war of nerves

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war of nerves (plural wars of nerves)

  1. (idiomatic) Warfare or other physical conflict in which one or more combatting parties use especially demoralizing and frightening tactics to attempt to unnerve their opponents.
    • 1915, Liman von Sanders Pasha, Field Marshal of Turkish forces at Gallipoli, quoted in "Says Turks Will Soon Expel British," New York Times, 9 Aug., p. 2 (retrieved 24 Aug. 2010):
      "Our brave Ottoman soldiers are not easily frightened by noise, owing to their splendid nerves—and this is a war of nerves, a war in which strong nerves mean victory."
    • 1939, Sir John Anderson quoted in "Women's Service if War Comes," Glasgow Herald, 11 May (retrieved 24 Aug. 2010):
      "In the future, war will not merely be one of men and machines, it will be a war of wills and a war of nerves."
  2. (idiomatic, by extension) A situation in which opposed parties refrain from direct conflict but maintain a tense, contentious relationship in which each uses annoyances or intimidating psychological tactics to attempt to dishearten and unnerve the other.
    • 1966, "Steel Industry Appears To Be Victor in Battle of Prices," The Free Lance-Star (USA), 5 Aug. p. 1 (retrieved 24 Aug. 2010):
      A united steel industry appeared to have emerged the victor today in a war of nerves to raise prices on some of its products in the face of White House pressure to hold the price line.
    • 1983, "Small Town Host Big Time Chess Tourney," Daytona Beach Morning Journal, 18 July, p. 8A (retrieved 24 Aug. 2010):
      14 of America's best chess players are wielding kings, queens and their chessboard servants in a silent but brutal war. . . . "It's a mental war, it's a war of nerves, of logic, or reasoning, of being a good fighter," said Walter Browne.
    • 2009, Oleg Shchedrov, "Russia fears Korea conflict could go nuclear," Reuters India, 27 May (retrieved 24 Aug. 2010):
      "We assume that a dangerous brinkmanship, a war of nerves, is under way, but it will not grow into a hot war," the official told Tass.