Distractions, Diversions, Books, Wines, Whiskeys and Other Stuff To Think About When You Should Be Doing Something Else.

On the Bookshelf: Nothing Less Than Victory by John David Lewis

Nothing Less Than Victory

Decisive Wars and the Lessons of History

by John David Lewis

” The goal of war is to defeat the enemy’s will to fight.”

This is a very compelling statement, at least it is for me. In fact, it compelled me to track down the book and find out the context behind that statement. Essentially, John David Lewis argues that wars may only be completely, definitively and finally ended through complete and overwhelming victory, usually achieved by the side holding the moral high ground gaining the resolve to go on the offensive until the enemy’s will to fight is broken and the enemy leadership submits to an unconditional surrender. This is not a “might makes right” argument, though it is undoubtedly hard for the weaker antagonist to decisively win a war no matter how strong their moral position is, but rather an argument that those with a moral and positional (in relative strength) superiority should not restrain themselves in war but continue to prosecute that war until an unequivocal decision is reached, asserting their will and moral superiority over the will of the enemy. He argues this premise through examples of six different wars throughout Western history.

  1. The Greco-Persian Wars 547-446 BC.
  2. The Theban Wars 382-363 BC.
  3. The Second Punic War 218-201 BC.
  4. The Campaigns of Aurelian 270-275 AD.
  5. The End of the American Civil War (focusing on Sherman’s March to the Sea) 1864-1865 AD.
  6. The End of the War in the Pacific of World War Two (focusing on the employment of the atomic bombs over Japan) 1945 AD.

I have issues with this book. There are assumptions, suppositions and historical statements made within it that I expect raise large amounts of debate and argument among students of history, but that isn’t my issue. The author’s writing style swings disconcertingly (to me) between dry, academic prose and almost conversational lecturing laden with opinion and supposition, but that isn’t my issue either. My issue is that this book was published at the beginning of 2010 yet its argument became largely irrelevant at the end of the Cold War. All of the ideas about ending conflicts contained in Nothing Less Than Victory presuppose state-on-state warfare where the defeated government submits to the victor, and the defeated people follow the lead of their government in admitting to that defeat. This book has undeniable utility for a student of history, but can only be applied in a historical context. For the student of modern warfare, of warfare in today’s world of non-state actors motivated by ideology and resentment, willing to resort to insurgency and terrorism to achieve their goals, this book has very little utility. In fact, following its tenets may well be incredibly counter-productive in today’s conflicts.

” The goal of war is to defeat the enemy’s will to fight.”

As hard as I found it to finish this book, I still find that statement compelling. I don’t really know if you can truly distill the goal of war down to such a simple, provocative, statement but it certainly merits further consideration. Perhaps a study of that statement in XGW terms would have more utility for the student of warfare in today’s world.

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4 responses

  1. This doens’t sound right to me.

    War is the attempted non-trivial coercion of one party on another.

    The goal is to get the other to to take some action, cease some action(s), or maintain a state of inactivity that the they wouldn’t without the coercion.

    A possible means would be to “defeat the enemy’s will to fight” for ever and ever, but that doesn’t sound like the only means. A 4GW or Tactically-stay-on-the-Defensive-and exhaust-the-other scheme could work. A 5GW maybe could work.

    Joseph Fouche (the blogger, not the dead Frenchie)has been infuencing me on this – though that thought may horrify him!

    I am thinking of a grid with one axis having the option of maneuvering for a Silver Bullet or Grand Decisive Battle on one far left, and setting up a Death-by-a-thousand-cuts Attrition style option on the far right. On the Vertical Axis, put Highly Kinetic at the top, and Low-kinetics/Dispersed-kinetics at the bottom.

    If this guy thinks war is only a total war to “defeat the enemy’s will to fight”, then his side is giving up a lot of options, is going to be loosing a lot, and is even going to be at war without realizing it.

    12/16/2010 at 8:56 PM

  2. You would probably find the book as hard to read as I did.

    The premise just doesn’t fly in the 4GMW world, much less against 5GW opponents.

    12/16/2010 at 9:28 PM

  3. I am kind of war/security blog’d out at the moment.

    I have some post that are mostly done, but I haven’t had the drive to finish and post them.

    Maybe come January. I need a a 2 month vacation or something. I am thinking New Orleans/French Quarter/Jazz/PoBoys/Drinks.

    12/17/2010 at 9:31 PM

  4. My new favorite definition of war is “War is high school with live ammo”.

    That’s horrifying enough. I don’t have enough acne medication to go to war.

    12/27/2010 at 1:06 AM

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