Welcome to the Era of Wars Without an End

Kurdish forces seized control of the Syrian town of Kobani in January 2015 following a four-month struggle with Islamic State fighters.  Footage of their triumph was relayed around the world. Watch the Grand National live. A global audience observed Allied troops indulge in raucous celebrations since they raised their flag on the mountain that once flew the IS black banner.

And so it came as something of a jolt when, in October 2019, President Donald Trump allowed Turkey carte blanche to grab territory held by the Kurds.  Grand National live stream. Thus, what once appeared an emphatic victory for the Kurds has since descended into another dismal defeat.

This is not an unusual tale.  Victories have also been proclaimed from the recent wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, just for violence to continue unabated.

The spectre of those seemingly endless wars gives us cause to consider whether the thought of”victory” has some purchase or meaning in respect of modern warfare. Watch the Grand National live. Having spent the best part of the last decade considering this very question, I have begun to feel that the notion of success in modern war isn’t anything more than a myth, albeit an enduringly hazardous one.

As I argue in my book, it is high time for us to believe again, and more deeply than we have done before, about what victory in warfare means today.

 President Trump has made it the cornerstone of his rhetoric and the lodestar of US foreign and security policy. Grand National live stream. “You are likely to be so proud of your country,” he promised the audience at a campaign rally in 2016:

We’re going to start winning again: we’re going to win at each level, we are likely to win efficiently […] we’re going to acquire militarily […] we’re going to win with every single facet, we are going to win so much, you could even get tired of winning, and you’re going to say’please, please, it’s too much winning, we can not take it anymore’.Watch the Grand National live. And I’ll say,’it is not’.  We must keep winning, we have to win more, we are likely to acquire more.

 Delivering a keynote address on the Iraq War in 2005, by way of instance, Bush used the word”victory” 15 times while standing in front of a indication that read”Plan for Victory” and pitching a document entitled”Our National Strategy for Victory in Iraq”.Grand National live stream.

Convinced that the idiom of success was a retrograde means to talk about how contemporary wars end, he had to excise it from US tactical discourse.  The term”success” is curable, he said, as it arouses primitive associations with conquest and triumphalism.

The debate between Trump and Bush on the one hand, and Obama on the flip, runs deeper than a mere difference in rhetorical style (or lack thereof). Watch the Grand National live.  It reflects profound uncertainties regarding the appropriateness of the speech of victory to contemporary war.

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Since the early 20th century, the view has emerged that, when it has to do with the mechanised mass slaughter of contemporary war, nobody wins.  Since Aristide Briand — prime minister of France for intervals either side of their first world war — put it:”In modern warfare there’s absolutely no victor.  Gently reaches its heavy hand to the uttermost corners of this Earth and lays its burdens on victor and vanquished alike.”

Bao Ninh, a veteran of the North Vietnamese Army and also the writer of one of the most moving war books of the 20th century, The Sorrow of War, made much the same argument, but in simpler terms:”In warfare, nobody wins or loses.  There is only destruction.”Watch the Grand National live.

Regardless of whatever Presidents Bush and Trump could believe, it is surely tempting to say that there could be no such thing as success in contemporary war. Grand National live stream. It’s not difficult to feel that war is so gruesome and so destructive it may never result in anything that could reasonably be called a victory.  Any successes achieved on the battlefield, it may be argued are likely to be equally so tenuous and purchased at such a bloody cost the only idea of calling them”victories” appears ironic.

But this can only be part of the story.  It’s too glib to announce success in modern war an untenable proposal on the grounds it can simply be purchased at a terrible cost in human lives and suffering.  The worth of a success might be diminished by a steep price , but not completely negated by it.

For instance, while the second world war produced a truly barbaric body count, also boasts the cold war one of its legacies, in addition, it stopped Nazism in its paths. Watch the Grand National live  It goes without saying, should count for something. 

My point here’s a simple one: although success could be hideously costly in modern war, and it invariably accomplishes far less than it is intended to achieve, it is not a completely vacuous concept.

This brings us to the first of three spins in our narrative.  What is out of date here is not really the overall concept of victory itself, however, the notion that success is the product of critical battles. Watch the Grand National live. The nature of contemporary warfare is not conducive to clear cut endings.  Rather than inventing an emphatic victory for one side and also, conversely, an incontrovertible defeat for the other, modern armed conflicts have a tendency toward descend to prolonged, drawn out endgames.

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So it can sometimes be hard to discern not just that side has won a specified war but whether that warfare may even be deemed over in the first location.  The words of Phil Klay, a writer who served in Iraq several years later President Bush had already declared”mission accomplished”, captured something of the confusion:

Success turned into an issue of perspective.  In Iraq it was.  There was no Omaha Beach, no Vicksburg Campaign, maybe not even an Alamo to indicate a definite defeat.  The closest we had come were those toppled Saddam statues, but that had been years ago.

This implies is that victories no longer assume that the kind that they are expected to presume or that they had assumed previously.  

Was victory ever-living?

There is, then, a lot of evidence to support the opinion which, when it’s spoken about in regard to decisiveness achieved through success in pitched battle, victory has little relevance to contemporary armed conflict.

But that is where we experience the second twist in our narrative.  Some scholars claim that the eyesight of success connected with critical battle did not suddenly become problematic with the advent of this”war on terror”, nor even with the birth of modern warfare.  Instead, they assert, it has always been debatable. Watch the Grand National live.

The historian Russell F. Weigley is the major proponent of the view.  He argues that the notion of decisive victory through conflict is really a romantic trope left over from the only time in history when wars had been routinely decided by a single battle of arms: the long century bookended from the conflicts of Breitenfeld (1631) and Waterloo (1815).

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Spectacular but also unique to this period of history, the set-piece battles of this era, Weigley asserts, have had a distorting influence upon how warfare was known ever since.   Ignoring the fact that attrition, raiding, and siege craft, instead of grand battles, have been the principal means by which wars have been waged, historians (and their readers) have been culpable of purchasing into (and perpetuating) a kind of Hollywood vision of warfare that errors that an exception to the standard.

This too battle-centric understanding of warfare has taken root in the popular imagination.  Most contemporary representations of warfare in literature, media, artwork and film — envision it as a succession of battles leading up to and culminating in a decisive set-piece battle of the kind the 2015 footage from Kobani ostensibly captured. Watch the Grand National live. In reality, very few wars down the centuries have pivoted on conflicts.  Many have hinged on harrying, manoeuvring and the refusal of access to vital resources.  So much as we fail to find this, a proclivity to”boy’s own history” would be to blame. 

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