eli5 Why is it so important to „capture“ the capital city in a war?


Does it really change the outcome of the war? Does a country fall when the capital city is captured?

In: 462

Because it’s the seat of government, most of the ruling and leading the war is going to be done there, and it will be harder to lead a country somewhere else that doesn’t have that infrastructure.

Also it’s a symbolic thing as well. That country couldn’t protect its most important city, that would demoralize their forces.

One of two reasons. If the opposing government is still operating out of the capital, capturing the capital means capturing the government. Capturing the government means controlling the opposing side. You can imprison their leaders, or kill them, or ransom them in exchange for surrender. If the opposing government *isn’t* operating out of the capital, then capturing the capital lets you install your own puppet government for the country instead. This gives your puppet government a legitimacy bonus.

The importance of the capital in modern times is more symbolic in most cases, as governments can easily relocate. However, the capital is usually (but not always) the most populous city and often the most important economic centre. Losing the capital means losing a *lot* of people and power. If the enemy has soldiers walking into the capital’s streets, the war is pretty much over. The people know that the government can’t protect them in their safest place, so resistance will often collapse and with no one in the capital to take over, defeat is all but guaranteed.

The war can still continue, but it becomes much more difficult to continue without a centralised government and command structure.

This was the rationale behind Russia’s strike on Kyiv last February. If they succeeded, they could have paralysed the Ukrainian response as their civilian and many military leaders would have been captured. Without a central coordinated command, the units in the field would be less likely to coordinate defensive moves and be taken down individually by other forces.

But taking the capital isn’t always the “instant win” condition. Many countries have strong economic and military centres elsewhere, especially if the country is very big. Washington DC, for example, is hardly a large important city. It is symbolic, but the President and Congress often aren’t even there and can relocate to any number of more distant locations and the military is much more spread out across the country. So if Canada marches down and burns the White House again, you end up with a lot of pissed off Americans.

If the US invades Canada and captures Ottawa in the first week, I don’t think most people would notice.

Government, parliament and top officials like the head of State are usually in the capital city. Until you have a half-functioning government in charge you haven’t captured the whole country, because the parliament and government can still enact laws (maybe assigning extraordinary powers), the top government officials are still there and so on.

There’s obviously the symbolic part of it. You’re disrupting their government. They look powerless. Also, most countries are oriented around their capitals. They’re massive logistical hubs. You’re damaging their ability to wage war.