Sun Tzu and Terence McSwiney agree on this point. It is not the side that can inflict the most, but those who can endure the most who will conquer. It is a constant source of argument in military theory: which side suffers most casualties; winners or losers?
In ancient Greece when battles were decided head to head on the field by two infantry armies it was accepted that the winning side often lost the most men. By the time one side broke the winning side was so exhausted they were in no fit state to give chase.
This dynamic changed dramatically with the introduction of cavalry. No horse alive will charge a well formed phalanx, but a routed enemy is manna to the cavalryman. Any enemy who could not retire from the field in good order was sabre fodder.
The dynamic changed again with the introduction of artillery, especially mobile horse artillery, to the battlefield. A solid infantry square was safe against marauding cavalry, but sitting ducks for artillery. Dispersing to avoid the cannon fire opens your lines to the cavalry. The Napoleonic wars were choreographed by the interplay between infantry, cavalry and artillery.
With the development of the rifle musket in the 1850’s the dynamic changed again. The effective rifle range switched overnight from 3/4 rounds per minute at around 50 yards to 5/6 rounds per minute at 1,000 yards range. The days of bright coloured lines of infantry standing toe to toe on the open field were over. The US Civil War demonstrated that in such circumstances a defensive force with prepared earthworks could wreak havoc on forces attacking over open ground.
In WW1 the Western Front signaled the death of the horse on the battlefield. The swan song of the horse in modern warfare was probably the charge of the Australian Mounted Infantry on Turkish Positions in Palestine.
Then at the end of the First World War the tiny forces of the IRA fought the all conquering British Army and Militarized Police to a standstill in Ireland, by enduring the most.
By the end of the Second World War it appeared that the infantryman with his rifle was almost redundant in a world of fighters, bombers, A-bombs, Aircraft Carriers and attack helicopters. And then there was Vietnam when the people demonstrated again that it is the side that can endure the most who will conquer. Despite overwhelming superiority of the USA in kill ratio and military technology they still lost.
Given the lack of appetite of the American people for losses in war raises many questions for the presence of US forces in far off battlefields like Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq or Somalia. If you are prepared to quit, don’t start.
Don’t Quit; by John Greenleaf Whittier
When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
when the road you’re trudging seems all up hill,
when the funds are low and the debts are high
and you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
when care is pressing you down a bit,
rest if you must, but don’t you quit.
Life is strange with its twists and turns
as every one of us sometimes learns
and many a failure comes about
when he might have won had he stuck it out;
don’t give up though the pace seems slow —
you may succeed with another blow.
Success is failure turned inside out —
the silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
and you never can tell just how close you are,
it may be near when it seems so far;
so stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit —
it’s when things seem worst that you must not quit