We have a history of hoping for the best. We hope for the best because war, of all things on this earth, is predictable.
Both Napoleon and Hitler understood that invading Russia would result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and eventually lead to their respective downfall. They knew and communicated this risk to the citizens of France and Nazi Germany.
We can look to obscure wars such as Russia’s war with Japan back at the turn of the twentieth century. The Tsar sent his fleet into the Pacific only after a proper net-assessment of their adversary. The Tsar knew his fleet would be destroyed, and that the war would lead to the outbreak of Japanese colonialism over the next four decades.
As Germany, France, and Britain went to war in 1914, each nation foresaw the horrors of the Somme, and Verdun. Military planners clearly articulated the risk of invading Belgium to Kaiser Wilhelm, and the statistical probability that 750,000 German citizens would die from starvation due to the allied blockade.
Accurately predicting the outcome of war is not unique to foreign nations. When Eisenhower and Kennedy pushed advisers into Vietnam, they did so with an understanding that the conflict would turn into a war, and that an enemy so clearly outmatched in terms of technology could kill over 58,000 Americans. President Johnson and his Best and Brightest Team prepared the public for the horrors of Mai Lai. Moreover, when congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, each voting member knew how the ever-expanding war would divide the nation and have impacts on foreign and domestic policy that still resonate today.
In 2003, America went to war with the Army we had, because that is exactly the Army we needed to invade and occupy Iraq. Indeed, not only did we have the army we needed, but we wargamed against the exact enemy we would fight. I distinctly remember going to war, and receiving briefs on what would occur in places like Avu Ghraib, Yusifiyah, and Haditha.
When, in 2011, America left Iraq, we had the understanding that a Junior Varsity Team could never conquer large swaths of territory and incite fear and violence across the globe. Thank god that never happened.
When we think about possible conflicts with North Korea, Iran, or any other nation, we should keep in mind how war always moves in unexpected directions.