Saturday, July 26, 2008

Nothing Less than Victory: Military Offense and the Lessons of History

A Book by John Lewis Ph.D.

(Under contract, Princeton University Press. Expected publication: fall, 2008)

War is the ultimate human failure--where reason, ingenuity and productive energy are bent to the purpose of organized killing, across continents and years. This book grew out of my realization that there were certain conflicts in history that stalemated for long periods of time--in a cacophony of brutal slaughter--but then were ended quickly with a military offense against the center of their enemy's political, economic and ideological power. To investigate the reasons why this has occurred became all the more important when I discovered that some of these conflicts resulted in long-term peace--peace that lasted more than a generation, and in some cases peace that has not been broken to this day. These cases--rare as they are--warrant our study.

Nothing Less than Victory considers seven major events in history--the Greco-Persian Wars (547-446 BC), the Theban / Spartan Wars (385-362 BC), the Punic Wars (262-146 BC), the wars between the Romans and the Goths, Palmyrenes and Gauls (AD 270-275), the American Civil War (1861-1865), and the British appeasement of Hitler, as well as the American defeat of Japan, in the Second World War (1939-1945).

The reasons why human beings fight are not to be found in technology, economics, innate depravity or genetic predispositions. Wars begin when people choose to fight--often through years of preparation, negotiations and pretexts. The will to fight—a motivated decision and commitment to use military force—is the universal human element that transcends terrain and technology, and both starts and sustains a war. The distinctly political decision to wage war is a product of ideas, and is anchored in a social and ideological context, from which political leaders draw their strength. The willful decision and commitment to fight is the central, irreplaceable factor in the initiation and prosecution of every war.

The commitment to fight is founded on something deeper than military expediency: a sense of moral rightness. Strategist B. H. Liddell-Hart, calling upon Napoleon’s principle that in war, “the moral is to the physical as three to one,” credits “the predominance of moral factors in all military decisions” to their status as “the more constant factors, changing only in degree, whereas the physical factors are different in almost every war and every military situation.” The people in a city-state—or a continent—will rise up passionately into organized killing, and will maintain the passion through years of death and destruction, only if they think, on some level, that it is morally proper to use horrific force to attain their goals. This is true for aggressors, who are motivated to conquer cities, nations and continents for aggrandizement, loot or slaves--as well as for defenders, who want to maintain their own freedom.

Granting moral factors their proper place over physical capacities lends a certain perspective to the study of war, which is not the study of a physical system, like a turbulent air flow, a pinball machine, or a climate pattern. War is human action, directed by human minds, with choices taken for human motives. It is anchored in a political, social and moral context, which conditions the goals that are chosen (a nation’s policy), the means by which they are pursued (its strategies), and the energy behind the struggle (the will to fight). The study of war is part of the study of man.

Material used in this book has appeared in the following:

Article: "'Gifts from Heaven': The Meaning of the American Defeat of Japan, 1945" in The Objective Standard 2.4, Winter, 2007/2008

Article: “‘A Balm for a Guilty Conscience’: Moral Paralysis, Appeasement, and the Causes of World War II,” in The Objective Standard 2.2, 2007

Article: “William Tecumseh Sherman and the Moral Impetus for Victory,” in The Objective Standard 1.2, 2006

Conference: “A Re-evaluation of Aurelian’s Bloodless Eastern Campaign against Palmyra,” Society for Military History Conference, Kansas State University, May 18-20, 2006

[For links to the foregoing articles by John Lewis, see ]


The Meaning of Victory: August, 1945

John Lewis

The Ayn Rand Institute

OCON 2007, Telluride, Colorado

July 6-15, 2007


In 1945 America gained an unconditional victory over Japan using the most horrific violence ever unleashed by man; the result has been the most benevolent turnaround of an entire nation in history. How was this victory achieved? What is its meaning? What lessons does it hold for us today? This course will consider first the basic events of the defeat, as a means to more deeply understand the concept of Victory, and its opposite, Surrender.

The 1945 victory has implications beyond Japan’s physical capacity to wage war. Politically, the Japanese were forced to confront—and repudiate—their values. This reduced their militaristic concepts to their essential, inescapable meanings. No one in Japan could again think of "war" without bringing to mind smoke, death, and Hiroshima. The victory affirmed the efficacy of the good, and allowed Japan to grow into a peaceful, productive society—the concrete meaning of the values they adopted after their total exhaustion and defeat.

This contains material from the forthcoming book, Nothing Less than Victory: Military Offense and the Lessons of History from the Greco-Persian Wars to World War II (Princeton University Press, 2008).

For More from John David Lewis--especially about his superb article "No Substitute for Victory," The Defeat of Islamic Totalitarianism, see

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