A defeated army and a broken one are two different things. An army merely defeated in battle can often make successful withdrawals, reform itself, and reconstitute its strength—as Rome did after its humiliation at Cannae, eventually destroying its great rival, Carthage. But when whole armies break, when they lose their will to fight, the whole nation can likewise break. That is what happened to the great empires in World War I. It is also the fate awaiting the Ukrainian army.

How does a nation at war get to a place where its fighters refuse to fight?

Part of what breaks an army is attrition, which results from both casualties and the trauma that comes along with battlefield losses. Trauma among the still-living wears them down. Their vitality as a fighting force leaks out from those untouched as much as from the wounded, as ardor and hope—the energies on which combat performance depends—keep seeping out.

“How much wearing down can an army take before it breaks down?”

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