war of nerves

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war of nerves (plural wars of nerves)

  1. (idiomatic) a psychologically manipulative approach to warfare that involves tactics intended to demoralize, frighten and unnerve opponents in order to prompt surrender.
    • 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.