The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Victory by Chest Thumping?

July 14, 2005

Robert Farley doesn’t think much of Wretchard’s (of the Belmont Club) take on the Battle of Guadalcanal. Here’s what Rob has to say:

So much is wrong with this; Wolcott does an effective job of demolishing the hyper-masculinity of Wretchard’s argument. Let’s be frank, if Al Qaeda were given the option of fighting Americans by Marquess of Queensbury rules on an open field in the middle of Afghanistan, they’d leap at it. Winning a war, in spite of what the boys at Belmont think, is not about having a larger set of balls.

I agree that there’s something a bit unseemly about treating counter-guerilla warfare as if it were a sporting event,[fn1] but the real prize goes to Robert for his discussion of what happened at Guadalcanal. The upshot?

Here’s something to remember; only fascists believe that will, courage, and testosterone win wars. Sensible people think that it requires better weapons than the other side.

Rob’s statement needs to be qualified (as Rob admits in the comment thread): better discipline, training, and morale make an enormous difference.

For example, the New Model Army proved incredibly effective during the English Civil War, but it was not technically superior to other armies of the period. As Ian Gentles argues in his terrific The New Model Army: In England, Ireland and Scotland, 1645-1653, superior morale accounted for a great deal of its advantage.

These kinds of factors almost certainly played some role in the IDF‘s repeated victories over numerically superior Arab forces (as did various forms of technical and organizational superiority).

Indeed, many historians stress that changes in relative morale, discipline, and organization were crucial to the ebb and flow of the Napoleonic wars.

Thus, while we should avoid the kind of trap Rob criticizes, we shouldn’t lose sight of the importance of non-technical and non-material factors to the outcome of military conflicts.

1Or maybe we treat sporting events as if they were warfare? Believe it or not, David Long has a chapter on this very subject in the forthcoming Harry Potter volume I’ve mentioned.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.