William Goldman’s fantasy tale The Princess Bride made famous the saying “never get involved in a land war in Asia” (it was purportedly advice General Douglas MacArthur gave to President John F. Kennedy regarding Vietnam). But historically the costs of a land war in Europe have been even more horrifying, which is why it’s important to comprehend the various psychological processes that have been driving us toward World War G.
One force is the general tendency of triumphalist powers to press onward until they’ve backed their rivals into a corner. It’s hard for winners to declare victory and go home. It’s more fun to keep the game going, even if the conceivable gains are rapidly diminishing.
… Among the more vivid examples of pushing too hard in foreign affairs are the events of 1950, a year in which experienced men who had been tested in the great trials of the 1940s made almost uniformly catastrophic strategic choices. Almost every major outside decision maker in the Korean conflict, such as Stalin, MacArthur, and Mao, had emerged from the previous decade a winner. Yet despite their successful track records—or perhaps because of them—most pressed their luck too far on that divided peninsula, refusing to settle for half a loaf. The result was a drawn-out war that killed more than a million people over three years—without moving the border at all.