The Only Way to End a War

The loser decides when it's over.

"War Breaks Out in Palestine."

As headlines go, this ranks right up there with "Dog Bites Man" and "Politician Accused of Corruption."  It is as surprising as the sun's rise in the morning, as unexpected as the coming of spring.  Technically speaking, a war in the Holy Land is not even "news" - there's nothing the least bit "new" about it.

Just as regularly as the setting sun, along with the old news of war comes the old clique of international liberals hollering for peace and an immediate ceasefire.  We could point out that there was a ceasefire for six months, ending when the Islamic Palestinian terror group Hamas unilaterally refused to renew it; we could point out that even during the so-called "ceasefire", hundreds of missiles were lobbed at Israeli schools and villages by Hamas fighters; we could get into the down-and-dirty details of Palestinian war crimes, the direct cause of almost all Palestinian civilian deaths, but there would be nothing new about any of that.

Instead, let's consider how to end a war.  In all this pointless talk of peace, it's easy to forget that peace is the cessation of fighting - and that, therefore, peace comes only when the fighting stops.  So how do you do that?

The answer may surprise you.  A war can end in only one way, and that is when the loser stops fighting.

There are many ways to reach this point, of course.  The losing side may stop fighting when the last one dies or is imprisoned; the few African civil wars that have actually ended tend to follow this course.  The fighting may stop when the losing side waves the white flag and offers a bribe to the winner; countless European wars through the centuries ended this way.

Saying "Uncle" is for Losers

The absolutely vital point to understand about war is this: only the loser can decide when a war is over.  By definition, it is not possible for the winner to declare an end to war.  The fighting will not stop until the loser accepts defeat and stops fighting.

If the supposed winner declares that the war is finished and the loser disagrees, the winner may become the loser and vice versa.  Remember President Bush and the "Mission Accomplished" banner?  He had indeed accomplished the mission of deposing Saddam Hussein, but the war was far from over because the losers wouldn't let it end.  Only after the desperation of of the "surge" has this mistake come even close to being corrected.

Napoleon learned this lesson the hard way.  After his failure to conquer Russia, he declared the gift of peace across Europe and said he was done fighting.  If he'd done that a year before, peace might have stuck because the nations he had defeated had been beaten into the ground.  Instead, after a year of recovery, they saw an opportunity in Napoleon's losses, attacked, and eventually ended his reign.  The winner swapped place with the losers.

America made the same mistake in Vietnam.  It's now generally considered that we were winning the military struggle and that the communist Viet Cong were on their last legs.  Thanks to political pressure, however, the American government decided, in effect, to declare victory and leave.  The loser didn't agree that they'd lost; shortly thereafter, they conquered South Vietnam and achieved their goals, becoming the actual victor and America the actual loser.

Compare this sorry result to the World Wars.  World War I ended when the losers - Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire - sued for peace.  They signed the humiliating Treaty of Versailles in which several of their countries ceased to exist because they had no choice - they'd lost so utterly that they did not have the capability to keep fighting.

If Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire had had the will and the means to continue the fight, they would have done so, if for no other reason than to try to remain as nations so that the leaders could retain power - but they didn't, and couldn't.  They had lost, totally and completely, and knew it.  They couldn't continue the fight; peace arrived for a while.

The Germans didn't really believe they'd lost, unfortunately.  Hitler kept talking about his people having been denied victory because they were "stabbed in the back"; the war resumed after a generation of recovery.

After World War II, the Germans finally admitted that they'd lost.  Hitler fought, literally, to the death; he demanded that the war continue until he committed suicide.  With next to nothing left, his very briefly ruling successor immediately surrendered unconditionally and the Allies ran Germany for many years following.

The Japanese planned to exercise their right to fight to the death too, but, thanks to the nuclear bomb, they chose not to - they signed a surrender on the decks of the U.S.S Missouri instead of going down to the last man as they'd planned.  Thereafter the country was run by Gen. Douglas MacArthur until America, the victor, decided otherwise.

Who'll Say "Uncle" First?

How exactly do we suppose that the war in Palestine will ever end?  Remember, the only way that a war can end is by the loser deciding that it must end and placing themselves under the thumb of the victor.  What exactly does this mean?

