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War Termination And Our Cultural Heritage

War Termination And Our Cultural Heritage


CSC 1992


SUBJECT AREA National Military Strategy





Title: War Termination and Our Cultural Heritage


Author: MAJOR Daniel E. Cushing, USMC


Thesis: The American view of war termination in recent

times has overwhelmingly required victory as the principle

consideration; this is an end result of the major conflicts

that the society has participated in.


Background: Eliminating all the elements of societies in

conflict reduces the contest to two or more peoples fighting

a war. War termination involves so many variables that each

element has a different impact in each war. Cultural

heritage is the only relevant constant. Americans have

certain behavior patterns that are part of their cultural

heritage; they always participate in wars with a

predetermined mind set. This paper identifies critical

periods that have shaped the way American's think about war.

The intention is to identify the cultural predisposition for

victory in war.


Discussion: The major military events of the past century

have instilled the requirement for total victory in war.

Even when a conflict does not have a clearly defined

objective, Americans replace the war aim with victory.

Socially, we accept this attitude and our planners start

with this precept. Understanding ourselves is as critical

to our success as understanding the enemy.






Thesis: The American view of war termination in recent

times has overwhelming required victory as the principle

consideration; this is an end result of the major conflicts

that the society has participated in.



I. War Termination.

A. Background of American attitudes.

B. Nature of hostilities.

C. Impact of "total" war.

D. Why wars are fought.

E. Wars with no planned end.


II. Victory and the shaping of wars end state.

A. Impact of the Revolutionary War.

B. Impact of the Civil War.

C. Impact of the World War I.

D. Impact of the World War II.



War Termination and Our Cultural Heritage





Democracies do not start wars. A continuous debate


over the reasons wars begin is evident in our literature and


our society. Ensuring our national security causes us to


focus on the nature of war and how to deter conflicts.


However, war termination is an area that receives little or


no coverage in our contemporary literature even though every


war must end. Americans are predisposed with involvement


only in successful wars. This has shaped our cultural


heritage to consider wars as a matter of a victorious effort


to achieve our war aims. This oversimplifies the problem


and can lead to dissatisfaction when overt victory is not


rapidly attained.


War termination is dependent on innumerable factors.


Political decision making, national support for the war,


economic power of the nations involved, competency of


generalship and the effectiveness of the country to mobilize


the nation's productivity are but a few. These factors are


also involved in the prosecution of the conflict. The


factors alone can be totally consuming, creating difficulty


when trying to relate them to a national objective and war




Current thought considers the conduct of war to be an


extension of policy. This doctrinal approach uses force or


the threat of force as a means to secure a national


objective. The cultural bias assumes victory in conflict


will allow terms to be dictated to achieve the war aims. To


Americans, dominance on the battlefield is a necessary


aspect of ending the war. Noted historian B. H. Liddell


Hart points out:


If you concentrate exclusively on victory, with

no thought for the after-effect, you may be too

exhausted to profit from the peace, while it is

almost certain that the peace will be a bad one,

containing the germs of another war. This is a

lesson supported by abundant experience. The

risks become still greater in any war that is

waged by a coalition, for in such a case a too

complete victory inevitably complicates the

problem of making a just and wise peace

settlement. Where there is no longer the

counterbalance of an opposing force to control

the appetites of the victors, there is no check

on the parties to the alliance. The divergence

is apt to become so acute as to turn the

comradeship of common danger into the hostility

of mutual dissatisfaction - so as the ally of

one war becomes the enemy in the next.1


This is the dilemma that faces Americans as problem


solvers for war termination: the single-minded


concentration on victory as the end state. The intent of


this paper is to explore aspects of war termination. It


will examine what caused the American people to adopt their


cultural ethos and how ultimately the political leadership


was forced to identify a means to codify a method for


finding a solution that varied from our heritage. The


understanding of elements of war termination and our


cultural predispositions will make the war planners more


efficient in identifying how to terminate a conflict.







