Defeat- complete national defeat- is an experience that happily is foreign so far to the United States and Great Britain. In these histories there is nothing comparable to the Prussian disasters at Jena and Austerlitz in 1806, leading to the total collapse of the Prussian army and a humiliating occupation by Napoleon; or to the disasters that befell the French sixty-four year later at the hands of the Prussians and that delivered Paris into Prussian occupation and France into the power of Bismark.
No triumphal army has wended its arrogant way up the Mall or Pennsylvania Avenue- pace the War of 1812- as the Germans marched through the Place de la Concorde in 1940, or the Allies through the ruins of Berlin in 1945. Despite incidental disaster like the loss of the Philippines or humiliations like the surrender of Singapore in 1942, no British or American have as yet, had to sign away their countries’ independence in acknowledgement of total defeat.,like the Germans at Reims or the Japanese on the deck of the U.S.S. Missouri in 1945.
Yet defeat does not always come in the guise of national catastrophe. it is not always manifested by a single moment of drama, such as Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House. It can slowly arrive, like the onset of disease; a cumulative warning that national power has overreached itself. It can come without defeat in the field, such as a mere failure to win. And “to win” does not mean total surrender. “To win, as Clausewitz pointed out, means either achieving your your strategic nd political objects, or in a defensive situation , thwarting the enemy’s intentions. “To lose” can therefore mean simply a frustrating failure to achieve your goals, even though your armies may stand undefeated.
The demoralizing effects of such impasses are compounded by the inevitable prolongation of the dilemma, and disillusion, often bitter and self destructive, following the failure to achieve the expected decision. This kind of situation is characteristic not so much of wars affecting national existence as of the distant involvement of great empires. Such is the present post-modern condition of America in which public opinion does not feel the struggle to be a matter of life and death. While the wars in Iraq and Afghaistan arouse no determination to win at all costs, the failure of accomplishment is generally, deeply wounding to the pride of a people accustomed to success, with possible far reaching effects on national history with regard to foreign policy, domestic, social and political life, especially in consideration of what Americans regard as a normal and rightful birthright bestowed on those fortunate enough to be blessed with manifest destiny.
Although the onset of America’s failures can be characterized as a somewhat repetitive pattern, the national response to military bafflement and ill-fortune has varied widely as the national psyche seems caught between crushing despair and a resolute effort at a fresh start. The seed of national hope and self-confidence is still present; indeed, president Obama has tried to convey the imagery of an era of reform where America’s greatness is still to fully be felt and the dog days will be forgotten. …