Cathedralization of war

Nick B. Steves and Isegoria are discussing the fact that the US hasn’t won a war since 1945.

Alas, I think the situation is much worse than that.

If you take a broader view of war, one that encompasses the results of the peace process (and you absolutely should do so), the wars that the US “won” during the 20th century seem a lot more like defeats than victories.

It’s always hard to figure out why democracies fight wars, but if you analyze any of the stated justifications for the US entering WWI or WWII, you quickly notice that none of them were achieved during the peace processes. WWI hardly ended war – it did wipe out some monarchies, but that didn’t work out particularly well either. The war destabilized Central Europe, created the Soviets, and led (obviously) to the next World War. “Winning!”

If you review the Atlantic Charter, and take it as the expression of the US war aims for WWII, it’s hard not to laugh. In short, the peace process that followed WWII resulted in Soviet domination of Europe and Asia; Communist expansion in Eastern Europe, China, and much of the third world; and the immediate end of European Empires in a process that caused so much death and destruction in so many places (and continues to do so). If this be winning, it would probably have been worth finding out what losing would have been like. (More on this topic in a much longer post soon).

Under this broader view of military success, the US hasn’t won a war since we fought the Philippines. On the bright side, it was technically in the 20th century.


41 Responses to Cathedralization of war

  1. I think the problem with asking “did we win this war?” is that the American group that did win these wars is not the same as the American nation as a whole.

  2. ivvenalis says:

    Hmm. I agree with the commenter at Isegoria that this isn’t quite true. Just because every single aim isn’t met doesn’t mean you didn’t win. I mean, sure all that stuff about WW2 is true, but the Axis was still totally defeated and the US hegemony was in control of half of Europe. Not bad. Perhaps the USSR gained more but they also lost far more.

    The Korean War could easily be counted as a win, Vietnam is an obvious failure, some minor stuff, the Gulf War was a resounding victory that only seems trivial in retrospect, Iraq is probably a failure but not the scale of Vietnam, toppling the Taliban and installing a friendly government was a pretty impressive feat, though USG is quite possibly going to turn that into a loss. Speaking of which…

    It depends on how you define “victory”. I think there is a “Progressive”, basically utopian ideal of victory which is, basically, “win everything forever”. This hardly ever ends up happening. In, say, 2005, a puppet government controlled Afghanistan. There were areas in which the central government had little control, where religious fanatics thought bad thoughts and even said bad words about USG, and various people (not necessarily the same ones thinking bad thoughts and thinking bad words) waylaid merchant caravans and harassed border control points. Very well; the caravans hired guards and being a border cop was a more dangerous job than in Canada. Nothing really particularly unusual. Unfortunately, the USG just couldn’t abide by this insult, so they deployed more troops, dropped more bombs, etc. The cost was wildly out of proportion to any change they did effect, and when they leave business will resume as usual, except that the impotence of the imperial occupier will finally be revealed, etc. If we’d left in 2006, I doubt anyone of importance in Kabul, much less New York, would care that a mid-level official died in Kandahar every couple of months.

    If the NVA had agreed to an armistice after Tet or whenever, the fact that a bunch of people were still alive in North Vietnam after having dared oppose the will of the mighty USG could probably have still been painted as some massive failure.

    • Foseti says:


      Far from obtaining Western Europe, the US had to effectively occupy despite its desire not to do so because of how badly the US lost the peace. FDR’s plan (he told everybody – like the God damned idiot that he was) was to get out of Europe as soon as possible following the peace.

      Also, I’m pretty sure MacArthur would beg to differ that we won in Korean. After all, he was stopped just as started to actually win.

  3. cogitansiuvenis says:

    I don’t think we should chalk up Korea, WWII or WWI as defeats. In all three instances the stated goals were meet, driving out the communists from North Korea, defeating the Axis Powers, defeat of Germany and her allies. The fact that each war ultimately resulted in unfavorable conditions and events that lead to more wars is just the nature of geopolitics. Winning the war doesn’t exclude the possibility of new rivals, or even future wars arising from the completion of the war you last won.

    • Foseti says:


      Those are all ex post war aims. If you allow that sort of logic, it’s basically impossible not to win a war – just define the ultimate objectives as victoyr and move on. Surely some emphasis must be placed on the actually stated war aims, no?

