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The Dollar Store War
What can the last phase of the Seven Years War tell us about the war in Ukraine?
In 1967, my family drove from New York to Montreal. I remember little of our destination. Indeed, all I recall of Expo 67 was a game of Rangers-and-Indians played in a child-sized wooden fort. I do, however, harbor fond memories of two places where we stopped along the way, Fort George and Fort Ticonderoga. Indeed, thanks to the things I saw in those relics of the eighteenth century, I developed an enduring interest in the French and Indian War.
Later, I would learn that the grand saga of Wolfe and Montcalm, Robert Rogers and young Colonel Washington, was part of a much larger event, a world war avant la lettre with theaters of operations in India, central Europe, the Caribbean, and western Germany, as well as the northeastern corner of North America. Latter still, Hans Delbrück convinced me that, while the painters of battle scenes set in the Seven Years War have yet to run out of material, the conclusion of that grand multi-sided struggle had more to do with financial exhaustion than any trial with fire and sword.
If I am not too badly mistaken, the accountants began to warn their royal masters of impending insolvency in 1759 or so. I say this because, that is the point where the belligerents made the switch from the grand guerre beloved of the drums and trumpets set to the Dollar Store war of strict budgets, extensive fortifications, and small-scale special operations. (In 1762, William of Schaumburg-Lippe used a campaign made up of these elements to prevent a Spanish conquest of Portugal. Indeed, he did this so well that the Portuguese still call this enterprise A Guerra Fantástica.)
Analogies prove nothing. Nonetheless, thinking about the last half of the Seven Years War leads me to consider the possibility that the present conflict in Ukraine has entered its Dollar Store phase. After all, the paymasters have begun to pinch pennies, the minefields grow thicker every day, and beaux gestes, both human and robotic, abound.
The good news here is that Dollar Store wars end quietly. (Compare, if you will, the Berlin of 1763 with the Berlin of 1945.) The bad news, it may be a while before the present-day analogs of King Frederick of Prussia are reduced to searching under couch cushions for quarters (or kopecks.)