought and fact lost on the liberals who only see pictures on CNN of suffering children and delude themselves into thinking they are doing good instead of making the situation worse from a humanitarian perspective.
The goal of war is not to disrupt the enemy as little as possible, it is to defeat them a as quickly as possible. Sometimes, often in fact, that requires people to die, both civilians and military. That is not a tragedy except on a personal level. Instead it is a fact of warfare. It was true 5,000 years ago and will no doubt be true in a further 5,000 years. The immorality is the modern belief that wars can be won without bloodshed. Unfortunately, that still only happens in books and movies.
In the end, victory means forcing your enemy to submit. War is one of the last human endeavors in which the ends mostly justify the means.