Trope Workshop:A Little Victorious War

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Russia needs a little victorious war to stem the revolution…
—attributed to von Plehve, Minister of Internal Affairs (assassinated within the same year).

A war started as an external solution for internal problems. The idea is to have advantages of a war at a minimum of an actual war's costs. Thus it's planned as little and victorious. Since the casus belli is not the real reason, the attacking (or rarely provoking) side has luxury of choosing the enemy, time and place. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Why it looked for so many as a good idea?

  1. It gives excuses for economical grabs, like new taxes or at least loans.
  2. It gives excuses for more brutal approach to internal politics, from censorship to full "anyone who doesn't support us enthusiastically enough is a traitor!" Witch Hunts.
  3. It gives excuses to rig and drug the economy in several ways normally seen as unacceptable: micromanage external trade, create demand and jobs out of thin air (it comes from tax money, of course, but has immediate effect), seize properties labelled "hostile" outright, etc.
  4. Various malcontents and undesirables can be sent to the front and perhaps wind up conveniently killed without becoming martyrs for the opposition, or at least caught on some indiscretions.
  5. Provided it's indeed victorious, there are fruits of triumph: seized lands, tribute, morale boost, and so on.
  6. The armed forces are subjected to a full field test, allowing to notice and fix flaws before they turn into major problems in a "real" war.

Why it so often proves to be a terrible idea?

  1. It's doubling down when the game isn't going well. Any war is a crisis. If it was started to fix an already existing crisis, this increases chances for both of those becoming worse. Much more so if the war will not end as quickly as planned.
  2. Likewise, the more arrogant propaganda was early on, the worse it can backfire at a slightest snag, let alone getting bogged down.
  3. Once people start to pay the price of war, patriotism is apt to slip from intoxication stage to hangover stage.
  4. Losses will be blamed on someone by the friends and family… and since the war did not start as a foreign invasion, it's obvious to whom most of this will stick.
  5. Unarmed malcontents is one thing, armed ones another… but heavily armed ones can be far more dangerous. Also, conscripts may feel they have much less to lose than civilians, thus get crazier if they act out.
  6. Send conscripts, they come back as veterans. If they were disloyal -- congratulations, the problem just got serious.
  7. Other powers, even those that won't jump into the war head-on, may interfere in many ways, from financing the other side to embargo to subversive activities.
  8. It's easy to figure out what's going on. The aggressor is all too willing to bully those weaker, make up excuses for misbehaviour and force the neighbours pay bills that aren't theirs. All of this stains the reputation, undermining not only respect, but trust. Which reduces willingness to deal with this bad actor. It's an insidious, hard to remove, long term detriment.

Subtrope of War for Fun and Profit.

Examples of A Little Victorious War include:

Advertising[edit | hide | hide all]

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…and when the economy is in a crappy state, it's best to start a war, to shut all the mouths at once.

  • The Short Victorious War, of Honor Harrington cycle has it right in the name. It's a borderline example, however, as there is also an actual external consideration: crushing a weak rival now because later it will grow strong enough to hold its own.
  • Ring Around the Sun by Clifford Simak discussed possibility of a two-sided "phoney war" by agreement.

Vickers: That way they could gain the time, for they need time as badly as we do. On military pretext, they'd seize complete control of the world economy.
Flanders: What you're saying, is that they plan to start war by agreement.

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  • Russo-Japanese War, as the Trope Namer. The consequences were obvious and horrible enough to give the term both spread and connotations close to a political equivalent of Cain's Brand.