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War as Competition

by Ron Kurtus (reviised 9 December 2016)

War is an organized armed conflict between social entities—usually countries, political groups, or religious groups.

The typical purpose of a war is to gain control of land or the government. Sometimes the purpose is to kill as many of the enemy as possible.

As a competition, war may be head-to-head, where the sides battle for victory. Or it may be a predatory competition, where a stronger group attacks a much weaker one. Victory in war ranges from stalemate to submission to complete destruction.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions.

Purposes of war

One reason countries or groups will enter into war with each other is for the ownership of land. Often the attacking country wants the land of the country defending itself. Sometimes that may backfire.

In World War II both Japan and Germany sought control over as much land as possible. However, both were defeated and lost control over their own land.

Another reason for war is to gain political power over the existing government.

In 1917, the people supporting the Bolshevik political party revolted to overthrow the Russian Tsarist government in a series of bitter battles. The Bolsheviks then combined with similar groups to become the Communist Party, which governed Russia and the Soviet Union for many years afterward.

Religious, racial and cultural differences can cause groups or even countries to seek to kill many of their opponent people and essentially destroy the group's existence. Their purpose often seems to be plain hatred or revenge for past discretions.

Head-to-head war

Some wars are initiated by disagreements and even skirmishes between two or more groups or countries until one attacks the other. Once they starting fighting, it is a head-to-head competition, where each alternates between offense and defense, depending on their strategies. The war is fought until one side surrenders or they reach a negotiated peace.

In 1861, the American Civil War was started when eleven southern states seceded from the union and their troops attacked Fort Sumter. Northern and Southern armies fought until the Confederate forces were defeated in 1865. The south suffered penalties and indignities but was allowed to rejoin the union.

In 1950 Communist North Korea attacked South Korea. The United Nations troops, led by the United States, entered the war to help defend South Korea. After several years of fighting the two sides agreed to a negotiated peace, where neither side gained land or changed the government.

Such a head-to-head competition is won be a combination of strength, strategy and the will to win.

Predatory war

Many wars are predatory competitions where a country or group will attack another—usually smaller or weaker group—in order to gain land or control the government. In same cases, the objective is to kill or drive out all of the members of the smaller group.

In 1939, Germany attacked the much weaker Poland and took over the country. Germany then continued their predatory attacks on other small nations.

In 2010, Kyrgyz nationals attacked the minority Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan, killing them or driving them from their homes.

At the most, the attacked groups are on the defensive, hoping to stave off destruction. Typically, this predatory competition is won by the stronger attacker.

Predatory turns to head-to-head

Sometimes, the attacked smaller or weaker country or group will counterattack and turn the war into a head-to-head competition.

In 1939, the much larger and stronger Soviet Union (Russia) attacked Finland. The Soviets had three times as many soldiers, thirty times as many aircraft and a hundred times as many tanks as the Finns. However, Finland turned this predatory war into a head-to-head competition, causing great casualties among the Soviets. In the end, the Soviets gained some of Finland's lands, while Finland retained its sovereignty.

This shows that victory is not only a case of superior strength, but that strategy and troop morale can be important factors.


War is an organized armed conflict between countries, political groups or religious groups. Purposes of war include gaining control of land or the government or to kill as many of the enemy as possible. As a competition, War may be a head-to-head competition or a predatory competition. Victory in war ranges from stalemate to submission to complete destruction.

Always do your best

Resources and references

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War - Wikipedia

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