How to Win Wars: The Role of the War Narrative

  • Tone Kvernbekk
  • Ola Bøe-Hansen
Part of the Argumentation Library book series (ARGA, volume 31)


One might think it is obvious in a military conflict who has won and who has lost. But is it? It seems to be commonly accepted that the Americans actually lost the Vietnam War, even though they won all or most of the actual battles on the ground. Wars, modern military theory states, are not won on the battlefield – they are won in people’s minds, in the cognitive domain. To secure the support of the population for participating in military operations a government must therefore present good, persuasive reasons. Such reasons have come to be called “war narratives”. A war narrative can be seen as a reason whose job it is to bolster the conclusion that participation in a war, often far away from home territory, is legitimate and right. In this chapter we discuss the content and function of war narratives: what they say; why they arise; the audiences they are aimed at, and how they fare over time. This latter issue is particularly important, we suggest, because war narratives may erode if or when counter-evidence piles up as military events unfold. If that happens the narrative becomes a liability to its narrator. The audience becomes skeptical and retracts its support – the narrative fails to persuade and the war might be lost.


Cognitive Domain Security Council Target Audience Strategic Communication Universal Audience 
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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EducationUniversity of OsloOsloNorway
  2. 2.Department of Veterans AffairsNorwegian Armed ForcesOsloNorway

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