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An example of victory disease and its catastrophic results: Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, painted by Adolph Northern in the 19th century

Victory disease afflicts military commanders and armies who, after victories, become weak and susceptible to defeat. Signs are:

  • arrogance; see also hubris,
  • complacency,
  • use of previously-victorious patterns of fighting, and not developing new tactics to anticipate enemy advances,
  • stereotypes of enemies, underestimating enemies,
  • ignorance of contrary intelligence or refusal to recognize it.

While the winning side grows complacent, arrogant, feeling invincible, the enemy adapts. Military disaster ensues.

While "victory disease" does not automatically foretell failure, it is a strong indicator. The term also applies outside the military world.

Concept in more detail

A recently-defeated force should analyze the loss and change tactics, but the winners may follow old tactics, overconfidently ignoring basic rules of strategy, thus the term is usually applied after a series of military victories and later disaster.

So an army may be unprepared or use old tactics, or try to oppose a superior force. It may lead an army into battles or a nation into wars until exhaustion. Related is logistics — a series of victories may lead to battles farther and farther from home, stretching supply lines.

On the origin of the term

The origin of the term is usually associated with the Japanese advance in the Pacific Theater of World War II, where, after attacking Pearl Harbor in 1941, they won a series of nearly uninterrupted victories against the Allies in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

the Japanese cruiser Mikuma shortly before sinking in the Battle of Midway.

Although they had planned to establish a perimeter and go on the defensive, their victories encouraged them to continue expanding the proposed perimeter to the point where it strained their logistics and navy. This culminated in the 1942 Battle of Midway, a catastrophic defeat to the Japanese navy and the loss of all four of their aircraft carriers involved. The decision of Japan to start a war against the United States is viewed as Victory Disease, following successes in the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) and the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese War.

A few historical examples

Examples abound; see the main article at history of victory disease for more examples and detail.

The following (extremely abbreviated) list is perhaps illustrative:

  • The Battle of Salamis in 480 BC in the Greco-Persian Wars, in which the hubris of Xerxes I led to a catastrophic defeat of the Persian Empire to the Greeks.

Graph of the strength of Napoleon's army as it marches to Moscow and back.

  • The catastrophic decision of Napoleon to invade Russia in 1812. A force of 610,000 French soldiers invaded, and about 10,000 returned (see diagram, left).
  • United States victories in the Mexican–American War and the Indian Wars made Union forces over-confident going into the American Civil War, losing their first battle — they expected quick defeat of the Confederates there and then. The Confederates similarly stereotyped the Union, at times leading to military disaster (see next).
File:Custer's Last Stand, 1877.png

Scene of Custer's last stand, 1877.

  • Decisions made at and before the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg by the Confederates after their outnumbered-five-to-two victory at the Battle of Chancellorsville during the American Civil War.
  • The 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn, in which the Sioux near annihilated the entire army of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer. Expecting a repeat of the Battle of Washita River, he ignored contrary intelligence or did not seek it out.
  • The catastrophic decision of Hitler to invade the Soviet Union in 1941, underestimating Soviet military resilience, counting on success of old tactics; and Germany's subsequent declaration of war on the United States.
  • Japan's catastrophic decision to attack Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941.


"The enemy we're fighting is a bit different from the one we war-gamed against."Lieutenant general William S. Wallace, on the 2003 invasion of Iraq

See also

Main links

Minor links

External links and references

Note: the references have far more detail than this small article can hold

Major references:

Minor references:

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