Armchair historians often like to make jokes about such nations as France, Italy, Austria, and Egypt for being on the losing side in a number of wars. Interestingly, however, Germany doesn’t get the same disrespect despite being on the losing side of both World Wars while France was in the end among the victors of both, and even Italy found itself among the winners of the First World War.
There are a few issues, however.
For one, the United States isn’t generally on those lists, as it is argued that the USA lost the Vietnam War because its opponent, North Vietnam, conquered the South Vietnamese. Yet, many of those same lists include Australia as never having lost a war, but that is dubious as Australia also supported the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) and disengaged its forces before the bitter end. Given that fact, it is hard to accept that Australia wasn’t technically among the non-winners.
But perhaps it is the way those lists are worded, in that each calls out countries that never “lost” a war, and conflicts that ended indecisively aren’t considered a defeat.
Given that fact, the United States should therefore be on the list of nations that hasn’t lost a war. Other than the tragic loss of the lives of the soldiers who served in Vietnam, and the cost of equipment, the United States didn’t technically lose. It gave up no territory and paid no war reparations.
Even the other countries on those lists should be questioned.
There are numerous problems with any argument that suggests that Vietnam didn’t lose a war, and it is a matter of putting things in perspective. It is true that Vietnam is a modern state that achieved independence from France following the First Indochina War in 1954. Moreover, Communist North Vietnam did achieve its main goals of defeating South Vietnam and unifying the country, and that occurred after the United States pulled out its military ground forces.
As for the actual war, America never lost any major battles, while most of the Communist offensives ended in defeat. It has been said America won the war only to lose the peace!
Then there is the fact that Vietnam achieved independence from France, which also means it had been overtaken by another power and in that case, it was the French, which had ruled the region since the 1880s. While not technically the same government, the Empire of Vietnam was reestablished in 1945 only to be overthrown by the French.
The argument is made that those weren’t the same governments and that modern Vietnam isn’t the same as the Empire of Vietnam, but the same case could be made for modern Austria or many other nations.
More importantly, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam fought a border war with the People’s Republic of China in early 1979 and while both sides claimed victory, it was Vietnam that lost territory—more than the U.S. lost in 1973. In other words, it is hard to put Vietnam in the undefeated category.
Another dubious claim made on many lists is that North Korea never lost a war—but that’s another technicality because the Korean War never technically ended, and if North Korea didn’t lose then South Korea should be in the winner’s column as well. Of course to counter that argument is the fact that South Korea did send some 320,000 military personnel to Vietnam—so let’s accept that if the USA and Australia didn’t win, then neither did South Korea.
However, the whole point is moot—The Korean Empire had been a tributary state of China from the fifteenth century to the late nineteenth century, and then in 1905 became a colonial protectorate of Japan, followed by outright annexation by Japan in 1910. It wasn’t until 1945 that the two Koreas came into existence, but much like with Vietnam it is hard to consider that the nation never lost a war when its land and people had literally been under the control of another power for decades or longer!
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) can proudly claim a 5-0 record in major wars fought, not to mention two Palestinian intifadas as well as a series of armed conflicts in the broader Arab-Israeli conflict, and in addition, Israel has remained in existence without ever even ceding territory as the result of the war.
However, it could be claimed that its security zone campaign, which ended in 2000 with Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon, could be considered a defeat, yet most see it more as a setback as Israel didn’t really lose anything. As it is now recognized as a war by the government in Jerusalem and not one with an outright victory it does seem to tarnish the otherwise perfect record.
It is quite easier to accept that Canada hasn’t lost a war, or is it?
While its militia played a small role in the War of 1812 against the United States, which ended in a draw, Canada didn’t actually send its military overseas in a fully-fledged conflict until 1899 during the Second Anglo-Boer War. While it had sent a few troops to support the Sudan expedition in 1882, which ended in failure for the Anglo-Egyptian forces, that wasn’t technically a full-blown war but it was still was a defeat and it wasn’t until 1896 that the British and their Commonwealth allies returned to “re-conquer” the Sudan.
Canada did go on to take part in the Boer War, the First World War, the Second World War and the Korean War, while it has sent units to take part in the global war on terror (GWOT) including in Afghanistan and Iraq. Depending on how that one gets chalked up will finally determine if Canada’s “perfect track record” continues.
Yet, even that is not without issue due to the fact that Montreal and Quebec, along with much of the eastern part of the country, were once part of New France and were conquered by the British during the French and Indian Wars of the 1760s. There are at least some asterisks in Canada’s undefeated record.
Simply put, you win some, you lose some.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.