We accept this war for an object - a

worthy object - and the war will end

when that object is attained. Under

God I hope that it will never end

until that time.

-- Abraham Lincoln


The first aim in war is to win, the

second is to prevent defeat, the

third is to shorten it, and the

fourth and most important, ... is to

make a just and durable peace.

-- Lord Maurice Hankey



The American concept of war termination has been


reactive in nature. This is not an uncommon occurrence


internationally. In part this is due to the limited number


of wars America has initiated. This is also relevant


because many American wars have involved coalitions, which


complicates the termination process. Currently it is


complicated by the dissymmetry in the relationship between


America's military power and her opponents military


strength. Asymmetrical wars are difficult to terminate


because of the considerable differences in objectives


between the parties involved. To understand war termination


we must understand who or what is the nature of the




Another aspect that must be thoroughly understood is


the nature of the hostilities. Is the nation to use force


to achieve a cease-fire for later negotiations to resolve


the conflicting issues? If this is the case, once


hostilities have terminated will national resolve allow for


a resumption of hostilities? Even if the nature of the war


does not change and total military defeat of the enemy is


not the goal, how does a nation determine what is sufficient


force? This aspect of the issue is critical, since wars


have a tendency to escalate. Neither side will be willing


to sue for peace before achieving a clear advantage2


In "total" war, such as World War I, the escalation of


the war prevented a reasonable peace from ever being


achieved. The erroneous calculations in the conduct of the


war caused all participants to "up the ante" until the


survival of any or all of the governments involved was


threatened. This again caused greater military commitment.


The greater the cost in personnel, the greater the need for


attainment of one of the original war aims.


In approaching the subject of war termination, one


must first consider why wars are fought. One theory is that


nations fight wars to achieve specific post war objectives.


This notion postulates strictly practical thinking, since a


government is assumed to have clearly identified a specific


aim and determined that a military course of action is the


most practical means in attaining it. A second view is that


the government in power is influenced by elements that are


pursuing their own self interest.3 In this interpretation,


no grand design exists, and most important national


decisions are nothing more than the by-product of influence


pedalling. This latter view renders the prospect of


negotiated war termination almost impossible, as the terms


that will satisfy the combatants are almost impossible to


determine. The former is equally as difficult since


external sources cannot accurately assess the opponents


level of commitment to their war aims.


The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is good example


of a war started without any pre-planned method of war


termination. In the fall of 1941, the Emperor of Japan


sought to answer the question of how long it would take to


defeat the United States. The Army Chief of Staff stated


that operations would be completed in three months. His


answer did not particularly address the question, nor did it


state the method, of how the United States would be


defeated. The final staff discussion stated that Japan


would establish such a superior position that the United


States would quit the war. The logic of this argument was


not unanimously accepted by members of the government.


Nevertheless, Japan's leadership prosecuted the attack on


U.S. forces at Pearl Harbor.


At the same time Japan was planning the attack on the


U.S., the war in China was rapidly developing into a


stalemate. Again, the staff brief had indicated that only a


month or two of further effort would be needed to bring the


war to an end. The campaign in China was strongly supported


by a political faction that saw war as the only method to


achieve political objectives. Political factions caused two


wars to be started with no idea on how to end them, other


than having the opponent quit. Yet as Clausewitz notes, the


changing nature of war causes shifts in war aims, changes


strategies, and frequently impacts on the opponents in ways


far different from those originally planned.


Eventually political survival becomes an element in


war termination. Unless war aims are achieved at the


expected cost, which is rare, then a reevaluation of


objectives must occur, normally while the war is going on.


Typically this reassessment involves a calculation of the


survivability of the party in power. The increased cost of


the war causes a shift in the end game, ultimately driving


two parallel aims. Political survival and war termination


become so intermixed that the original reasons for conflict


are often lost.






