How to Lose a War

Elizabeth D. Samet on the dangers of perpetual optimism

World Politics Archive (WPA)/Alamy
World Politics Archive (WPA)/Alamy

Elizabeth D. Samet teaches English at West Point, where future Army officers learn how not to lose. There, as in any U.S. military setting, everything can be won—and should be won—unequivocally, whether it’s a sports match, an exam, or a war. But what happens when, as Samet writes in our Winter 2022 cover story, “The ambiguities of life are confused with the clarity of sport?” What are the stakes when the ambiguities of war are disguised by the very institutions sending young people to fight, in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, on time scales that can be measured in decades? Samet, the author of the recently published book Looking for the Good War: American Amnesia and the Violent Pursuit of Happiness, joins us to discuss the hazards of never owning loss.

The opinions expressed here are Samet’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Military Academy, the Department of the Army, or the Department of Defense.

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Stephanie Bastek is the senior editor of the Scholar and the producer/host of the Smarty Pants podcast.


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