A total Israeli victory would most likely mean that all Palestinians leave Gaza and the West Bank and move elsewhere - precisely where is not really the concern of Israel.  Anywhere Else will do.  Then, the entirety of Palestine would be the Nation of Israel, a majority Jewish state.

Of course, this would mean that there would be no Palestinian nation and no power for any of the existing Palestinian leaders - the surviving Palestinians would reside in nations ruled by somebody else.  Are the Palestinian leaders likely to agree to this?  Hardly - although a good many of the Palestinian people might gladly agree, if the rest of the Muslim world gave them the opportunity to move out of a permanent war zone.

A Palestinian total victory would be a touch more extreme.  According to Hamas' charter, a Palestinian victory would require that there be no more Jews in the vicinity of Palestine.

Israel at least acknowledges that the Palestinians do have some rightful claims and that they exist as human beings.  Hamas doesn't concede this with respect to Jews.  Their charter has always called for total extermination of the nation of Israel and all its inhabitants; unlike the Palestinians, Israel has no neighboring nations of similar religion and ethnicity where its citizens could find refuge.  By definition, no Israeli government could agree to such terms; they might as well fight to the death, since that would be the result of a surrender anyway.

For decades on end, Israel has repeatedly tried the Vietnam tactic of declaring victory and going home.  They did this in Lebanon; in portions of the West Bank; and most recently in Gaza.  As in Vietnam, declaring victory fails every time - the war continues despite Israel's desire for it to end.  Suicide bombers continue to murder folks in cafes and Hamas missiles continue to crash into Israeli houses.

It's been reported that, after the 1967 war, Israel seriously considered forcibly relocating all the Palestinians into the Sinai Peninsula, then giving Sinai and its new occupants back to Egypt.  Imagine the uproar if they'd done that!

Yet, also imagine the lives that would have been saved over the past forty years.  There would have been no giant prison-camp of Gaza; no close proximity and thus incessant violence between Palestinian terrorists and Israeli civilians.  Instead, there would have been nations of Muslims ruled by Muslims (Egypt and Jordan), and a recognized international border between the Muslim world and Israel.  Ideal?  No.  Practical?  Possibly.

Is it too late to do this now?  Most likely - but it would be the only possible way that peace, or anything close to it, could ever come.  As long as the Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel's right to exist, they won't stop fighting so it will be impossible for Israel to stop fighting them.

As long as the Palestinians are held captive in what amounts to a giant prison camp - and remember, they're not held there solely by Israel, as both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank border on Muslim nations who choose not to admit them - it's not likely that the Palestinians will just sit there and accept their lot.

Barack Obama summed it up when he visited Israel not too long ago:

If missiles were falling where my two daughters sleep, I would do everything in order to stop that.

That's exactly what Israel is doing now.  This war will continue, in fits and spurts, forever - or until one side or the other accepts being the loser.

If the rest of the world wants the war to end, then demanding that it stop is exactly the wrong way to go about it.  Instead, we should help one side win conclusively.  Not maintain the status quo; not try to cut a deal that's been tried and rejected countless times before; but to achieve total victory for one side or the other, for once and for all.

Only after achieving ethnic cleansing - not genocide, but relocation and separation - can there be any possibility of peace.  Genocide, the traditional approach and the one endorsed by Hamas, would be equally effective but far less acceptable to modern sensibilities, and would probably serve only to inflame a wider war.

Now, we just have to pick which side we'd rather help out....  and if you have to ask which one, you probably don't want to hear the answer.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Foreign Affairs.
Reader Comments
A point on the use of nuclear bombs on Japan, many historians today believe that had the Allies not been so caught up with an 'unconditional surrender' that Japan would have surrendered. The only condition that the Japanese had was that their Emperor remain as at least a figure head of the government. Which was grated by America after Japan's surrender. That isn't really the point of the article though...

I definitely agree that limiting war too much only elongates the conflict and that only through very harsh actions will this conflict ever end. Very well written article.
January 14, 2009 5:21 PM
The historians Kelyon cites may be correct in their belief that the Japanese might have accepted a conditional surrender, BUT, as the article points out, the war isn't over until the loser says it's over. Even though the Germans surrendered WW I unconditionally, they didn't believe they'd lost; Hitler persuaded them to renew the conflict. IMO, a conditional surrender would have had the Japanese back in the game in 20 years or so, about the time between WWI and WWII.

