Letter From Military History - May 2015 | HistoryNet MENU
Soviet troops retake a village in central Russia. (National Archives)

Letter From Military History – May 2015

By Stephen Harding
2/25/2015 • MH Editorial

Determining Victory

Whether the conflicts are cataclysmic world wars, counterrevolutions or post-colonial comic-opera skirmishes that turn out deadlier than expected, a range of factors determine the outcome.

First are the political and moral contexts. Is the fight necessary for national or cultural survival, or is the goal simply to gain territory, depose a rival or even eradicate one’s fellow citizens for their religious or ideological beliefs? Do those sent into battle believe in the cause, or are they reluctant participants in a conflict they do not consider their own? History proves that armies of the unwilling rarely emerge victorious.

Then come the material concerns. How many troops, guns, trucks, tanks, ships or aircraft does each side have? How well supplied are the combatant forces with ammunition, food and fuel, and how far from home is each able to operate effectively? And what of each side’s financial resources? Sustaining troops in the field is an expensive business, whether those troops are fighting or not, and deep pockets are a necessity for anyone seeking victory in any armed conflict.

How well led are the opposing forces? Martial success is seldom possible without competent, experienced and reliable leaders at every level of command. Nor are battles often won without a coherent strategy and flexible and adaptive tactics that take full account of the terrain, the enemy’s actions and one’s own capabilities.

Luck can also be a determining factor in warfare. Countless battles seemingly already won were instead lost due to the chance removal of a senior commander, a breakdown in communication caused by the death of a messenger or an inoperative radio, or even a sudden and unexpected change in the weather.

As important as these factors are, another attribute has directed the course of many battles throughout human history. That is determination—whether that of a nation responding in unity to the seizure of its territory by a corrupt and illegitimate power, of a famous commander continuing to fight for his sovereign despite all odds, of a decorated hero taking to the streets to help prevent the destructive radicalization of his country, or even of an individual willing to defy the social norms of her time to bring the realities of war home to her people in images and words.

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