Military & Aerospace

Victory in Modern War?
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 16 Feb , 2011


Before the Second World War, wars were fought for territory, resources, or both. In these wars, victory was easy to be defined and discerned. There were distinct symbolisms like hoisting of flags in the enemy territory, troops dancing over captured enemy tank, surrender ceremonies etc.

Post World War-II, particularly in the Cold War era, wars are dominated by their ideological import. The war in Vietnam was one such war, where the aim was not to capture territory, but to halt the march of Soviet backed communist influence, or more appropriately as part of the U.S. strategy of containment. In the two-decade long war, i.e. between 1955 and 1975, more than 55,000 US military personnel perished. The US finally withdrew without achieving its aim of destroying the communist forces. In the world view, the communist forces were seen to have won. But the war was not without its gains in respect of US. It did act as a bulwark against the communist forces, which were threatening to consume the entire Southeast Asia and South Asia. But for the US stand in Vietnam, the geopolitical landscape of the world would have been different. Did the US therefore lose the war?

What we still dont understand is why you Americans stopped the bombing of Hanoi. You had us on the ropes. If you had pressed us a little harder, just for another day or two, we were ready to surrender! ““ General Giap

In view of the changing objectives of war, the perception of defeat and victory needs to be revisited. The Vietnam War has a strong resonance in Afghanistan as well. There is no dearth of detractors, who are propagating the view that the US is losing the war in Afghanistan. What if the US and its allies were absent from the epicenter of terrorism, i.e., the Pak-Afghanistan region? Probably, the entire free world would have been hostage to the terrorists. So, is the US losing the war?

Vietnam is not the same and the Af-Pak region will also not be the same. In some future date, when the warring parties in Afghanistan burry their hatchet, they may be more open to each other and reveal their strengths and vulnerabilities. Probably, both of them will claim victory. It is rather difficult for liberal societies to sell their version of victory to its people and more so the media. A Vietnamese General’s (General VoNguyen Giap) perspective of his victory over the US in the war is instructive. “What we still don’t understand is why you Americans stopped the bombing of Hanoi. You had us on the ropes. If you had pressed us a little harder, just for another day or two, we were ready to surrender! It was the same at the battle of TET. You defeated us! We knew it, and we thought you knew it. But we were elated to notice your media was helping us. They were causing more disruption in America than we could in the battlefields. We were ready to surrender. You had won!” The brilliant and highly professional General Giap has written this in his memoir, which is placed in the War Memorial in Hanoi.

There are many, who feel that the American media was biased and cost the US, the War in Vietnam, even as it enjoys the fruits of liberalism and freedom. The same mistake is being repeated by the media with regard to Afghanistan. The same mistake is being perpetrated by the Indian media with regard to counterinsurgency campaign in Kashmir and Northeast by the Indian Army. It would be worthwhile for the people and the media to revisit the question: what constitutes victory in modern wars?


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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

RSN Singh

is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research and Analysis Wing, or R&AW and author of books Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and The Military Factor in Pakistan. His latest book is The Unmaking of Nepal.

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