Yet despite effectively gaining victory, the government never pressed home its advantage and failed to take the opportunity to strangle the IRA, not at birth but at the moment when it was comparatively vulnerable. This mistake is now again returning to haunt us. The conflict is said to have been "resolved". It should have been won.
But Northern Ireland, this most historically atypical instance, is now thought to be the norm. Historically, conflicts do not end because both sides decide on some kind of a stalemate. Almost without exception, they end because one side wins and one side loses. Equally important, the side that wins knows that it has won, and the side that loses knows that it has lost.
And so in the British establishment vision, all modern conflict is expected to be played to a mutually-agreed stalemate. It is one of the reasons why a tiresome call now goes up in this country the moment any conflict begins: "Ceasefire." Gordon Brown and most other British politicians could be relied on during the recent Gaza operation to request a ceasefire straight away. Given that Hamas was being pretty successfully smashed by Israeli forces, a ceasefire should have been the last thing any enemy of terrorists would ask for. But the call goes out nonetheless and any army fighting a war can be certain that unless it achieves its objectives within hours of the start of conflict, British politicians will call for a return to the status quo ante as the most desirable objective.
When wars are brought to an end prematurely and with no clear victor, it is not the victorious end of war that is achieved, but - as we are currently being reminded - a false and unnatural peace.