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The West Has Always Lost Against Determined Adversaries Since WW2

The end of WW2 in 1945 was the start of many large-scale changes and shifts that have irreversibly changed the face of the world. Many of these trends, such as normalization of women working outside their homes and childbirth outside marriage have had major social consequences. But for every famous large-scale change there is one that is just as important but seldom talked about. This post is about one such change.

The west has not won a single war against a determined adversary since the end of WW2.

Now some apologists might mumble something about the Iraq War of 1991, but as I will show you the outcome of that war actually bolsters my theory. But why is this change important in the first place? Well.. it comes down to history. From the late 1700s to 1945, countries that are now part of what we today call the “west” were able to conquer and occupy countries all over the world. But then something changed and now they cannot win wars- even against countries such as North Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. But it goes deeper than that.. much deeper. Today the west is unable to pull off a successfully military intervention in effectively stateless regions of the world such as parts of Africa and the Middle-East.

So what happened? How did the west become militarily impotent? And why have all the trillions spent on supporting war and developing newer weapons to alleviate their impotency?

But before we tackle those questions, let us talk a bit about how people in the west try to rationalize their military impotency. Some like to tell themselves that the west has become more humane and feels guilty about killing non-whites. However the death of millions of Koreans, Vietnamese and Iraqi in wars since WW2 suggests that is not the case. The west, especially the USA, never tried to stop killing non-whites. They have lost the ability to translate such deaths into military victory and lasting gains. We also cannot forget that efforts at weapon development and troop deployment to others countries, again especially by the USA, have not stopped in the post-WW2 period.

Others want to believe that economic reasons for colonialism such as access to raw materials are no longer important in a world driven by manufacturing and service sector jobs. While this might seem plausible to some, it runs counter to the reality that colonialism was almost never exclusively about access to cheap raw materials. Let me explain that concept with an example. Ask yourself two question- What natural resources did the UK gain from colonizing India? Was the value of those resources worth the cost of colonization? Here is another example- What resources did the USA gain through the genocide of native americans that they could not have just got by paying them market value for the land- which at that time was really low. My point is that economic rationales for colonialism are at best a fig leaf for the real motivations that drove that particular enterprise.

Still others want to convince themselves that old-fashioned colonialism is not necessary since the “west” can exploit other countries through trade and finance. While there have been a few examples of this particular scenario playing out, they have occurred mostly in small countries with especially incompetent rulers. The vast majority of countries have been able to improve both their military power as well as the living standards of their populations. The populations of western countries, on the other hand, have experienced prolonged stagnation and shrinkage of their living standards. To put it another way, the belief that trade and finance can be effectively used for remote-control colonization is not supported by available evidence.

And this brings us back to our original question- How and why did the west become militarily impotent so quickly after 1945?

In my opinion, this large-scale shift is due to an interacting and irreversible mixture of reasons- some of which I have talked about in previous posts. We have to start with the rapidly decreasing supply and increasing price of cannon fodder. In previous eras, the sheer number of surplus kids who lived to adulthood created a never-ending supply of cannon fodder for colonial expeditions. The advent and ubiquity of multiple methods of contraception has resulted in an irreversible change in that trend. There just aren’t enough dumb surplus men to throw at now risky endeavors such as colonialism.

But why is colonialism and fighting wars much more riskier now than it was in the pre-WW2 era? Well.. it comes down to mostly to small arms and a better understanding of the west by its adversaries. In prior eras, the technology differential in small arms allowed the west to deploy machine guns against spear-wielding Zulu warriors. Similarly the unfamiliarity of non-western countries with western military practice allowed the west to defeat such countries. Both of those advantages have been irreversibly lost. Today the foot-soldier of any country or group that is fighting against a western country has access to pretty much the same small-arms technology as his western counterpart. Moreover, unlike his conspicuously visible western counterpart, he can blend into the surrounding population.

I can hear some of you say.. “but what the western technological advantage in air power, nukes and heavy weaponry”? The short answer to that rhetorical question is that all of those supposed “advantages” are not decisive enough to influence the outcome of wars. Infact, some of them make matters worse. Consider the issue of nuclear weapons. While it might be tempting for USA to use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear or nuclear adversary- doing so would result in a mad rush by dozens of countries to build their own nuclear weapons. Furthermore, countries with such capacity would have no hesitation about using it against the USA at the slightest hint of conflict. The use of air power while providing the illusion of invulnerability seldom causes enough damage to affect the course of war. It also does not help that airplanes, drones, laser guided-bombs and missiles are far more expensive and harder to replace than the targets they are used against. Also the tools for targeting such assets at a level sufficient to make their use onerously expensive are readily available.

We also cannot forget about the consequences of living in a multi-polar world. Countries such as China, Russia and even some so-called american “allies” are quite happy to supply money, weapons and other resources for fighting wars and insurgencies against the west. We all know what material support by Russia and China did for the outcome of wars in Korea and Vietnam. We have also seen the effect of material support by supposed allies of the west on the situation in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. It takes far less material support and weaponry to through a lethal wrench into western efforts to colonize and conquer than it takes for the west to succeed in their objective.

And this brings us to why Saddam Hussein lost the Iraq war in 1991. The short answer is that he tried to fight the west using western tactics even though his army was poorly equipped to do so. The fact that his commanders were incompetent loyalists and professional ass-kissers made it doubly worse. He could have been far more successful and likely triumphant if the whole thing was run like a semi-decentralized insurgency. But such solutions are not acceptable to egotistic and paranoid dictators- and that is why he lost that war.

