America has the victory disease. It won’t end well for us.

Summary: Presidential administrations change, but America’s grand strategy remains the same. Bush, Obama, Trump all employ the same failed tactics, boldly and confidently, blindly and arrogantly. We have a severe case of the victory disease. This won’t work well for us.

“Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.”
— Paraphrase of a line in Sophocles’ Antigone (620-623).

World in the palm of my hand

The combination of US success plus the folly of our rivals and foes has created an ominous situation. We have contracted the victory disease. It consists of hubris — our arrogance and complacency — created by power and a history of success. It leads to a feeling of invincibility, excessive risk-taking, blindness to circumstances, disinterest or bullying of allies — and other activities that can lead to destruction.

The term goes back to the Japanese military’s analysis of their mistakes during WWII. Their almost unprecedented success from December 1941 to May 1942 was accompanied by fatal mistakes. Barbara Tuchman tells the story in The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam. The resemblance to America after 9/11 is obvious.

The March of Folly
Available at Amazon.

“The folly …was imprisonment in the ‘we-have-no-alternative’ argument and in the most frequent and fatal of self-delusions — underestimation of the opponent.

“…why was the extreme risk approved? …The grandiose mood of the fascist powers in which no conquest seemed impossible, must be taken into account, Japan had mobilized a military will of terrible force, which was in fact to accomplish extraordinary triumphs …Fundamentally the reason Japan took the risk was that she had either to go forward or content herself with the status quo, which no one was willing or could politically afford to suggest. …

”The impulse {to war} came from the compelling lure of dominion, from pretensions of grandeur, from greed. A principle that emerges in the cases so far mentioned is that folly is a child of power. We all know, from unending repetitions of Lord Acton’s dictum, that power corrupts. We are less aware that it breeds folly; that the power to command frequently causes failure to think; that the responsibility of power often fades as its exercise augments. The overall responsibility of power is to govern as reasonably as possible in the interest of the state and its citizens.

“A duty in that process is to keep well-informed, to heed information, to keep mind and judgment open and to resist the insidious spell of wooden-headedness. If the mind is open enough to perceive that a given policy is harming rather than serving self-interest, and self-confident enough to acknowledge it, and wise enough to reverse it, that is a summit in the art of government. …

“All misgovernment is contrary to self-interest in the long run, but may actually strengthen a regime temporarily. It qualifies as folly when it is a perverse persistence in a policy demonstrably unworkable or counter-productive.”

Victory Is The Goal

Another perspective on the victory disease.

Bill Bonner writes about finance at The Daily Reckoning (and founder of the conservative phenomenon The Agora; see this great article about it). He is a doomster and perma-bear, but has an interesting perspective on our situation. From “Corrections”, March 2001

“Men do stupid things regularly and mad things occasionally. And sometimes, the impulse to self-destruction is so overwhelming it overtakes an entire nation. …The best a person can hope for when he goes mad is that he runs into a brick wall quickly …before he has a chance to build up speed. That is why success, in war and investing, is often a greater menace than failure.

“…people seem to make such obvious and moronic errors that it seems as if they were driven to it by some instinct of self-destruction — like lemmings periodically exterminating themselves in a march off the cliffs. What’s more, this diabolical instinct seems to report for duty at the very moment when the future seems the brightest — that is, when it is most needed! Just when men are most proud, most confident, most expansive in their ambitions and hopes …that is when they make the most lunkheaded judgments.

“And who but Mother Nature herself would design such a world? Men are encouraged to apply all their strength, will and intelligence to a given situation. They see it yield before their efforts, thereby flattering their pretensions. And thus puffed up do they strut their way towards a humiliating destruction.”

History shows many prior instances of it in military history. During the US Army’s war on the American Indians, their battlefield successes produced the victory disease — leading to the Fetterman Massacre (1866) and the Battle of the Little Bighorn (1876). But more interesting are the examples, like Japan in 1941 or America after 9/11, of entire nations succumbing to madness.

Sixteen years of war on “terror” has wrecked Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, and Syria — while the infection of jihadism has spread. Al Qaeda was Jihad 1.0. ISIS was 2.0, far more successful. What form will Jihad 3.0 take, with what degree of success? Yet we have learned nothing, with Trump’s national defense team — staffed by generals and executives of defense contractors — ready to repeat the failed policies of Obama, who repeated the mistakes of Bush Jr.

We have exploited Russia’s weakness to push NATO’s influence across Eastern Europe to the border of Russia, violating an informal agreement made with the US. The tensions so created help the military industrial complex restart the Cold War (profits!).

