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War typically concludes when one side cannot fulfill its political objectives. Sometimes both sides quit, as in the Korean War. But usually, as in Vietnam or the Balkans, violence ceases when one side is tired of losing more than it hopes to gain - and admits defeat.

If our leaders today could consult great generals like the Roman Scipio Africanus or William Tecumseh Sherman - who won what were once near-hopeless wars - they might receive the following advice:

• Prepare the public to shoulder human and financial costs.

• Be candid about why enduring the horrors of war now is preferable to risking even costlier violence later.

• Talk always of winning, never leaving or quitting a war.

• Have no apologies for crushing the enemy. The quicker the enemy loses, the fewer get killed on both sides.

• Inform the public of the other side’s losses just as you do your own.

• And be magnanimous to the defeated - after the war, not during the fighting.

Nation building may be fine and even necessary. But war always involves “a military solution.” How can there be economic prosperity or political stability if civilians are afraid of getting killed by enemy terrorists?

President Obama talked of many things in his recent Afghanistan speech. But he never once mentioned the words “victory” and “win.” All that may seem like an out-of-date idea to postmodern Americans. But it is still a very real one to the premodern Taliban, who seem to understand the ageless nature of war far better than we do.

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.