... if instead just a few individual ships clashed in a quickly forgotten "bush war" of some sort
]The events of Balance of Terror have alway lead me to believe that the war was fairly large, or even huge. A hundred years later the neutral zone is still being monitored, I feel (personal opinion) that if
the "Earth/Romulan" war was a short lived orgy of violence culminating in a treaty (but not a surrender), we would not still have a monitored zone, not even one
that was consider a low priority back water assignment.
A multiple year, extremely high casualty war would have a more likely chance of creating a long term effect upon a later society. So instead of the Battle of Gettysburg in a small area with tens of thousands of casualties over three days -- a war more like the Second World War that would span hundreds of star systems and consume life by the tens (or hundreds) of millions on all sides.
A war that would psychologically mark later generations, who would insist on still maintaining a North/South Korea DMZ like wall in space.
The forthcoming book, Federation: The First 150 Years, looks like it's going to feature it's own version of the Romulan War.
It will be entertaining to read a different interpretation of the Romulan War from the the one in the resent novels. Contrast the two and see which is "better."
Of the all the various versions of the war, I personally favor the one in the Starfleet Museum website.