Does Anyone Ever Win a War?

In the book I am currently reading, two of the characters are talking about wars generally as well as World War II specifically. About the latter, one fellow says with great satisfaction, “We won that one.” The other responded, “So they say.”

Which makes me wonder: does anyone ever win a war? I know what we are supposed to believe, that yes, wars are won, but when you count up all the losses, can even a significant victory be considered a victory?

Which then led me to remember those times when soldiers killed innocent people. In a war, is anyone innocent? Is anyone guilty? Aren’t the soldiers innocent, too, at least those who were drafted? You force a kid to fight, you arm him or her, send her into battle when perhaps all the kid wants to do is sit and read or play football or watch movies, and then the leaders of the countries — the only ones who should bear the guilt of war — sit back and play a war game with real people. So, from that stand point, aren’t the draftees innocent, too?

It always irritates me when people say humans are a war-loving lot, because the truth is, most of us abhor violence and wars and being forced to do what we don’t want to do. When the draft was instigated in WWI, many of the draftees simply ignored the notices. The war had nothing to do with them or with protecting their families, their counties, their states, and they had more important things to do, such as raising crops or raising a family or perhaps even raising Cain in a localized manner. To force these kids to do their duty, the government took action and went after the slackers. Even those who registered as conscientious objectors were thrown into prison, where some died of the privations and harsh discipline

Sometimes, those who didn’t want to go to war were coerced to register by the women who, of course, didn’t have to go to war and who believed the romantic ideal of war that was being propagated.

I never considered those who enlisted as innocent, especially in recent years, because they should have known what they were getting into, but considering the ongoing propaganda, the lies that were told to get folks to enlist (that they can choose their assignments, they can learn the trade they want, that it’s simply a job opportunity, that that it’s primarily a way to earn their way into an educational system), and even the court involvement (being given a choice of jail or the military) I don’t even know any more about the innocence or guilt of the enlistees.

As for our natural human propensity for killing: In WWII, the kill rate was low, with many of the soldiers firing wildly on purpose, or not firing at all, so the war-mongering leaders set out to fix that. The simplest and least intrusive way was simply to switch the classic round target with the silhouette of a person, but some people were also subjected to various war games (the origin of video games) and by the time Vietnam came around, the kill rate was high, and the number of people refusing to shoot was low.

So who here is innocent? Who is guilty? Who won?

I don’t know the answer. I don’t imagine anyone does.


What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

A fun book for not-so-fun times.

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5 Responses to “Does Anyone Ever Win a War?”

  1. Estragon Says:

    IMHO, the definition of “won” has evolved over time. In the distant past, you “won” if you succeeded in taking the other guy’s stuff, and maybe his women. Later, you won if you took over the other guy’s land, even if that meant the destruction of his stuff (and maybe his women).

    Now, the assets worth having are mostly between the ears of the other guy’s population. War, in the conventional sense, is a pretty poor way of getting that.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Interesting perspective. I’d never thought of the matter in that context before, but you’re right!

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I’ve been thinking about the assets worth having are between the ears. Made me think of a possible story — a primitive, warlike people who have always been victorious, and after each win, have improved their lot, until they come across an advanced civilization. They do what they always do, fight, and then comes the shock when they realize they killed the very people who could run the prosperous society, and since their losses were tremendous in hopes of greater gain, they end up losing everything.

  2. Estragon Says:

    An interesting premise. Our “advanced” civilizations aren’t really – they maintain the capacity for war on an industrial scale, against which a primitive society wouldn’t stand much of a chance. There are many examples of primitive societies “winning”, but not for lack of capacity on the part of the opponent as much as lack of will to fully use it. If the threat became existential, I have no doubt the capacity would be employed.

    A sufficiently advanced society might jettison that capacity though, having perceived itself as evolved beyond needing it. The primitive society would see that as weakness – low hanging fruit.

    By eliminating war as a real possibility, one society ends up causing one. By seeing war as a way of life, the other deprives itself of the fruits thereof. Hmm.

    In order to be plausible, the two sides would have to be relatively isolated, as intimate knowledge of the other would likely cause each to more fully consider the strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities of the potential opponent.

    In our partisan, polarized world, maybe not such a big reach? The parties to the conflict could even scale from neighbors on the same street(house/apartment) to star systems. Just keep them apart and ignorant of each other for long enough.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Your third paragraph really caught my interest. Well, they all did, but that one set up lights in my head since I love irony. I don’t do global-style stories, but if I did, that would be one to undertake. On the other hand, if I could scale it down to neighborhoods, as in your last paragraph, that would be more my style.

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