Sometimes in a long struggle, the players have a felt need to believe that it all means something: that the buddies they lost died for something important, that they made a difference… Sometimes it’s even true. But it ain’t necessarily so. A lot of wars are over nothing of long-term value or importance, and of course sometimes your side loses, which decreases the chance that your sacrifices have some kind of cosmic payoff. Sometimes this means the goals of the war somehow become more important as the cost increases, because they need to – sunk costs fallacy on steroids.
For example, if Meade had crushed the Army of Northern Virginia when it was pinned against the Potomac after Gettysburg, we’d all be better off, but the Civil War would occupy considerably less territory inside people’s heads today.
Or consider Vietnam: I’ve known people that were sure we were ” wearing down” the Soviet Union in Vietnam, even though we outspent them there by at least 20-1 – not even considering casualties !
In the Algerian War, the French ended up doing a lot of stuff that no true Scotsman* would even consider: lots of torture, lots of shooting civilians. As they got rougher, the imaginary future they were fighting for became ever more golden, ever more unrealistic – it was one in which the Algerians were fully integrated French citizens, something that had never made sense and was completely impossible after guys like Massu had used “all means necessary” to win the Battle of Algiers. The Paras at this point didn’t have much sympathy for the pieds noirs, who weren’t crazy enough to share that vision. But then those French officers had been through a lot – defeated by Germany, embarrassingly saved by the Anglo-Americans, losing in Vietnam: pre-adapted for nuttiness.
- except the Campbells, of course.