How to win a War

Let battle commence

Wars are not good. People get killed and hurt, and not only the fighters. Innocent parties are not spared. The web of bereavement spreads wide. Entire infrastructures, physical and societal, are destroyed and even the ostensible winner usually comes out of the affair substantially damaged in one way or another.


Nevertheless, wars happen, and if you're going to get into one, it's probably better to win than to lose.
In this hub, though I've called it How to Win a War, I'm not going to talk about modern military tactics or strategy. What would a mere civilian know about these? Instead, I'm going to look look back through the years to try to rediscover what winning a war really means, because we seem to have forgotten.
chess - the greatest war game in the world
chess - the greatest war game in the world

It isn't all a game

Let's start by considering something pleasanter than war - the ancient game of Chess. Chess is the oldest and greatest war game, and gives us more than an inkling of the way people used to see war.
There are two main ways to win a game of Chess. The first (and most satisfying) is the checkmate. To win by checkmate is to capture the opponent's King, i.e. the King is attacked and has nowhere to go and no available defence to knock out the attacking piece.
The second (and commoner) way is to build up such an advantage in forces, territory and threats that your opponent resigns the game, seeing no possible recovery.
(There are other ways to win but they apply mainly to tournaments and involve adjudication or your opponent running out of time).
The checkmate recognises that war is all about Kings and Kingly pride. Little people have punch-ups with neighbours, but don't start wars. Through the ages, wars have always been about making the King stronger and richer and there were a number of ways of achieving this:

Winning Ways

1. The enemy has something you want: gold, silks, spices. They don't want to share and you have nothing to trade, so you march in with a stronger army, overpower them and help yourself. Before you go home, it's a good idea to kill most of the young men. Raping the women has no strategic advantage, but it's a traditional option, if you have time. No-one said war was pretty. Whatever else, you have to destroy most of the cities, preferably by fire. This makes sure that they won't recover enough to trouble you for quite a few years.
2. The enemy has an 'endless' supply of something you want, but most of it is still underground. In this case, it doesn't make a lot of sense to destroy the means of production. Better is to defeat the army, destroying (or stealing) their armaments, then enslave the survivors and the rest of the population. After all, someone has to work the mines for you. It doesn't much matter if you kill their King or just stuff him in a dungeon somewhere. He's not important any more.
3. A variation of the above is when the enemy has a particular piece of land you want, typically controlling an important mountain pass or sea crossing. In this case, you have to realise that you're in for the duration. It takes at least a generation to subjugate a people. You have to defeat the army of course, and in this case it's best to bump off the King too, so he won't be a focus for rebellion. But it's not too clever to destroy all the seats of power, because you're going to have to occupy them when you start to rule the country. You'll have to pass a few laws of course. For starters, everyone has to speak your language and follow your religion. It's probably a smart move to burn a few books too. Symbols count for a lot.
4. A particularly nasty kind of war is the kind that is truly about nothing except pride and hatred. In such cases, you have nothing to gain by winning and, as your people would normally be clever enough to understand this and rebel, you have to be careful to keep them stupid, by feeding them a diet of lies about the enemy. I'm sure you can think up your own, but good standards that usually do the trick are: they worship the devil, they sacrifice children, they are cannibals, they will outbreed us and take over, they are developing mighty weapons, and so on. Such wars usually lead to the destruction of both sides, because, with no clear war aim, there is no reason ever to stop.

Modern Times

So much for history. Let's go back to the original topic - how to win a war. And because it's always easier to talk about real examples than hypothetical, let's talk first about the War in Iraq. Looked at historically, this war is incomprehensible. The 'Allies' attacked (on a false premise), destroyed the country's infrastructure, suffered some losses but killed far greater numbers of the 'enemy', subjugated the authorities, deposed the 'King', drove him into hiding, rooted him out, had him killed. Checkmate. By any historical standard, the war was won, twice over, by 2004. So why is it still going on?
The simple reason is that the expectations were fatuous. At no time in recorded history has an invading army marched in, destroyed and killed, toppled a regime and marched out again leaving peace in its wake. Never. The historical conclusion is inevitable. The 'Allies' made one of two possible mistakes:
If the war was meant to be punitive, it didn't punish enough. If they had wanted out after only a year they should have destroyed and murdered far, far more. That's the horrible truth about how it used to be done, because half measures don't work. Ask Napoleon if you don't believe me.
But if the war was actually about control of underground resources (did someone say oil?) and/or territory, there is no historical precedent for achieving this without long-term occupation, usually brutal occupation, lasting for at least a generation. Latter-day psycho-babble about hearts and minds is so much hot air. No-one likes occupation.
The fact is, the 'Allies' didn't have the stomach for either option and so should not have started what they can't finish. The result is as we see, a disaster. Yet politicians in US are still saying victory is in sight.
Then we have the so-called War on Terror. If anything, this is even less comprehensible than the war in Iraq. After all, throughout history there are several examples of wars fought against the wrong target or for the wrong reason. But surely no example of a war against nothing and everything. Imagine a game of chess where your opponent has no King. By definition, you can't win. You can't even destroy all his pieces because, in this strange new version of the game, whenever you capture a piece, it just reappears somewhere else on the board. Your own pieces don't regenerate though. Only your opponent's. You just lose, inevitably.
the hydra - spoiling for a fight?
the hydra - spoiling for a fight?

End Game?

Remember the Hydra? In Greek mythology, the Hydra was a ferocious creature with nine heads. Whenever you struck off a head with your sword, it grew another one. In declaring the War on Terror, President Bush has recreated the Hydra, and if you doubt this, look at what's happening in Afghanistan.
The best thing the new President could do is repeal the declaration of this lunatic 'war' and concentrate instead on a foreign policy that makes fewer enemies.
Thank you for reading!

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