  4. The communists won in Russia in 1917, and it’s now a capitalist hellhole. The communists won in China in 1949, and it’s now a capitalist hellhole. The communists won in Vietnam in 1975, and it’s now a capitalist hellhole. The communists won….. well you get the idea or I hope you do. If “we” win, we get a bourgeois capitalist “democracy”, completely under the control of the State Department, which mainstream conservatives like and is acceptable to progressives. If the communists win, we get an overtly socialist country heavily influenced by the State Department and with even better commercial opportunities for bourgeois capitalist progressives, which progressives like more.

  5. Red says:

    America did win WW2. The left got their communist empire and the nationalists got their world wide empire.

  6. VXXC says:

    Yeah Red sums it up. Certainly we didn’t lose WW2. We didn’t lose in Iraq for that matter, and militarily we certainly aren’t going to put Astan in the lose bloc. We don’t lose wars. We simply don’t establish utopia. By utopian standards we have succeeded – NOWHERE.

    • We certainly lost Vietnam, by any standard. (Evacuating embassy under fire counts as loss in any century.) You can say “we wanted” to lose it, and you’d be 98% right, but that doesn’t magically make it into a win.

      • fnn says:

        US forces had been withdrawn two years before that. South Vietnam fell because the “Watergate Congress” cut off all US aid.


      • VXXC says:

        We lost Vietnam. We didn’t lose militarily. The Cathedral got us into a morass of their making and then when it was fought to the point where SVN finally had a chance, threw the game.

        It’s what they do.

        I am quite aware of the Military’s dysfunctions. Losing fights with guns anyway isn’t one of them.

        Vietnam is interesting because like the Congo we have the ubiquitous George Ball playing a key role to get us into what he knows is a disaster. The man’s memoirs are a bombing survey, the irony is quite lost on him. As is the mystery of Speer’s morality.

        Ball – morally YOU ARE SPEER. You simply had the better fortune to work for FDR instead of Hitler.

        And Speer of course always did a good job, instead of disastrous misadventures. Fortunately Ball played a minor role in the Cuban missile crisis, and RFK played a major one.

  7. Porphy's Attourney says:

    Hmmn…I’ll have to think about this before I decide fully what I think about it, but I’m not sure you’re correct.

    That is, you’re treating the US as One Big Thing. It’s probably perilous to treat even the USG as One Big Thing.

    You’re also neglecting your Moldbuggery in this post.

    Certainly, *factions* in the U.S. came out on the bottom of all 20th century wars. But it cannot even be said that Wilsonian Progressivism “lost” WWI ultimately, or WWII. Certainly the idealistic folderol (sp.) was demonstrated to be bogus (which hasn’t stopped Progressives from peddling it for a hundred years to gullible Young Pioneers).

    But Progressivism, UUism, Ecumenical Postmillenialism, whatever you prefer to call it, advanced in each of these conflicts. The irony has been that the ostensibly “anti-war” ideology has achieved its greatest gains from spasms of ruthless bloodletting.

    Of course, the factions within the U.S. that we sympathize with have lost ground every time (except for the brief Indian Summer of the Return to Normalcy period). But that’s not the same as the whole USG as reactionaries typically define it losing every war.

    • Foseti says:

      @Porphy’s Attourney

      Now we’re getting somewhere. And all the interesting questions start. Which faction won? Why does anyone consider FDR a non-terrible President? Etc. This seems to me to be where the history begins. Of course, it only starts when you agree that the US never actually achieves any of its war aims following victories and doesn’t seem to be obtain to actually triumph anymore anyway.

  8. Tarl says:

    “if you analyze any of the stated justifications for the US entering WWI or WWII, you quickly notice that none of them were achieved during the peace processes”

    The stated justification for the US entering WW1 was (1) submarine warfare, and (2) Prussian spies and criminal intrigues. We made those stop. The end.

    The stated justification for the US entering WW2 was “Japan attacked us and then Germany declared war”. We crushed them. The end.

    • Foseti says:


      If US aims were that retarded (I previously thought I yielded to no one in how retarded I thought FDR was, but I stand corrected), we’re better off losing than winning.

  9. Tarl says:

    If you review the Atlantic Charter, and take it as the expression of the US war aims for WWII, it’s hard not to laugh.

    The way to read it is as it was intended in August 1941: the principles were supposed to apply to the Germans and Japanese, and not to the Americans or Soviets.

    The British were a special case; they thought that the principles weren’t going to apply to them, but FDR intended that they should, especially principles three and four, which meant the destruction of the British Empire. Yet another example of “if you are at a poker game and you don’t know who the patsy is, then you are the patsy.”

  10. fnn says:

    America did win WW2. The left got their communist empire and the nationalists got their world wide empire.

