Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2012

13 - Military Power and Victory


In the annals of military history and strategy, the dominant theme for victory has been to use the proper combination of military forces to overcome and defeat the enemy. Much of the thinking in the field of strategy, discussed in Chapters 2 and 3, focused on the “how” or mechanical aspects of war.

In the case of the American “way of war,” the objective has been to use the military instruments of power – land, air, sea, and, more recently, space and cyberspace – to achieve victory while minimizing the cost in terms of lives and the physical destruction of societies. Because modern warfare is so destructive, theorists wonder about the ability of modern societies to absorb the costs of war. For example, in the 1940s, war planners debated whether the United States could withstand the human losses that would occur from an invasion of the Japanese home islands. This concern resurfaced as the authors of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey – who sought to balance the loss in lives and economic destruction with winning the war – asked in 1946 (and just prior to the outbreak of the Cold War) whether “the weakness of the United States as a democracy would make it impossible for her to continue all-out offensive action.” This logic of war was altered during the Cold War, when U.S. policies shifted toward the principle that the United States would do better to develop, deploy, and sustain smaller numbers of more technologically advanced military forces than to compete directly with the Soviet Union in numbers of weapons or troops.