This week, I was fortunate to avail myself an article by J Boone Bartholomees, “Theory of Victory” (here) and Colin Gray’s “Defining and Achieving Decisive Victory” (here). Both are great articles and I find myself ponder the purpose of deciding an outcome in the conduct of war.
Gray argues that the concept of decisive victory in the conduct of military operations is both meaningful and important. This is in view that there are arguments which states that war achieves nothing meaningful other than destruction. This is especially plausible during the Cold War period when the purpose of the military is to prevent an outbreak of total war, nuclear war, that is. Dividing victory at various levels of Operational Level, Strategic Level and Political Level, Gray argues that war has indeed decided the course of history at numerous occasions. While it may not be the intended outcomes of the parties involved, it can nevertheless be considered decisive as it shaped the post war situation into an environment which is acceptable over a period of time. However, the military man must remember that achieving a campaign victory or a victory in the total aspect of war does not guarantee the political outcome desired by the political leaders. It depends on the political leaders to shape that military victory into a political one, accepted by other sides of the war. Since, war is between two parties, it only ends when both sides decides it to be so.
Bartholomees puts forth a theory in which victory may be defined. Taking Gray’s concept of decisive victory, he further expands on the concept that victory and its decisiveness is never an absolute but exists on a scale. Three scales, in fact. The scale of success measure the success of its forces at the battlefield, the scale of decisiveness shows the extent of how the operations affects political issues and finally the scale of achievement measures how well the military has completed the goals it has set out to do. He further points out that as war is between two parties, each side determines its own sets of criteria for victory. In fact, in a war, it is perfectly logical for both sides to be victorious. For it is not determined by loss of material nor territorial gains or loss, but by the parties own internal measurements. The conduct of war itself may change the conditions of victory and victory is useless if it breaks the more successful party economically, politically or socially.
What does this mean to the military man? In the conduct of war, especially long drawn out campaigns, there must be a continued discourse between the military leaders and the political leaders to determine whether the military objectives serve the political. The means and ways must logically linked to the ends and be socially accepted to be so. Much as Bartholomees points out that in cases not as clear cut, it is the population which decides the victory. In the case of modern social media, much as the political leaders would love to, their ability to influence opinions and viewpoints are greatly diminished. To win would not just to remove the opponent’s military forces off the field for it may not even achieve that which is desired. It boils down to breaking the opponent’s will to continue in the engagement. It may be achieved by physical means but the intent of the operations must be directed at the will, convincing the opponent that resistance is going to cost more than he can bear or exceed his perceived gain.