War isn’t a game, video or otherwise. When a person gets shot, stabbed or blown up, it’s not “hearts” they risk losing – it’s their limbs, lives and ongoing quality of life. Winning is no tonic against injury, either; soldiers who come home still bear the physical and psychological scars of combat. If the war happens on a soldier’s home turf, there’s every risk that they won’t have a physical home to return to, either. I will never forget walking around a bombed-out downtown Sarajevo still littered in rubble and “beware of landmines” signs in 2001, six years after the Bosnian War was supposed to be over. The spoils may go to the victor, but when the spoils are in ruins, what has really been won?
This is why military strategists from Sun-tzu on keep developing new ways to mitigate personnel and infrastructure risks at the same time as increasing chances of meaningful victory. The evolution of warfare has seen the development of increasingly complex offensive and defensive technology and tactics, but it has also included the nurturing of warrior codes of conduct like bushido, chivalry or the Geneva conventions. At its core, diplomacy is really a military strategy designed to mitigate the risk of destructive combat and avoid losses on both sides.
Of course, we wouldn’t fight in the first place if there weren’t rewards to be had. Land and resources are of definitive value to expanding populations, which is why so many wars are fought over them. A balance of power might encourage a military code of conduct, but when the balance shifts, we can always find wiggle room. Hawaiian Chief Kamehameha seized on the arrival of European weapons and tactics as an opportunity to tip the balance in his favour and conquer all the Hawaiian islands; Spanish conquistadors might have honestly thought they were doing God’s work in bringing Christianity to native heathens, but this noble quest didn’t stop them from slaughtering innocents and stealing their land and gold.
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