The bold statements above can be easily proven, but to do so, the concept of a winnable versus an unwinnable war needs to be established. And in order to do that, we must first define war itself. Dictionary.com has a very useful definition for the word:
1. a conflict carried on by force of arms, as between nations or between parties within a nation; warfare, as by land, sea, or air.
2. a state or period of armed hostility or active military operations: The two nations were at war with each other.
3. a contest carried on by force of arms, as in a series of battles or campaigns: the War of 1812.
What is paramount in the above is that a war is entered into by nations or by groups competing for the same goal. Throughout history we can see wars between empires competing for geographical space, or between groups of people competing for their control or sovereignty. In the case of the United States, the Revolutionary War was over the sovereignty of their inhabited area of the New World. The War of 1812 was actually between France and England, but spilled over into the New World and, thus, affected the new nation in that way.
Likewise, we can see how the Civil War was between two competing ideals over certain rights and the sovereignty of the people who believed in those rights. The Mexican-American War was over territory. The first and second world wars were waged between two separate ideologies and their sovereignty over the peoples affected. They were also about geographic control of strategic areas needed to maintain such ideologies. But in all cases, the goals on both sides were equivalent, maintain or obtain the geographic areas in question, or change the control and sovereignty of the people affected in those areas. Both sides had equivalent stakes in the outcome and the goals could be mutually contrasted.
Unwinnable wars are not that way at all. Unwinnable wars are wars where there is only one side present, or where the different sides fight for vastly different reasons. Let's take the case of the first major stalemate of the American military in modern history, the Korean conflict. At the end of WWII, two distinct ideologies emerged, both seeking to dominate the rest of the world. Over the next four decades, they were to constantly test each other's resolve in countries that had nothing to do with either ideology.
At the end of WWII, the Koreans were hopeful to finally rid themselves of the shackles of colonialism by invading powers, most recently the Japanese, and at last, establish their own sovereign nation. However, according to asiainfo.org., "Liberation did not bring independence for which the Koreans had fought so hard, but the inception of ideological conflict in a partitioned country. The occupation of a divided Korea by the United States and the Soviet Union frustrated the efforts of Koreans to establish an independent government." Over the course of the next ten years, Korea would be subject to a devastating war between two superpowers who cared little for their country and who, at the end of the day, merely resolved to continue the tension along the same lines that had been originally drawn in the first place. Neither the Soviet Union, nor the United States could claim a clear cut victory in this pseudowar.
But the first official loss for the US military on a foreign battlefield came during the undeclared Vietnam War. The origins of the Vietnam conflict can actually be traced back to the end of the first world war when Ho Chi Minh lobbied unsuccessfully the French and American delegations for independence of Indochina, under French colonial rule at the time. For the rest of his life, Ho dedicated himself to the independence of his homeland, Vietnam.
Enter the US
After WWII, the United States started on a rampage to fight their ideological rivals wherever they may present themselves around the world. The concept of the Domino Theory, first presented by President Eisenhower, supposed that if one small nation fell to Communism, they all would fall. In reality, this was a catchall excuse to allow American hegemony to expand around the world with America's complete assent.
With the lie of the Gulf of Tonkin attack in August of 1964 as an excuse, President Johnson assured quick complicity by the US Congress to build up the undeclared Vietnam War using their blank check approval. Eventually over 2 million Vietnamese would die along with 58,000 American military. The unequivocal defeat of the US sent shock waves across America. The official goal of removing all Communist forces from Vietnam had completely failed and, for the first time, the US saw the opposition claim total victory and hoist their flag of independence as a result.
While a full review of the reasons for the US defeat are not germane to this article, it is necessary to note that the US goals were always ambiguous, never clearly defined, and completely conflicted with the goals of their opponents. Ho Chi Minh and his followers were fighting a war of independence. The colonial ruler had been France, but in 1954 they handed the problem off to the United States. But the hand off did not include independence, therefore the struggle continued.
The United States was ostensibly fighting the spread of Communism while the Vietnamese were fighting a war of independence. The Vietnamese had specific goals in mind, to wit, their independence. America had vague, ideological goals in mind. Stopping the spread of Communism is like stopping the spread of chess playing. You can never be assured that all potential chess players are dead or removed from the chance of playing chess ever again. Likewise, you can never be assured that all Communist ideologists are dead or removed from the chance of practicing their ideology in the future.
The lack of a clear and winnable goal, coupled with fact that their enemy had a specific and attainable goal that was popular among the local populace, was too much even for the vaunted American military. Defeat was assured as early as 1954 as long as the United States refused to accept unconditional independence for Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh, after five decades of struggle, finally achieved his goal, though he died before he could taste the fruits of victory.
But, around the same time, a strange, surreal event took shape in the US. The use of the word war became diluted to the point of idiocy. President Johnson started a War on Poverty. President Nixon started the War on Drugs. Yet neither "war" has won anything at all and has cost the American taxpayer hundreds of billions of dollars. The only net result from these pseudowars has been the dilution of the meaning of the term war and its true impact.
1 | 2