War is an ugly thing, but not the

ugliest. The decayed and degraded

state of moral and patriotic feeling

which thinks nothing is worth a war

is worse. A man who has nothing

which he cares about more than his

personal safety is a miserable

creature and has no chance of being

free, unless made and kept so by the

exertions of better men than


-- John Stuart Mill


War's objective is victory - not prolonged

indecision. In war there is no substitute for


-- General Douglas MacArthur


The U.S. was born of men willing to risk everything to


escape the insane wars of kings. The system that evolved


was explicitly designed to avoid the tyranny of the monarchy


and the wars of kings that would bleed the country for


unknown objectives. Americans today are the product of a


succession of pioneering peoples that rejected an outdated


form of government in order to create a society that would


improve the quality of life for all. Yet, along with a


language and a cultural heritage, the original American


founding fathers brought with them a European definition of


war.4 This definition would stay with the country for the


next two hundred years.


The original means of strategy is

victory - that is tactical success;

its ends, in the final analysis are

those objects which will lead to

peace... All these ends and means

must be examined by the theorist in

accordance with their effects and

relationships to one another.

-- Carl von Clausewitz, On War5


American readily identified that the purpose of war


was the tactical defeat of the enemy. Arranging the peace


was a complex issue to be worked out later. This was the


approach used by George Washington in the Revolutionary War


and set the stage for all other wars to follow. Washington


knew that Britain could only be defeated if her government


would not support a colonial war. He determined that


although a strategic defensive would best attrite the


British forces in America, conventional victories on the


battlefield would be needed to influence Parliament's views


on the American rebellion. Therefore, deliberately avoiding


a partisan-style war. Instead the focus was on establishing


the predominance of a regular standing army, thus ensuring


the legitimacy of the United States in the world arena.


Clearly Washington used military power to influence the


decision making process in England.


This narrow definition of war termination has


continued in the American thought process throughout the


Nation's history. Disregarding the political process and


ignoring all other elements of power, the Nation's leaders


have routinely placed the responsibility for war termination


with her military leaders.


Wars planned exclusively to defeat the enemy on the


battlefield are efforts that involve only narrow aspects of


war termination. The predilection of American leaders to


see only military solutions was the norm until the Civil


War, when the two factions determined that the only way to


achieve their objectives was by war. This faulty logic can


be explained by a societal predisposition of having military


leaders solve political objectives.


The Union refused to accept the concept of the


Confederacy and ultimately sought military reunification.


The Confederates determined that it would engage in a war in


which its industrial potential was less than its opponents


and its manpower was less than the Union's. All aspects of


the conflict favored maintaining a peace with the North.


Yet the South initiated the conflict by firing on Fort


Sumter, unifying their opponents' will and eliminating a


chance for peaceful resolution of the crisis. The South's


military objective was to create an environment that would


exhaust the Union's will to fight. This strategy resulted


in a prolonged and bloody conflict. The cultural habit of


allowing military leaders to determine the end of a conflict


proved devastating to both sides.


The Civil War changed American thinking with regards


to war termination. By impacting every member of the


society, the war forced a realization of the immense


challenges and issues at stake in fighting a war for




In this century two major events have shaped American


social attitudes towards war termination. The first was


U.S. involvement in World War I. War termination decisions


reflect the interaction between political factions, the role


of public opinion, and the goals of the society. Since WWI


was not an American war, U.S. commitment was initially slow


to develop. Despite the war's clear geopolitical issues,


the only way in which President Wilson could stimulate


broadbased commitment to support his political objectives


was by publicizing the war aim of "making the world safe for


democracy," thus creating an ideological war.6 This would


create commitment which paralleled the U.S. Civil War


experience. Many factors influenced the end product, but


the war aim of creating a "lasting peace," or "a war to end


wars" resulted in a war of annihilation. This event shaped


a generation of Americans that would be decision makers for


the next war.


