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Why do we suck at waging war

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  • Why do we suck at waging war

    Doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results is the colloquial definition of being a numbnuts. In truth, we're quite good at adapting as a species. That is to say, we're quite good at not repeating invalidated strategies; it's why we bloody dominate this planet.

    The examples are legion – in economy, politics, even in culture. Obviously continuous failure is no rare occurence; it's barely ever for a lack of trying otherwise though! Rare is the company that crashes over endless attempts at implementing the same doomed business model. Rare is the runner-up candidate who doesn't revise their election campaign four years later.

    That begs a question: Why eleven battles for the Isonzo? Why seventy years of French defeats during the Hundred Years' War? Why did the anti-Napoleonic coalition happily cede victory after victory to the French? It seems that war is the one exception to the rule. It seems we suck at adapting to bellicose innovation.

    Why do you guys think that's the case? Is war evolving too quickly for leaders to catch up? Is it a social phenomenon, as throughout history most wars were led by conservative elites? Is it a mentality issue, since leaders given pause by defeat risk accusations of cowardice? Is war too complex an issue to identify the causes of previous defeats with certainty?

    I'm looking forward to your input.

  • #2
    It’s a good question Herr Muck but sort of vague.

    If I got it right, you mean «*Why does the West suck at waging wars*»?

    If both a philosophical and factual question though, times have changed. Whereas merely 75 years ago both Germany and the US could lose hundreds or thousands soldiers or cannon fodders a day, it’s not the case today. Both the Astan and Iraq war have reportedly killed thousands US soldiers whether these conflicts were justified is up to someone opinion or political stance.

    These two wars have killed millions Iraqis and Afghans too yet they keep fighting or kept fighting the US or its allies and coalition troops for over a decade.

    Westerners by and large are far too entitled and selfish well beside our valuable troops to care IMO about the well being of the rest of the World or the third world.

    Only a few months ago there was a strong possibility of a major conflict in the Korean Peninsula which descalated at the latest. Kim is in no way a suicide belt wearing snack-bar Muhammad and is willing to keep power and maintain his regime and dinasty which is why despite the chest beating on both sides a war was unlikely but could have triggered major troubles all over Asia, that’s an understatement.

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    • #3
      To put it in German:
      "Ich habe keine Lösung, aber ich bewundere das Problem"

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      • #4
        Does muck mean:
        1. why does Germany suck at war?

        2. Why do Humans suck at war (meaning why do we keep doing it over and over again)?

        3. Why do the member of the Mess suck at War?

        4. Why does modern man suck at war?

        plz clarify your esoteric query herr muck.

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        • #5
          Most wars are not evenly matched, but the loser/disadvantaged side is willing to wage it because conceding defeat without a fight is even more unthinkable. The same goes for most battles, battles are rare because they require both sides to feel confident of victory or for one side to have no escape.

          Taking your Napoleon example, fighting a battle or war that Austria/Prussia/Russia etc were likely to lose was preferable to ceding continental supremacy to the French without a fight.

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          • #6
            Oddly enough I'd perceived my question to be pretty clear. No, I wasn't talking about Westerners in particular. Humanity's entire history is rife with great defeats in battle owing to strategies which'd been proven stupid time and again. And since that is not how we usually roll (no matter the era or culture), why do we in war?

            Usually humans aren't hell-bent on running their heads against a wall over and over again. Why are we in war?

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            • #7
              So really the question is why do we continue to go to war when we know that it ends up with so much death and destruction, for no real advantage? Perhaps the boost to economies and the technical advances made in wartime, outweigh the death and destruction? I am serious. Many technical advances in wartime compared to peace.

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              • #8
                let me see:
                - get to blow stuff up
                - big explosions
                - kick ass machines
                - guns
                - get to kill people you dont really like
                - loot and trophies

                Are you even a man, you had to ask?

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Corrupt View Post
                  Most wars are not evenly matched, but the loser/disadvantaged side is willing to wage it because conceding defeat without a fight is even more unthinkable. The same goes for most battles, battles are rare because they require both sides to feel confident of victory or for one side to have no escape.

                  Taking your Napoleon example, fighting a battle or war that Austria/Prussia/Russia etc were likely to lose was preferable to ceding continental supremacy to the French without a fight.

                  on your theory above Corrupt I must ponder if this holds true with the "civil war" of 1861-1865 in the USA?

                  I think I know the examples of battles you may put forth as proofs of your theory for this war, but not sure you understand the outlooks of each side prior to (for instance) the first battle of Bull Run (first Manassas, Virginia), etc.

