Sunday, October 7, 2012

Small Wars

By Julie Rahm                                            
     The Duke of Wellington, who lived from 1769 to 1852, is credited with the quote, “Great countries don’t fight small wars.” The Duke of Wellington was actually Arthur Wellesley. He was a leading military and political figure of the 19th century. As a Field Marshall, the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. Anyway, great countries don’t fight small wars. These small wars are not big, force-on-force, state-on-state, conventional, orthodox, unambiguous wars in which success is measured by phase lines crossed or hills seized. Small wars are counterinsurgencies and low-intensity conflicts in which ambiguity rules and superior firepower does not necessarily guarantee success. And to broaden the Duke of Wellington’s words, it is more precise to say sometimes great countries fight small wars badly. Here’s why the Duke was correct.
First, big powerful countries do not necessarily lose small wars; they simply fail to win them. In fact, they often win many tactical victories on the battlefield. However, in the absence of a threat to survival, the big powers’ failure to quickly and decisively attain their strategic aim causes them to lose domestic support.
Second, weaker opponents must be strategically circumspect enough to avoid confronting the great military powers in conventional wars. Often, the seemingly inferior opponent generally exhibits superior will, demonstrated by a willingness to accept higher costs and to persevere against many odds. “Victory or Death” is not simply a statement on a bumper sticker; it is a dilemma that embodies small war conflicts. In addition, great-power militaries do not innovate well, particularly when the required innovations and adaptations lie outside the scope of conventional war. But, I digress. I once worked for the Army and wrote for Parameters, the Army War College Quarterly Journal. Strange but true. Anyway, I tell you all that to tell you this.
If any of your relationships are like small wars, stop fighting them. Be like the Duke of Wellington’s great country and don’t fight those small wars. Avoid the small conflicts. Be a strategic thinker and behave accordingly.  An important skill is the ability to discern what is important and not important. If an issue is not important, you might consider letting it go. Do not get swept into an un-meaningful argument or confrontation. Rise above the issue and consider the long term. In our home, we say “you can be right or you can be happy.” As a personal example, my husband John is an insufferable Philadelphia Eagles fan. And, if you’ve read my column at all, you realize, because of my childhood, I am a Dallas Cowboy fan. In addition, I have not yet forgiven Michael Vick for torturing his dogs. (“Hide your beagle, he’s an Eagle.”) To make matters worse, both teams compete against one another in the NFC East. Anyway, I overlook John’s Eagles fan affliction that flaws his personality. He can’t help it! To end the small wars in your life, contact me by visiting my website at

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