I have a friend who was a Brooklyn bar hopper in his youth. There was a guy who was FAMOUS for never losing a fight. My friend knew him pretty well and told me what few others knew.

Bright and early the morning after each fight, he'd knock on the loser's door and ask, "Did you really lose? Is it over?" The loser would ask him what he was talking about. The guy would explain that he didn't want the loser thinking he should have won the fight, having the same person come back at him got real old real fast.

He'd explain that if the loser wasn't ready to end it, they could start in again, but unless the loser wanted to continue the fight RIGHT THEN, he wanted to hear "Uncle" now that the passions of battle had cooled.

Most of the time, the loser said "Uncle;" sometimes they'd go at it again. He'd win, and show up bright and early the NEXT morning to collect his "Uncle."

He had to whup one guy three times, but he NEVER quit without a clear and unambiguous "Uncle" the next day.

This guy realized instinctively that the fight wasn't over until the loser agreed that it was over. The Japanese are at least as persistent as the Germans, maybe more. The Germans weren't convinced that they'd lost WW I so they had to get REALLY beat up during WW II.

Japan was damaged more during WW II than Germany was damaged during WW I, but I don't think the Japanese would've MEANT "Uncle" if they'd surrendered conditionally.

How many times were the Japanese thrown out of the US automobile market before they succeeded? They don't quit any better than the Germans do.

"Uncle" is valuable; a fake is worthless. The genuine article is worth the wait even if you have to get up the next morning when you're still hurting, pound the door, and be prepared to renew the battle.
January 14, 2009 5:47 PM
Sometimes, situations are so intractable I'd like to say nuke the bunch of them and let God sort it out. Both sides are being stupid. Israel with the white phosphorus attacks, Hamas with civilian shields, and the mass media for being unwilling to factually describe what's going on without talking about X's poor child (pictures and video of the bloody attack at 11) who was killed and being unwilling to do more than rephrase the official statements from one side or the other. I have a strong feeling that no one outside the area actually knows what
is really happening, other than they are both trying to kill the other any way they can.

I suppose a better solution would simply be to assassinate the top tier or two of leadership of both side, again and again until they decide to stop being children... but I don't think such a plan would be regarded favourably by any side.

Although perhaps the world wide boycott which seems to be happening bit by bit might help.
January 17, 2009 6:04 PM
The NY Times thinks the problem is getting more difficult, not less difficult:

This Is Not a Test
If you believe in the necessity of a Palestinian state or you love Israel, you'd better start paying attention. We're getting perilously close to closing the window on a two-state solution.

This article suggests that difficult concessions would be needed on both sides for peace to have a chance.

How Words Could End a War
A study finds that people will reject material compensation for dropping their commitment to sacred values and will defend those values regardless of the costs.
January 25, 2009 9:34 AM
This time, the Times is correcting a misstatement.

Their original article included a quote from an a former Defense forces chief of staff. He was said to have said, "The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people."

The Time later found that the quote, although widely spread, was not found in the interview in which it was said to have occurred.

Regardless of who said or didn't say it, it would seem that the Times, at least, understands the necessary preconditions for ending war in Gaza.
January 30, 2009 7:24 AM
"I suppose a better solution would simply be to assassinate the top tier or two of leadership of both side, again and again until they decide to stop being children... but I don't think such a plan would be regarded favourably by any side."

But it would be FAIR, Duff.

Another fair solution would involve a well-placed meteor maybe the size of Connecticut, but that solution is outside the ability of modern man. Not his creator, though.
July 8, 2010 1:35 PM

Winston Churchill understood full well that only the loser can end the war. He took power in England at the beginning of WW II after being out of power for 10 years. His first speech established his plan for conducting the war:

You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land, and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us. And having gone to war, we will continue to wage war until the enemy has had enough.

He also knew full well what was at stake:

You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory. Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all the terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory, there is no survival.

It would be nice if our leaders understood this simple principle - without victory, there is no survival.

