Pages Menu

Categories Menu

Posted on May 18, 2008 in Stuff We Like

Author POV – Stupid Wars

By Ed Strosser and Michael Prince

Ed Strosser and Michael Prince are co-authors of the recently released book, Stupid Wars; A Citizen’s Guide to Botched Putsches, Failed Coups, Inane Invasions and Ridiculous Revolutions. Both live in New York City. They can be reached at

Some of these wars combined more than one element, upping their stupidity quotient.

In our book, Stupid Wars, we explore some of the most ridiculous military affairs throughout history, a sad litany of stupidity committed on a grand scale. A lot of people have asked us which war was actually the most stupid out of the ones we studied. To better define the degrees of stupidity we ended up breaking the wars down into four general classifications:


Max blowback. These are wars where the results were so unexpectedly bad for the participants and their countries that history was altered, not just for them, but the world. A prime example of this type of stupid war was the one waged by Roman Emperor Valens against the Goths in the eastern part of the empire in 377. He showed mercy to the Goths and let some of them slip into the empire. There went the neighborhood. The persistent Goths eventually spun out of control and wiped out Valens and his army so badly that Valens’ body was never found and the first big crack in the empire opened up. For the Romans, it was all downhill towards oblivion from that point on.

The next type is Good Plan, Stupid Goal. The prime example of this type of stupid war is Romania’s efforts during WWII — they fought for both sides and paid the price dearly. After riding the shirttails of the Nazi war machine to the gates of Stalingrad, the Romanians suffered mightily alongside their Nazi friends after the Russians pulverized the German Sixth Army and kept pounding the overmatched Romanians. Facing total defeat, the Romanians switched sides once the Russians took over their country — and then started taking it on the chin from the Germans. The country got wrecked and occupied because of a misdirected plan by Romanian strongman Ion Antonescu to please Hitler and receive the gift of the small province of Transylvania.

Another type of stupid war is Bad Planning that results in a completely off-target war. Our prime example is John F. Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs invasion. This invasion was so badly planned (due to JFK’s decision to try to "hide" Uncle Sam’s involvement) that the result damaged U.S. diplomacy for decades. Not only did Kennedy allow the CIA to plan a military operation, but he green-lighted the invasion even though the plan existed solely in the head of CIA honcho Richard Bissell.

The fourth type is where the Sheer Number of Casualties indicates that the country has practically destroyed itself in pursuit of a goal. The prime example is the Chaco War, started in 1932 between two perennial losers, Bolivia and Paraguay, over the worthless Chaco desert which lies between them. Each side lost between 2% and 4% of their populations, which would translate to 6–12 million Americans if it happened in the U.S. today.

Some of these wars combined more than one element, upping their stupidity quotient: Valens’ war against the Goths not only featured max blowback but was badly planned as the Roman army contained many Goth mercenaries who defected to the invading army. Romania’s war against all sides during WWII took advantage of efficient Nazi planning in pursuit of the dumb goal of invading Russia while also featuring a shocking number of casualties. The Bay of Pigs was not only planned badly but featured max blowback as it led directly to the Cuban missile crisis. And the Chaco War featured record-breaking casualties due in large part to bad planning on both sides, as Bolivia and Paraguay each planned to sensibly fight a defensive war of attrition—to win with Muhammad Ali "rope-a-dope" style—but each turned into the dope and attacked. The two exhausted losers barely staggered to the finish line.

Our question is: Which of these four wars do you think was the stupidest?

Post a comment below to offer your answers to these questions (free site registration required). After two weeks, we’ll post the authors’ own POV on the answers.

For more details about the book, go to the authors’ web site,, or your local bookstores, or read the ACG review.