What do you think? Comments?

  1. Webe
    November 3, 2014 at 10:30 am

    [1] All technological innovations have a very rapid rate of diminishing returns: the jump between nothing and a $60 cassette deck (or mp3 player) on which you can listen to Bach or Bob Marley goes 99,99% of the difference between that and $60,000 state of the art audio. The same is true for weapons: the difference between nothing and a kalashnikov goes most of the distance. Tanks and planes are as useful as a bulldozer when what you need is a hammer or a shovel. So the absolute military difference has shrunk tremendously.

    [2] Saddam did not want to fight a war, he only did so because it would have been a tremendous loss of face and honour to back down. Saddam had been lead by clandestine contacts with American intelligence (don’t forget he too was paid CIA money in the seventies) to believe that Americans wouldn’t be all that concerned with him taking over a bunch of medieval fiefdomss without a future as nations and whose origin could only be attributed to the vagaries of colonial powers drawing arbitrary lines on the map. He actually believed that the single pan-Arab destiny would be seen by Americans as the logic of history if they would stop to think rationally for 3 seconds. Don’t forget the USA supported him through thick and thin through 7 years of war against those crazy Shi’ites from Iran. Saddam was truly bemused by American actions in the Gulf.

    [3] Western countries have absolutely no stomach for war anymore. They’ve lost their mojo, just like the Vikings became Swedes and Danes. Revolutions in provinces like Quebec have no standing, because bourgeois modern people care more about missing $1000 a year of income than about political ideals. Any country prepared to sacrifice people at a 100:1 ration will will against the West, a logic that is explicitly entertained by commanders in the “third” world. If it becomes more real than TV and video games, count us out.

  2. P Ray
    November 3, 2014 at 10:30 am

    I would also add that the west wants to keep enough infrastructure in place so that its own factories can be built up on conquered lands.
    Nukes, carpet bombing or prolonged heavy artillery sieges, tends to destroy all that.
    Which of course, through asymmetric warfare, is exploited by the clever adversary.

  3. blurkel
    November 4, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    Since WWII, with the exception of Korea, all wars involving the US are wars of economic conquest. The Wolfowitz Doctrine expresses the position that no other nation be allowed to rise to any level of power which could challenge US dominance over global resources in any way. In addition, this policy claims rights and powers for the US which are expressly denied to any other nation, including the right to pre-emptively attack any nation which -in the opinion of the US government- raises such a challenge.

    German and Japanese officials got their necks stretched for acting on similar policies. It would happen to Russian and Chinese officials if the US were somehow able to defeat either or both nations without resorting to atomic attack.

  4. hoipolloi
    November 5, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    I think P.Ray and blurkel above expressed well the American strategy.

    America does not fight wars to declare themselves winners and other side losers. They just engage the enemy state enough to drain their monetary system and cause loss of men with the use of soon to expire weapons in their (America’s) stockpile. Thus the cost to America is minimal; a training camp for their military excercises. They mess up things in the battle enough in the end to enable the enemy get a pyrrhic win. Note that the wars are invariably fought on enemy territory and not in N. America. America focuses on post war build up of markets, resources, and manufacturing.

    These days, the infrastructure contractors like Bechtel associates are embedded with the U.S. military invasion, just like press and tv reporters. Ponder about that. As a footnote I am not bitter about America’s behavior. Most of America’s adversaries are also enablers and blind to present and historical realities. They hate bulk of their own population more than any westerner would.

  5. Ted
    November 13, 2014 at 7:40 am

    If we go with Clausewitz’s idea that war is politics by other means, then pretty much every Western military engagement since Korea has been a failure.

    But, what most Western governments do is never discuss the political goals of a conflict. There is general language of defeating enemies, reducing threats, etc – but nothing specific.

    So, since no specific goals are outlined, they cannot really “lose.” Since they cannot lose, they just do the same thing over and over again. It also helps that voters die off or change their priorities. So, the young Americans who took to the streets during Vietnam, by the time Bush invaded in Iraq in 2003, they were still scared by 9/11, and knew that without a draft, most of their family members were at low risk.

    This unique defining of “losing” is not just a Western tick. Christine Fair, a Georgetown professor who studies South Asia, notes that the Pakistani military does not believe it ever “lost” a war with India. For them, losing would mean India completely dismembering the Pakistani state, where it no loner exists as a political entity. Since India has not done that, Pakistan has never lost a war. They have only had setbacks.

    • hoipolloi
      November 14, 2014 at 2:07 pm

      “the Pakistani military does not believe it ever “lost” a war with India.”

      You made a good point. I read somewhere that Pakistan celebrates victory day each year on the anniversary of 1971 Bangladesh war even when they lost half of their country.

  6. hoipolloi
    November 14, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    The eastern cultures are pride based. They are always proud of their culture. [I do not know what there is to be proud of.] Westerners know about this pride fixation of Asians and others. So they let them win in the end. Just like you let your toddler win.

    Aww.. really? Why did the USA commit genocide in Philippines in the early 1900s? Why were the French so unwilling to accept defeat in Vietnam in the 1950s? Why were the British so eager to hold onto Malaysia in the 1950s?

    So what changed? Why has the west suffered one strategic military defeat after another in the post- WW2 era?

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