"(O)nce war is forced upon us, there is no other alternative than to apply every available means to bring it to a swift end.
"War's very object is victory, not prolonged indecision.
"In war there is no substitute for victory."
Familiar to every graduate of West Point, the words are from the farewell address of Gen. MacArthur, to Congress on April 19, 1951, after he was relieved of command in Korea by Harry Truman.
Two years later, however, Dwight David Eisenhower, a general as famous as MacArthur, would agree to a truce that restored the status quo ante in Korea.
For the first time since the War of 1812, the United States was not decisively victorious. We had preserved the independence of war-ravaged South Korea. But the North remained the domain of Stalinist strongman Kim Il-Sung for 41 years.
After Korea came Vietnam. The United States did not lose a major battle and departed in early 1973 with every provincial capital in South Vietnamese hands. But the war was lost in April of 1975, when Saigon, its military aid slashed by Congress, fell to an invasion from across the DMZ.
Vietnam introduced us to what no generation of Americans save Southerners had ever known: an American strategic defeat.
Now we are about to enter our eighth year in Afghanistan and our sixth year in Iraq. In neither is victory, in the MacArthurian sense, assured. Indeed, "victory" may be unattainable, says America's most successful general, David Petraeus, who asserts he will never use the word in speaking of Iraq. "This is not the sort of struggle where you take a hill, plant the flag and go home to a victory parade."
Why will Operation Iraqi Freedom not end like Gulf War I, where Gen. Schwarzkopf led the victorious army up Constitution Avenue? Because, whenever a truce is achieved through power-sharing, it often proves to be the prelude to a new war, when the power shifts.
In Iraq, the Shia-Sunni struggle remains unresolved. The Maliki regime wants the Americans gone so it can settle accounts with the Awakening Councils and Sons of Iraq we armed to eradicate Al-Qaida. The Kurds are moving to cement control of oil-rich Kirkuk and expand into Iraqi Arab provinces.
Of that other war over which he has assumed command, Gen. Petraeus says: "Obviously the trends in Afghanistan have been in the wrong direction. ... You cannot kill or capture your way out of an insurgency that is as significant as the one in Iraq, nor, I believe, as large as the one that has developed in Afghanistan."
"We can't kill our way to victory," adds Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs. We are "running out of time."
Mullen earlier said he's "not convinced we're winning it in Afghanistan."