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I am pondering over the sentence:

無理な戦をして、國を縮めてはならぬ。

This is a warning against going for a war. From the second part it clearly refers to a "lost war". Maybe not a "total defeat", but nonetheless indicating the result.

While 有利 is defined as both "advantageous" and "profitable" (利益のあること), definitions of 無理 which I have found so far, do not directly indicate the result, they only refer to conditions. I see no indication 無理 is an antonym of 有利 in the meaning of "profitable" (like could be inferred from the sentence above).

Not all wars fought in unfavourable conditions end up in a defeat (M. Gladwell suggested as much as 30% are victorious in "David and Goliath").

Is the phrase 無理な戦 a synonym of 負け戦 (including/especially when used a priori) or is this meaning only inferred in the above sentence?

Would the following reasoning sound natural in Japanese:

無理な戦をして、勝ってもコストが高い。

Likewise saying a posteriori 無理だった: is it just admitting the result, or does it infer some insight that the conditions for a failed action were unfavourable? Or both?

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  • 「無理」is not an antonym of 「有利」.「不利」 is. – l'électeur Oct 17 '15 at 0:36
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    Did you mean to say コストが高い? – mirka Oct 17 '15 at 3:46
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This is a really interesting question! Here is just my way of looking at it.

“無理な X” does not really specify which aspects of X are 無理 (= extremely difficult, near impossible, or unreasonable). This is a little different from 負け戦 — which by the way can also be used a priori — because it's specified that the impossibility is in the winning/losing part.

So yes, 無理な戦 does not have to mean “a war that is impossible to win” or “a war that will be lost”. It can mean a grueling war, a costly war, etc. Therefore, 無理な戦をして勝っても〜 is a valid phrase.

I think you can see how 無理な〜 does not imply anything about the actual outcome, being that all these sentences are valid:

  1. 無理なスケジュールを組んでプロジェクトを終わらせた
  2. 無理なスケジュールを組んで完成したけど風邪を引いた
  3. 無理なスケジュールを組んで失敗した

or

  1. 無理なお願いをして協力してもらう
  2. 無理なお願いをして断られる

The interesting thing is, the phrase 無理だった is almost always an admission of failure. It almost never means “It was very difficult (but I succeeded)”. It's usually to the effect of “It couldn't be done”.

So these two sentences are not equivalent:

  1. 無理な交渉だった
    It was a difficult/unreasonable negotiation (which may or may not have succeeded)
  2. 交渉は無理だった
    The negotiation couldn't be done (in the sense that the negotiation couldn't be completed to success, or that it couldn't even happen in the first place)

The difference is even more notable when you add 〜けど. You expect very different things to come after the but:

  1. 無理な交渉だったけど〜
    It was a difficult/unreasonable negotiation, but [it succeeded]
  2. 交渉は無理だったけど〜
    The negotiation couldn't be done, but [I did something else instead]
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無理 isn't so much 'unprofitable' or 'failed' or 'lost' as it is 'pointless' or 'not worth trying'. 無理だった is a statement that an attempt could never have succeeded in the first place, not merely that it failed.

To my ears, there's a clear difference between 負け戦 and 無理な戦. A 負け戦 is simply lost, and that's that; there's nothing else implied about the war. A 無理な戦 should never have been waged in the first place.

Thus,

無理な戦をして、國を縮めてはならぬ。

means something more like 'do not shrink your country (your country's lifespan?) by engaging in a pointless war'. It's not a warning against losing, it's a warning against biting off more than you can chew.

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  • And what about my supplementary question? Is the sentence 無理な戦をして、勝ってもコースとが高い strange? – macraf Oct 17 '15 at 1:58
  • @macraf It sounds strange to me to say 無理な戦をして勝つ. If it's truly 無理, winning is impossible, not just difficult. – Sjiveru Oct 17 '15 at 2:19

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