What's the "lesson" of each modern war?

  • World War I: Machine guns can make territorial advance virtually impossible.
  • World War II: Airpower is highly effective. Also, if you are an invader, don’t overstretch yourself (Japan and Germany both conquered too much, stretched themselves too thin)
  • Korean War: (not sure what lesson there is here)
  • Six-Day War: not sure…preemptive warfare can pay off?
  • Yom Kippur War: surface-to-air missiles are a big deal; the IAF can’t substitute for artillery
  • Vietnam War: Don’t prop up an unpopular regime, and don’t go into war without an actual plan to win.
  • Falklands War: Antishipping missiles and fast-attack subs are both extremely effective.
  • Bekaa Valley: If an air force runs a good SEAD (suppression of enemy air defense) campaign, it can rule the skies
  • Gulf War: Precision weaponry and good joint warfare can be virtually unstoppable; quality beats quantity
  • Somalia humanitarian intervention: You must be consistent. If you need troops, then give them the armor and support they need. Don’t pretend to scale down when you are really secretly scaling up.
  • Kosovo: Not sure about this one - airpower works, but America is getting too casualty-averse?
  • Afghanistan: You can’t nation-build when a nation doesn’t want to “build” or even really exist.
  • 2003 war in Iraq: The U.S. military sucks at dealing with insurgents. Also, don’t invade a nation unless you’ve got a really, really good casus belli. The cost is immense.
  • Russia annexing part of Ukraine: “Salami-slicing” grey-zone warfare works better than outright war
  • Armenia-Azerbaijan war: Drone warfare is highly effective.
  • Afghan-Taliban “war” of 2021: Morale makes all the difference. It doesn’t matter how well-armed an army may be; if they don’t want to fight, they just roll over.

Agree, disagree? Thoughts?

I don’t think complicated international events can be boiled down into trite bumper sticker lessons.

For about half of them, the moral is “Never get involved in a land war in Asia”.

I feel like this was learned before like France in WW2 or Iraq in 2003. In Iraq, the official military collapsed in a few weeks but the highly motivated insurgency was never ending.

Russian invasion of Chechnya - small wars are a good way to solidify support behind you.

Russian invasion of Crimea - small skirmishes can pay off.

Russian use of special forces in Ukraine - you don’t need to engage in all out war to screw up a country for your benefit.

Probably something about the never ending nature of proxy wars between superpowers. But I’d also argue the importance of having a reasonably free market, since South Koreas economy exploded while the Norths stagnated. Same with Taiwan vs China.

Not true of the Eastern Front, Mesopotamian Front, Sinai-Palestine Front, Caucasus Front, anywhere in Africa, the Arab revolt, or the campaigns in Serbia and Romania.

Also, disproven on the Western Front with the advent of the tank.

I think one of the really enduring lessons of World War I, though, has to do with finding the human limit on war. Except for the last year of the eastern theater of the Civil War, it had been unheard of historically for soldiers to be in a combat situation for prolonged periods of time. On those static fronts of WWI, soldiers, whole units, and eventually entire armies began to hit their breaking points. The intensity of modern Industrial/Information Age conflict over prolonged periods of time is going to cause a certain number of psychological casualties among forces so engaged.

Perhaps one lesson is, “it’s actually pretty hard to draw easily applicable lessons from the past, but understanding the bigger story might help you make some better choices.” Also, “War is bad for children and other living creatures.”

The US Civil War in its later stages was a template for WWI combat. The Euros refused to believe it because they didnt pay close enough attention to the CW.

Unless you’ve been building up an immunity to iocaine powder, that is.

The “lessons” can be many and various. As I (roughly) understand it, different official military lessons in relation to tanks were learnt by the French and German high commands - hence the success of Blitzkrieg and the dissipation of French resources.

But there are different political consequences too, e.g

Suez 1956
(French military/political establishment): Never rely on the US
(British military/political establishment): Never make a move without getting the US onside.

Right. But of course the question that has to then be asked is why the morale of the Afghan army was so low. It can’t just be that they were obviously outmatched on the field of battle. There’s countless examples of hopelessly outmatched forces fighting bravely, such as Polish horse cavalry charging against German tanks in WWII. The lesson to be learned from this aspect would have to be related to why their morale and willingness to fight was so low.

War, huh (whoa, whoa whoa Lord)
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing!
Say it again…

Slogan from the Haight Ashbury 1967:

“War is profitable”
“Invest your son”

…where the advice “cut your losses” gets personal.

I’ve read that was scouting cavalry that blundered into an armored unit, and managed to (quite heroically) extract themselves.

Wikipedia has a good article:

Brief synopsis: The Poles were making a tactical retreat to more defensible positions. A Polish cavalry unit was sent in to attempt to surprise a German infantry unit resting in a clearing. After the infantry was dispersed, a German armored car unit (not Panzers) arrived and counterattacked with machine gun fire. The cavalry fell back and regrouped having suffered heavy casualties.

The Germans retained the field of battle, but the Poles held up the German operational tempo long enough to allow some of their units to complete their tactical retreat.

Interestingly enough, Polish cavalry squadrons had organic anti-tank equipment, and might have been able to do some real damage to the German armored cars from a prepared defensive position. Also, the cavalry units were equipped in part with small tankettes, which were held in reserve and did not participate in the action.

Of course, the propaganda value of the situation was too much to pass up for the Germans (our superior army!) and later the Soviets (look at how poorly your former politicians led you!)

Harshly put, but essentially accurate. The thing is that these “lessons” are highly situational and non-technological ones are not new. I can nitpick virtually any of those points - technological advances for example are always changing and what works great one decade, may not in another. Or take this…

A.) This is not something that was a mystery for the last 2,000 years. B.) No it doesn’t. It makes a difference, sometimes a big one. But how big of a difference very much comes down to the morale ratio and the circumstances at play. I made a long, rambling post some time ago that appears to be lost in the fog of the Discourse move regarding the 18th century Ottomans and position warfare, but in short their regulars had excellent morale for a variety of reasons. Russians soldiers in the 18th century had shit morale, relatively speaking. But the Russians still mostly eventually won their wars with the Ottomans, because the morale gap wasn’t severe enough in context to over come other structural advantages. And we could go on and on like that - the over reliance on the concept of élan did the French no particular favors in WW I.

What happened in Afghanistan recently isn’t vastly different in concept than than what happened at Palashi/Plassey in 1757 when most of the Bengali army failed to engage the British under Robert Clive because they had been bought off.

Thanks, SunUp.

The Afghan-Taliban conflict is headline news worldwide right now, so I think any discussion of it is likely to spin into a huge tangent that will overlap with other threads.

So within this thread, I will just say that the interpretation of the Taliban rolling through to Kabul being owing to “bad morale” or even “cowardice” (I know no-one here has used that word, but just heading it off), is disputed. Even if the Afghans had been well-trained (and that’s disputed too), they were still relying a lot on the support and resources that were taken away.

The Afghan war lords have just put up new flags. Just as they did when we moved in.

Thank you for the details on that particular battle. My bigger point was that those units fought bravely, as have many other units throughout history that were at a disadvantage. They didn’t just surrender without a fight like the Afghan army did. That they did so due to low morale / not caring whether or not they lost is clear. The lesson to be learned is why those units had low morale and didn’t care about being defeated. My guess is the answer is that they had no objection to Taliban rule, and so they refused to fight. I could very well be wrong, and I expect many experts are analyzing what happened, and that eventually the lesson will be learned.