As America was the first to use nuclear bombs, we have been the first to use cyberweapons — on Iran and North Korea. We continue our post-WWII history of destabilizing other nations’ elected governments (the latest: Macedonia) — which has made so many enemies and tarnished our reputation.

Alice when the Madness Returns

Our madness is a strategy, but a losing one.

In Patterns of Conflict, slide 139 the late American strategist Col. John Boyd (USAF) said that a grand strategy focused our nation’s actions — political, economic, and military — so as to:

  • Increase our solidarity, our internal cohesion.
  • Weaken our opponents’ resolve and internal cohesion.
  • Strengthen our allies’ relationships to us.
  • Attract uncommitted states to our cause.
  • End conflicts on favorable terms, without sowing the seeds for future conflicts.

We are doing the exact opposite of what Boyd recommended. It is quite mad, an accelerating race to ever-larger conflicts. Only a nation deep into the Victory Disease could believe that this is a rational strategy, worth the risks and likely to end well for us.

For More Information

America’s Victory Disease Has Left it Dangerously Deluded” by Mike Pietrucha at War on the Rocks, 18 November 2015 — “This affliction permeates American defense thinking and is in danger of crippling our preparation for war by channeling defense spending, innovation, and concept development along unproductive paths.”

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about grand strategy, and especially these …

  1. The Myth of Grand Strategy.
  2. Designing a rational grand strategy for America.
  3. The King of Brobdingnag comments on America’s grand strategy.
  4. Is America a destabilizing force in the world?
  5. The Obama Doctrine: we will attack and destroy all non-nuclear rivals.
  6. Look at America’s grand strategy. Why do we believe this nonsense?
  7. Every day in America shows our eagerness for war. We’ll get what we want, eventually.
  8. We’ve attacked yet another nation. How long until somebody hits back?


11 thoughts on “America has the victory disease. It won’t end well for us.”

  1. Well said, as usual, FM. A lot of what you have said can also be applied to domestic policy issues such as Healthcare and Agriculture.

    1. Mike I was reviewing a post on Mintzberg earlier this week as I am trying to find an effective way to question some of the assumptions in a few 100% RES plans.

      Porter or Mintzberg: Whose View of Strategy Is the Most Relevant Today?” Karl Moore.

      comment by Steve Denning:
      “It is precisely because we cannot, try as we may, control the variables that factor into business decisions that Mintzberg’s emergent strategy is so useful.
      Porter’s ideas are still relevant, my colleagues and I still teach them, so I still believe in them and when I talk to corporate CEOs they still use them as part of their strategy planning thinking. But they are getting a bit long in the tooth for today’s different world. Henry’s emergent strategy ideas simply seem to be more relevant to the world we live in today – they reflect the fact that our plans will fail……”

    2. Kakata / FM-

      Most B schools on teach Mintzberg 5’s for organizational structure. While good, I think his best work is on strategy. The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning is probably the seminal work. But, he has many great short, scholarly articles too.


  2. “Sixteen years of war on “terror” has wrecked Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, and Syria — while the infection of jihadism has spread.”
    WRECKED at least five countries; the cradle of civilization. We wrecked them. Bin Laden was correct. Such terror we unleashed on regular simple people’s lives!
    Let that fact simmer awhile.
    Most everything else in this Post is secondary to that statement, reality. Nihilism rebutting nihilism. The 19th and 20th centuries were growingly dominated by Nihilism. And it appears as if the 21st will continue that. It will be lead by the offspring of the Continentals, the younger child, USA.
    Shame on us. Always worth the effort to personally and publicly face the facts.
    It is not simply how you make decisions or plan for success and failure. It is mostly about the unknown or unexamined bedrocks that underpin your own subjectivity. And we as a people have yet to even publicly begin to acknowledge that point of departure.
    Madness in breeding….not all that unusual but still.

    Beautiful day ahead with fine things afoot!

  3. Love the comment Tuchmans book, i am reading it right now. Very interesting is to me the part where she is discussing the fall of Troy. Laokoon warns the troy people of the horse, but he is killed for it. In the end the one who speaks the truth is kiled.
    Should resonate here….

    1. Studiosi,

      Great point! In our America violating the rules of the “game” — like saying uncomfortable truths — gets one banished from the public stage.

      More perfectly suited to our time is the curse of Cassandra, never belived despite her record of accuracy prophecy. That’s the fate of the 4GW community, with the neo-con war mongerers, liberal RTP advocates, and mainstream military all still dominating the public stage — despite their horrific record of failure.

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