The 2,500 year old book ‘The Art of War’ by the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu defines nine types of situations in which a general commanding a military force could find himself. After explaining each one of the situations, which he calls grounds, Sun Tzu turns to giving instructions on how to deal with each one of the situations. And so he says:
“On dispersive ground, therefore, fight not. On facile ground, halt not. On contentious ground, attack not. On open ground, do not try to block the enemy’s way. On the ground of intersecting highways, join hands with your allies. On serious ground, gather in plunder. In difficult ground, keep steadily on the march. On hemmed-in ground, resort to stratagem. On desperate ground, fight.”
Whilst his explanations relating to the other types of grounds could be interpreted in different ways, I think that there is no doubt as to what he means when he talks about a desperate ground. The Second World War was a desperate ground, as was the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The 1982 Lebanon War and the Iraq War were not desperate grounds. They were wars-of-choice that politicians with obsessions, interests and regime change ambitions, not necessarily matching their countries’ long term national security needs, dragged them into.
The damage caused was not limited to the time these wars took place. Countries that participated in them find themselves today less and less able to justify to their own people and to the international community any future war they may go to, even if this would be a war on desperate ground.