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A limited war is a conflict in which the belligerents participating in the war do not expend all of each of the participants' available 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 specific participants to be able to utilize all of an areas resources rather than part of them. Limited war is an opposite of the concept of total war.


American Indian

Many American Indian groups practiced limited warfare or similar behaviors. Eastern groups at the time of contact with Europeans often wouldn't kill all enemies; they would capture many for adoption to replenish their own populations. This is related to mourning wars. The Aztec did flower wars to keep subordinate nations symbolically defeated as well as capture sacrificial victims (who were symbolically adopted). These wars left non-combatants and materials without risk of physical harm.

Crimean War

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Lord Palmerston decided to fight a limited war against Russia, since waging a total war would have required massive reform of the armed forces.

Falklands War

Often seen as a "textbook example of a limited war - limited in time, in location, in objectives and in means",[1] the Falklands War was fought over the course of 10 weeks and ended with a little over a thousand casualties on both sides.

Korean War

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." --President Harry S. Truman[2]

Vietnam War

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

The War of Attrition was fought between Israel and Egypt from 1967 to 1970 and mostly consisted of artillery shelling, aerial warfare, and small scale raids.


  1. Lawrence, Freedman, "Britain and the Falklands War"(Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988), p. 1. Print.
  2. Appleby, Joyce Oldham. "Different Viewpoints." The American Republic since 1877. New York: Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, 2005. 664-65. Print.

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