World War II was an ideological war from the


beginning. The war was initiated by an event that


galvanized public opinion. After a decade of watching


problems in Europe and Asia, America knew that complete


involvement would be the only solution. The Arcadia


conference produced the war aim of destroying the enemies'


governments and securing a victory at all costs. For over


four years the American people committed the resources of


the Nation for this goal. The concept paralleled past


experience. The attitudes of the Nation were reforged into


the thinking of war leaders to determine the course of the




It takes a smart person and an educated society to


learn from its environment. The conflicts in Korea and Viet


Nam caused an intellectual reevaluation of our societal


predisposition for war termination, yet even with the


political upheaval of the 1960's American attitudes on war


termination remain affected more by the two World Wars than


by the later events. Victory is a cultural heritage, "All


Americans love a winner."







Winning isn't everything, it's the-only thing.

-- Vince Lombardi



The overwhelming complexity of war causes American


society to focus on the immediate need to solve the problem


of the war itself. The tasks of mobilization, marshalling


political support, training or creating an army are all-


consuming. We need to clearly understand the nature of the


participants. Inherently Americans fully committed to a war


will see the requirement for a complete, unqualified


victory. We carry this attitude to war in much the same way


as we unquestiongly seek to use newly developed technology


to its fullest capability. The attitudes of the military


leaders influence the political decision makers.


Understanding our own nature is as critical to success as


knowing the nature of the enemy.


As a people, we declare war on many things; the war on


poverty, the war on drugs, the war against big government.


All these concepts imply that we will expend every effort to


win. Victory is our overriding concern, but victory should


never be a political aim in isolation. The relationship of


victory to the end state in war consists of nothing more


than a consideration of how we will define the effort


expended on our objective.


Events defined by one society are not often understood


in the same context when communicated across cultural lines.


The obvious example is the Persian Gulf War: America


clearly believed that the destruction of the Iraqi army and


the freeing of Kuwait defined a victory. Baghdad stated


otherwise. America had a clearly defined end state, however


the events that we shaped did not necessarily have the same


impact in Baghdad.


The end state for war is now clearly defined by our


cultural heritage, to include the rights of a society for


self-determination. As a people we take elements of


Clausewitz's dictum to heart: apply all elements of


national power, do not start until the end is determined,


and understand the commitment of your society. America has


always had a concept of war termination in her national


strategy. The primary differences in cultural attitudes


between the beginning of this country and the current times


are the end products of the shaping by major societal




The War for Independence put the responsibility of war


termination in the hands of the war leader. The Civil War,


WWI, and WWII shifted the focus to the pursuit of a total


victory, an orientation which still prevails as a cultural


belief. The political and military leaders of today


understand the differences in objectives, but social


sentiment underlies our attitudes and shapes the way we


think of war. Understanding our cultural predispositions on


war will prevent us from falling prey to our heritage.






1.                Craig, Gordon A. and George, Alexander L.

Force and Statecraft: Diplomatic Problems of

our Time. New York: Oxford University Press,



2.                Hobbs, Richard. The Myth of Victory: What is

Victory in War? Boulder: Westview Press, 1979.


3.                Ikle', Fred C. Every War Must End. New York:

Columbia University Press, 1971.


4.                Luck, Edward C. and Albert, Stuart. On the Endings of

Wars. Port Washington: Kennikat Press, 1980.


5.                Weigley, Russell F. The American Way of War.

Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1973.

GP Putnam's Sons: 1975.





1. Richard Hobbs, The Myth of Victory: What is Victory

in War? (Boulder: Westview Press, Inc, 1979), p.4.


2. Fred Charles Ikle', Every War Must End. (New York:

Columbia University Press, 1971), p. 12.


3. Ibid., p. 14.


4. Russell F. Weigley, The American Way of War.

(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1973), p. XVIII.


5. Carl Von Clausewitz, On War, trans. 2nd ed. Michael

Howard and Peter Peret (Princeton: Princeton University Press,

1989), p. 143.


6. Major General J.F.C. Fuller, The Conduct of War,

(Westport: Greenwood Press, 1961), p. 180.

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