As we’re approaching the one-year mark in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it’s clear that we’re witnessing something the world hasn’t seen in generations—a protracted all-out battlefield struggle between two large nations. The Vietnam War was certainly a major conflict and a protracted struggle, but it didn’t quite match what we’re watching play out in Eastern Ukraine.
The first Indo-Pakistan War of 1965 lasted a few weeks. The Six-Day War in 1967 lasted, well, six days. The second Indo-Pakistan War in 1971 lasted roughly two weeks. The Yom Kippur War was 19 days long. The major combat phase of Operation Desert Storm was less than two months, and the ground war lasted a mere 100 hours.
The long fights we’ve experienced are the insurgencies or the guerilla wars, where big armies don’t clash in the field, where advanced weapons aren’t deployed by both sides. Our long wars are low-intensity compared to the warfare we see in Eastern Ukraine.
The closest post–World War II comparison might be to Korea, where the U.S., South Korea, and their U.N. allies fielded huge armies in a brutal contest with North Korea and China that raged up and down the Korean peninsula for three long years. The Iran/Iraq war was also a brutal war of attrition, but it was fought by nations that lacked the military capacity of Russia or Ukraine. We’ve forgotten what that’s like. In fights between powerful nation-states we’ve become accustomed to quick victories or quick defeats, and we lack the frame for thinking through long slogs.