We are only six weeks into Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine, but the conflict has already settled into a familiar pattern. Both sides often go into wars with a theory of victory, and it is only when both theories fail that the true shape of the conflict begins to appear. In the Second Punic War (218-201 B.C.), Hannibal thought that if he could get an army into Italy and win some conspicuous victories, the other Italian city-states, restless under Roman rule, would revolt and enable him to break Roman power for good. The Romans thought that their superior legions with their fighting spirit and discipline would quickly show Hannibal who was boss.
Both sides discovered that their initial strategies did not work. The Romans were shocked by a series of disastrous military defeats and faced the greatest challenge in Roman history. Hannibal achieved his initial goals, getting his army over the Alps and winning a series of dramatic victories, still studied today by ambitious young military officers all over the world. But his strategy failed. Even after his overwhelming victory at Cannae, only a handful of Italian city-states went over to his side. Roman power survived, and the war dragged on.
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