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Vicarious warfare is descriptive of an approach to waging war that seeks to distance its means from its ends. In simple terms, it refers to the prospect of war on the cheap, fought at a reduced price in blood, treasure or political capital relative to ambition. This can manifest itself in behaviour at all levels and in all spheres of war, from the tactical to the strategic, from individual soldier to the wider populace. It is willed to varying extents by all major societal actors, whether political and military leaders or ordinary citizens. It is not synonymous with attempts to banish war from the human experience, as pacifists might desire; rather, the defining characteristic of vicariousness is the attempt by societies, however consciously or unconsciously, to loosen or untether the cords that bound the practice of war to its manifold costs and requirements while still seeking to reap its potential rewards.

In early human history, the conduct of war tightly tethered group members to one another and to its inescapable consequences. The fighting was immediate and bloody, usually close to home, and implicated almost everyone in a community whether directly or indirectly. Sacrifice was an expected and necessary thing. Given that the outcome of battle might determine a group’s chances of survival, it would not be entered into lightly, and decisions would typically be arrived at collectively. Accountability for leadership in war, entailing command in battle and sometimes lasting only for the duration of the immediate crisis, would be similarly direct, sometimes essentially decided by war itself.

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Vicarious Warfare
American Strategy and the Illusion of War on the Cheap
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