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History of victory disease

History of victory disease

In victory disease, the military commanders, armies, and sometimes whole nations, having experienced a series of previous military victories, become weak and susceptible to defeat due to groupthink. See victory disease.

There are countless battles and military strategies throughout history that have failed, due in part to overconfidence or prior victories.

Classical civilizations

The hubris of Xerxes I led to a catastrophic defeat of the Persian Empire in the Battle of Salamis, which occurred in 480 BC. This was the turning point of the Greco-Persian Wars and the ancient Greeks, whom the Persians were opposing, eventually won. The ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus fought in the battle; he wrote the play The Persians in which the Battle of Salamis is a setting.

Victory disease related to imperialism or European militarianism

The calamitous decision by Napoleon to invade Russia in 1812 led to the return of only 10,000 French soldiers when 610,000 had initially been sent out. Napoleon's repeated victories in Central Europe led him to believe that Russia would surrender after a few won battles, and made no plans for a sustained campaign or occupation in Russia.

The first six weeks of the Franco-Prussian War saw French armies, convinced of their superiority following French victories in the Crimean War and the wars of Italian unification, enter a war with Prussia convinced that their weapons and tactics would easily defeat the Prussians. However, the Prussians had better weapons and tactics, and French arrogance and complacency led to catastrophic French defeats at Sedan and Metz.

In the 1879 Battle of Isandlwana during the Anglo-Zulu War, a Zulu army wiped out a British army equipped with the most advanced weapons and tactics of the age.

Likewise, the Zulus' victory at Isandlwana led Zulus to believe they would easily wipe out the British defenders in the Battle of Rorke's Drift 1879 with ferocity and sheer numbers. Instead, the British won the battle and killed approximately 370 Zulu men.

United States history

United States victories against Mexico and American Indians led Union forces to be over-confident going into the Civil War. Failing to update their tactics to match new technology (see also Rifling and Minie ball), they assumed that superior numbers would give them rapid victories, and ignored plans for an extended war until after repeated defeats. The Confederates similarly stereotyped the Union, at times leading to disaster.

Bad decisions made at and before the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg by the Confederates were, in part, due to the outnumbered-five-to-two victory at the Battle of Chancellorsville during the American Civil War.

Captain and Brevet Lt. Col. William J. Fetterman boasted during America's Indian Wars that, given "80 men," he would "ride through the Sioux nation". He had contempt for the Sioux's fighting ability and overconfidence in his own military prowess. In 1866, during Red Cloud's War, he and his army of exactly 80 men (including two volunteering civilians) were massacred to the last man by the Sioux. It was possibly the worst army defeat on the Great Plains until eclipsed by the disaster at Little Bighorn ten years later.

The 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn resulted in the demise of 268 United States citizens. Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and his army assumed that the Sioux were not capable of resistance.

The initial defeats suffered by the United States in the Korean War, when units reassigned from occupation duty proved incapable of resisting the North Korean advance, may have been caused by victory disease.

In the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu, after a quick win in the Gulf War, American forces badly underestimated Somali militia fighters, nominally winning a Pyrrhic victory, but having to withdrew from Somalia as result.

World Wars

The catastrophic decision by Hitler to invade the Soviet Union in 1941 underestimated Soviet military resilience and counted on the success of the tactics used in previous campaigns, such as the Invasion of Poland and the Battle of France. The German offensive in the Soviet Union literally froze, on December 5, 1941. For this ominous news on the Eastern Front, Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor two days later doubtless provided an antidote, and it almost certainly led to yet another catastrophic decision.

Hitler's 1941 declaration of war against the United States has perplexed historians, since Hitler was not obliged to declare war, either by treaty or circumstance. (The U.S. had not declared war, nor had it made any overt attack on Germany.) Overconfidence has been proposed as an explanation, since the war's turning point against Germany, the Battle of Stalingrad, was still a year away, and forcing the U.S. into a two-front war may have proved too powerful a temptation for Hitler to resist. As it turned out, Nazi Germany found itself to be the priority enemy to defeat first in the war, although the US still had sufficient resources to fight Japan.

During World War II, 120,000 American troops and 5000 German troops (from German 275th and 353rd Infantry Divisions) prepared to wage the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest. However, more German reinforcements arrived and the U.S. Army eventually lost the battle.

Other conflicts in which victory disease occurred

The Battle of Pingxingguan during the Second Sino-Japanese War between Japan and China. After a series of easy victories against their opponents, the over-confident Japanese failed to take elementary precautions.

The crisis suffered by Israel during the Yom Kippur War. Israeli victories in the Six Day War had made them overconfident, and units on Israel's borders were unprepared for Arab attacks, although Israel narrowly avoided defeat, and ended up militarily victorious, with units deep within enemy territory.

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