    It’s my impression that the nationalists of the pre-Pearl Harbor period didn’t want a world wide empire. Maybe they thought they had enough of an empire already in the Western Hemisphere. And a lot of them were sensible enough to believe that whatever the prospective gains, it wouldn’t be worth the price.

  11. Tarl says:

    I can’t figure out how to comment at Nick B Steves. So I will respond to him here:

    it goes criminally under-reported that the United States has not, in fact, won an actual war since 1945. We suffer still from the draw that was Korea, and Vietnam was an overtime loss. Since the Gulf War, it isn’t clear if American leaders even know what a war is anymore, much less what it would mean to win one. But as Thomas Ricks expertly pointed out in his the Atlantic article General Failure, we hardly ever fire generals for cause anymore.

    The error here is the idea that generals run the war – i.e., determine the objectives and the strategy to achieve them. They don’t. The generals do what the politicians say. It is not the fault of the generals if the politicians make them fight unwinnable wars.

    the US Military, the Red Empire, has itself been Cathedralized, i.e., brought under the reign of her once despised master the Blue Empire, and forced to implement a corporate culture that rewards ideological subservience in place of objective, demonstrable merit.

    Even in WW2, the military was fighting for Cathedral objectives. But at least the objectives then were attainable.

    By the way, the inversion of Red and Blue is particularly obnoxious in this case. Call the Cathedral the Red Empire – they are, after all, fscking Communists. Call the traditional military the Blue Empire – i.e. the last bastion of patriotic white proles.

  12. Tarl says:

    Another point — if you win the war but screw up the peace afterwards, that doesn’t mean you didn’t win the war.

  13. Hi Tarl: Well the Red vs. Blue Empire nomenclature comes from (where else?) Moldbug. He gets it (I suppose) from the Red vs. Blue State, for which we owe royalties to CNN (IIRC) ca 2000.

    To your main point, I absolutely agree. America ALWAYS wins wars it WANTS to win. That’s my whole point we didn’t want to win… in Korea, in Vietnam, in Iraq (in the long run). [We clearly won in Kuwait (via modest achievable military aims) which I had forgotten about… but then we went and threw it all away a decade later in the superfluous rematch.]

    To Foseti’s point, yes, I think we didn’t really “win” WW2. We beat Japan. The Russians beat the Germans with our (late) help. The Russians got 1/2 of Europe, Harvard got the other half. To the extent that Harvard is “us”, then I suppose it might be said “we” won.

    Since WW2, the US has not “declared” war. That is probably very significant.

    I don’t see how we can count Korea as any sort of win since officially it isn’t even over.

    • Tarl says:

      The US achieved the war aims sent to MacArthur in June 1950:
      1. Clear South Korea of North Korean forces.
      2. Defend Taiwan against invasion.

      In that sense, the US achieved a clear victory in Korea.

      Of course, after Inchon the US escalated its aims and sought the unification of Korea, which was not achieved. So, if you achieved your “baseline” goal but not your greedy “stretch” goal, did you win or lose? I still call it a win.

      There is one author who argues that the point of invading North Korea was to provoke Chinese intervention in order to cement the American domestic consensus for the rearmament needed to support containment. If you accept this logic, then the failure to achieve the unification of Korea was actually a win.

  14. jamzw says:

    Since it is increasingly true that the only wars the Cathedral wishes to fight are those directly opposed to American interests it is well that we lose them.

    • I agree with this sentiment entirely… but it would be far less expensive (in blood, money, and reputation) to not fight them at all. One does worry, however, what might happen in a fight we actually NEED to win…

  15. asdf says:

    So long as they don’t invade your country having other powers become communist is a big win. China has a ton of really high IQ people. It could easily (and now is) challenging the US and competing for scarce natural resources (like oil). However, because they were communist they were a basket case and not a threat.

    If you believe you have a reliable deterrent from communist countries making you communist then having competitors self sabotage is good.

    • KevinNowell says:

      No. A wealthy and prosperous rest-of-the-world means more high IQ people with enough leisure and prosperity to make advances in scientific understanding, art and technology which, of worldy things, is the true wealth of nations and cannot be contained withing borders.

  16. dearieme says:

    I understand that WWII was the first American war in which the US was not the aggressor: you must expect it to change things.

    Anyway, the US clearly won the first Gulf War; its purpose was modest and fully achieved.

