Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts The Illusion of Bloodless Victories

The Illusion of Bloodless Victories

The official U.S. Army doctrinal manual for operations declares that “the American people expect decisive victory and abhor unnecessary casualties.“ This supposed lesson of both the Vietnam War and the war in the Persian Gulf sums up much of today’s thinking on American military affairs. But are these wishes of the American people always realistic? Proponents of the new American way of war, to fight and win quickly and cheaply, would say: if not, then do not enter the fight. Yet the post-cold war era has already seen American forces engaged in situations where both a clear victory and low casualty rates are not guaranteed. Just how important are these issues to U.S. military strategy or American civilian leaders? To judge by many recent publications, some analysts want to believe that the technological transformation of warfare, the so-called revolution in military affairs, has made the low-casualties victory a potential norm for American military action. Others (including this author) would argue that such victories will continue to be the exception rather than the rule, and as such, war making based strictly on low-casualties expectations could well lead to America’s defeat on the battlefield rather than victory….