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The belligerents participating in limited war do not expend all of the resources at their disposal, whether human, industrial, agricultural, military, natural, technological, or otherwise in a specific conflict. This may be to preserve those resources for other purposes, or because it might be more difficult for the participants to use all of an area's resources rather than part of them. Limited war is the opposite concept to total war.
Many of the American Indian practised limited warfare or similar behaviors. Eastern groups at the time of contact with Europeans often would not kill all enemies; they would capture many for adoption to replenish their own populations. That is related to mourning wars. The Aztec did flower wars to keep subordinate nations symbolically defeated and capture sacrificial victims (who were symbolically adopted). The wars left noncombatants and materials without risk of physical harm.
At the beginning of the war there was strong disagreement between President Harry S. Truman and General Douglas MacArthur. Truman believed in containment of the North Koreans above the 38th Parallel. MacArthur, by contrast, pressed for destruction and routing of the Communists, and the disagreement escalated at the cost of his command and career, as his "[dis]respect [of] authority" would exasperate Truman and frustrate his limited war policy to contain the Communist North Koreans above the 38th Parallel. Truman's reasons for containment are as follows:
"The Kremlin [Soviet Union] is trying, and has been trying for a long time, to drive a wedge between us and the other nations. It wants to see us isolated. It wants to see us distrusted. It wants to see us feared and hated by our allies. Our allies agree with us in the course we are following. They do not believe that we should take the initiative to widen the conflict in the Far East. If the United States were to widen the conflict, we might well have to go it alone.... If we go it alone in Asia, we may destroy the unity of the free nations against aggression. Our European allies are nearer Russia than we are. They are in far greater danger.... Going it alone brought the world to the disaster of World War II.... I do not propose to strip this country of its allies in the face of Soviet danger. The path of collected security is our only sure defense against the dangers that threaten us."
The concept of limited war was also used in the Vietnam War by the United States under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson as part of a strategy to contain the spread of Communism without provoking a wider confrontation with the Soviet Union.
War of Attrition
Often seen as a "textbook example of a limited war - limited in time, in location, in objectives and in means", the Falklands War was fought over the course of 10 weeks and ended with a little over a thousand casualties on both sides.
The Falklands War cannot be considered a "limited war" because both sides utilized the bulk of their military strength in the conflict to complete total victory despite the time it would take, the location, objectives or means. In fact the Falklands should be considered the exact opposite of limited war. Both sides used all branches of their services in large numbers to achieve a well defined and particular objective to achieve complete victory.
NATO bombing of Yugoslavia
The NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, part of the Kosovo War, was a limited war from NATO's side. NATO predominantly used a large-scale air campaign to destroy Yugoslav military infrastructure from high altitudes.
- Osgood, Robert Endicott. "Limited War: The Challenge To American Security." University of Chicago Press, 1957. pp. 1-2. Print.
- Appleby, Joyce Oldham. "Different Viewpoints." The American Republic since 1877. New York: Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, 2005. pp. 664-65. Print.
- Lawrence, Freedman, "Britain and the Falklands War"(Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988), p. 1. Print.
- Florian Bieber; Zidas Daskalovski (2 August 2004). Understanding the War in Kosovo. Routledge. pp. 325–. ISBN 978-1-135-76155-4.