    • Tarl says:

      Your understanding is defective. The US was not the aggressor in the War of 1812, the Quasi War, the Barbary Wars, the Black Hawk War, the Civil War, the Boxer Rebellion, or World War I.

      • cassander says:

        in 1812, the US declared, not the UK. The quasi war wasn’t a war. the US was unquestionably the aggressor in the indian wars, of which the blackhawk war was part. The barbary war, i’ll give you. In the Civil War, it was the north that attacked the south. And wwI, which was was fought to “make the world safe for democracy” hardly needs mentioning.

      • Tarl says:

        in 1812, the US declared, not the UK.

        So what! Declaring war after another country commits acts of war against you does not make you the aggressor. Or do you want to argue the US was the aggressor in WW2 because it declared war on Japan after the Pearl Harbor attack? The Chesapeake affair, impressment, and the constant harassment of American shipping were all acts of war against the US.

        The quasi war wasn’t a war

        Sure it was:

        “Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the President of the United States shall be, and he is hereby authorized to instruct the commanders of the public armed vessels which are, or which shall be employed in the service of the United States, to subdue, seize and take any armed French vessel, which shall be found within the jurisdictional limits of the United States, or elsewhere, on the high seas, and such captured vessel, with her apparel, guns and appurtenances, and the goods or effects which shall be found on board the same, being French property, shall be brought within some port of the United States, and shall be duly proceeded against and condemned as forfeited; and shall accrue and be distributed, as by law is or shall be provided respecting the captures which shall be made by the public armed vessels of the United States.”

        the US was unquestionably the aggressor in the indian wars, of which the blackhawk war was part.

        Nope. The Indians were trying to resettle land they had ceded by treaty.

        In the Civil War, it was the north that attacked the south.

        Um, Fort Sumter? And by definition, a war to maintain order and territorial integrity within your own country is not an aggressive war.

        And wwI, which was was fought to “make the world safe for democracy” hardly needs mentioning.

        LMAO, you actually DO need to mention why Wilson declared war. “Make the world safe for democracy” was the AIM of the war, not the CAUSE of the war. The CAUSE of the war was the repeated German acts of war against the United States. As Wilson noted in his speech to Congress, these included unrestricted submarine warfare that sank American ships and killed Americans, German terrorist attacks within the United States, and the German effort to conclude an offensive military alliance with Mexico directed against the United States.

  17. Tarl,

    I was under the impression that the Germans had not sunk American shipping. do you have evidence of this.

  18. SOBL1 says:

    WW2 is a roaring success if the goal was to get the US commoners in line with the elites as to America’s new global role and foreign intervention. The elites wanted global intervention far more than the common, isolationist American. Roosevelt knew WW2 was America’s opportunity to supplant the Brits as the global leader, which would have been complete (per Foseti’s analysis) had those pesky Russians complied. WW2 was pitched to Americans as such a complete victory that flexing muscle later as global hegemon and leader of the free world was a much easier sell for the political class. The elite class before WW2 had a hard time getting America around to fighting Nazis and the Japanese. Afterwards, it took the slightest of excuses to get Americans to agree to to bomb, invade, police or infiltrate many piss ant nations.

  19. VXXC says:

    I think one should read “Cry Havoc: How the Arms Race Drove WW2” by Joseph Maiolo or “The Patriarch” about Joesph Kennedy before I formed the opinion FDR wanted WW2. He accepted WW2, he didn’t want it. He wanted to save America from centrifugal forces within and without and he did. He kept all the strings of power for the New Deal and re-armament to himself. He may not have realized the New Deal/WW2 apparatus would last decades after his death, until this very day.

    In fact one should probably read Cry Havoc for the logic of more current internal events.

    • Tarl says:

      No, he wanted it. Especially after the USSR was attacked – but even in the year before then, his actions make little sense if he didn’t want war.

  20. Dearieme,

    Victory in a war you did not need to fight and got nothing out of, except having to stay in the region is not much of a victory.

    If it had been a real victory, we would not have had to fight there again. Oh, right, we didn’t have to.

  21. VXXC says:

    History is mercifully not replete with too many complete victories, the war aims are quite sufficient. Of course if it’s to bring Utopia…then never victorious. The Romans in the Western Empire often had complete victories. Carthago for instance.

  22. If you think about it, the Switzers had the best victories in the last century. Ain’t doing too bad in this one either.

  23. josh says:

    “America”? “Win”? “War”? These terms have outlived their usefulness.

  24. VXXC says:

    Here’s what Cathedralization of the Military actually is…ROE.
    When Lawyers run a war…

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