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Our experience in Vietnam has exposed a major flaw in the usual theories concerning limited war. The flaw lies in a failure to acknowledge and elaborate a basic difference between "limited" and "total" war: limited war entails the appreciable chance of a limited outcome or even failure. Unlike the polar case of total war, such an outcome may be preferable to accept even though means exist for altering it that are not used. A nation may initiate and conduct a limited war while resolved to prefer defeat rather than go beyond a certain level of "cost." The costs defining this boundary may be measured in various units and they may be current or accumulated costs. A mathematical representation of the choice among limited and less-limited options is appended.

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