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                  • #10
                    Psychological shortcomings
                    I don't know how it is called in english but there is a psychological rule that said that most people will stick to their initial decision even if it appears poorly choosen rather than make a full U turn that costs psychologically way more and is harder to get wired in the brain

                    Second point is that the military is a strongly conservative institution (fighting always the previous war) in most instance and that led to enough blunders and disasters to be self explaining

                    Third point is that military (but also politic => strategy) are two areas with a lot of inertia because of the various layers of actors. You can have an excellent general which achievments could be hindered by people above him (King, Fuhrer whoever) or below him (Colonels and down to troopers)

                    Oddly enough, the ones who had major and easiest victories were the ones that
                    - went against the institutions rules including rules of war of the period : either by using new tactics, new strategies or setting up new military system
                    - were plastic enough at brain wires level to change their decisions and had the charisma/power over their troops strong enough to make them follow those changes

                    When you had people with both qualities they were often referenced as military geniuses and more often than not winners

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                    • #11
                      About the war of hundred years : it is not 70 years of defeats.
                      1337 - 1364 : Edward III ( Brits ) wins because he is a tactical genius.
                      1364 - 1380 : Charles V ( Frenchs ) wins because he is a political genius.
                      1380 - 1429 : Charles VI ( French ) is mad so it becomes a civil war (Brits + Bourguignons vs Other Frenchs). In 1420 the French king is also English king.
                      1429 - 1453 : Brits are kicked out of France by a peasant woman (Joan of Arc).

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                      • #12


                        The sheer futility.
                        A prime example. In a 100 year old newspaper on the far flung West Coast on NZ that had only been really settled just prior to the war.

                        TFG that they sorted it out and decided peaceful trade was better.
                        NZ as a dominion fighting in 2 wars that started over colonies
                        My vote for more educated and free press. But such slow learners are we.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Corrupt View Post
                          Most wars are not evenly matched, but the loser/disadvantaged side is willing to wage it because conceding defeat without a fight is even more unthinkable. The same goes for most battles, battles are rare because they require both sides to feel confident of victory or for one side to have no escape.

                          Taking your Napoleon example, fighting a battle or war that Austria/Prussia/Russia etc were likely to lose was preferable to ceding continental supremacy to the French without a fight.
                          commanding & Corrupt: You're right, the reasons for waging futile wars are legion. What of the reasons for fighting battles in an obviously futile fashion though? Let me clarify further:

                          Clausewitz wrote that as early as the War of the Fourth Coalition, Napoleon's foes had known and understood his tactics. They just refused to adapt their own to that newly created reality. Instead, they insisted on tactics they'd employed before, trusting on a different outcome next time. What kept them from realizing what the inevitable outcome would be?

                          Along the same lines, Italy launched eleven consecutive battles of the Isonzo River during First World War. Using the same tactics over and over again, they merely upped their forces each time. They went so far as to recreate their previous attempts so meticulously the Austrians, simply shelling the previously used approach, were able to kill tens of thousands blindly.

                          The reason for Italy's failure were so blatantly obvious even censorship could not prevent a public debate from unfolding. And yet Italian commander Cadorna pinned the blame on the common soldier's lack of morale.

                          As for the wars he'd taken part in, Clausewitz suggested the following explanation: Napoleon's foes had learnt their trade before the Napoleonic Wars and stuck to what they knew.

                          Is that it?

                          Originally posted by primer View Post
                          A prime example. […]
                          As far as I can gather, you feel like notions of honor are why so many entirely preventable defeats happened?

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                          • #14
                            I think just that news clip underpins perfectly organisational prejudice failure.
                            That you outline above as futile.

                            Napoleon's foes had known and understood his tactics. They just refused to adapt their own to that newly created reality. Instead, they insisted on tactics they'd employed before..
                            In everyday life. Individuals find it difficult to adopt a new product. They tend to stick with what they had even if something better is explained to them. The prejudice that exists for the old idea over powers practicality.
                            Can we all relate to that? I see it regularly everyday. I'm culpable myself.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by muck View Post





                              As far as I can gather, you feel like notions of honor are why so many entirely preventable defeats happened?
                              Happened more than once. Until full industrialisation of war, military were offsets of nobility with a specific mindset nurtured by chivalry, honors, social position etc
                              Rank soldiers were peasantry good to die for an higher cause
                              Crecy, Azincourt, Balaklava, le Chemin des Dames, Verdun, the Somme, Gallipoli, Shiloh, Gettysburg, Borodino are all examples of big cooked egos going against each others for honor and glory

                              When you plaster something as evanescent as honor on the battlefield you can get the worst results (due to stuborndness, uncontroled search for glory, lack of modesty so analysis of former mistakes ) but you can also have the best results as it give one reason for the soldiers to die for. A soldier is always fighting better when he has a understandable reason to do so

                              Issue is that honor is not a concrete thing and cannot be included in the calculations needed to win battles and wars. It's too much a double edged sword

                              At strategic level, the gods of war were those who had a mix of ruthlessness, good political understanding and good human ressources understanding. And by HR understanding, it includes notions like honor and glory but is not limited to that

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