December 2, 2010 10:43 PM

What about cases where both sides understand that they cannot win by military means alone, and decide to compromise? Northern Ireland comes to mind. Yes, the IRA was pushed to the wall by the British military, and paramilitary, campaign, but the Unionists also realized that a purely military solution would probably have to include Nuking the Republic of Ireland (in the south) and they negotiated a power sharing agreement.

Sometimes both sides can realize that they have lost, or at least that they cannot win, but it requires a certain maturity, a certain willingness to stop firing even when you still have bullets left.

March 18, 2017 10:13 PM


You are right about it requiring maturity, but it requires more. Consider the pro-lifers who are SINCERELY CONVINCED that abortion is murder. What level of maturity would prevent them from doing whatever they could to stop it? What about anti-gunners who are CONVINCED that non-cops owning guns causes murder? What would get them to stop worrying and let the pro-gun crowd buy guns in peace?

Islam teaches that all non-Muslims must be killed and that any Muslim who isn't doing that needs to be killed, too. What level or maturity will persuade them to stop?

March 18, 2017 10:38 PM

*excellent* article, as are most, if not all, of the articles i have read here.

my one concern was addressed by WO, although not as emphatically as i would have liked. islam teaches that muslims are the best of peoples, and that non-muslims should either convert to islam, pay extortion money and continue being non-muslilms (called the dhimma contract, but only available to jews and christians), or die.

as it happened, the muslims who invaded the indian subcontinent started with the above plan, but found that if they killed *everybody* who would not convert (the invasion victims were very reluctant to change religions, and had the misfortune of not being jewish or christian, so they couldn't be dhimmis), there wouldn't be anybody left to pay them extortion. they changed their policy, even though muhammed would have been appalled, and granted hindus and buddhists the "right" to become dhimmis and pay extortion. come to think of it, muhammed, the pirate who invented the cult of islam, probably *would* have approved, since profit muhammed loved money, and the idea of the dhimma came from his act of allowing the jews of kkaybar to continue farming the area around the oasis, so long as they gave him *HALF* of what they earned. he also added the proviso that he could change his mind at any time and for any reason.

so no, there is *NOTHING* that will "solve" the problem in the middle east except the unconditional defeat of all muslims *EVERYWHERE*. they no more consider the mosque in jerusalem sacred than i consider washington, DC sacred (important, yes, but not sacred), but they also believe that any land once held by muslims must *ALWAYS* be in muslim hands. this means that the pious among them will always be making attacks on israel. they may not have the luxury of being near enough to be able to easily target the local elementary schools, like they do now, but they will continue to attack, just as they attack the u.s., even though there are no nearby islamic countries.

islam is at base a vile, poisonous, criminal cult; the pious among them are barbarian crimanals, while most muslims (~60% to ~70%) are ignorant of their own religion, and know only what the local imam tells them. all, however, are aware of enough to hate jews and christians, and to know that muslims are just the best thing since sliced bread. those who are truly seeking the divine and are what civilized people call "good" are usually unknowledgeable of the details of islam.

but i'm just a voice on the internet. most people think that i'm a nut job (just a few years ago, i would have thought the same), so i don't expect anybody to believe me. thus, DO *NOT* take my word for it! look at islam for yourself!

October 12, 2018 10:03 PM

Where is Palestine? I cannot find it on ANY historical maps. Is it just a theoretical construct, used for the purpose of argument?

October 14, 2018 8:47 AM

@David_Jacobs - I agree with you. That is the way I see "Palestine." It's like the alt-right - a label used to throw invective.

October 14, 2018 8:17 PM

True. Before alt-right, the common pejorative was "neo-conservative."

October 15, 2018 1:55 AM

The problem that Israel has had with the Palestinians has been as the result of Leftists in Israel who want to be friendly and understanding, so they appeal to the parents of children that all have to enroll in the military. And as ugly and calloused as it sounds, you need force to deal with people who are trying to kill you and will if they detect weakness.

November 12, 2019 1:42 PM

Rudolph. Interesting to see the evolution of the views here over time. My own intital reaction, So what? The winner will then write a peace treaty which serves to punish: And form the seeds for future conflict. But that is a Leftist (liberal) viewpoint. But my views have changed over the years: Primarily, I support Israel in whatever government rules there. Israeli's should decide what happens with Israel. Outside views will only add to confusion and harm.

April 19, 2020 6:08 AM
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