Saturday, January 23, 2010

Lessons Never Learned

Generals and politicians are notoriously slow in the head when it comes to adapting military tactics to a changing world. And when they do try to adjust, the result is usually disastrous.

Traditional European tactics evolved from the Roman practice of finding an open field with nary a tree for cover , amassing two large bodies of soldiers standing fact to face and marching them towards each other Or, if they were really dumb, they'd march them towards the other’s fortifications

This was all fine and dandy in the age of the sword, spear or musket. However, the Civil War changed all that. It was the world’s first industrial war in which victory was not decided by tactics, courage, valor, glory or es spirit de corp. Victory was determined by who had the biggest industrial plant. An army doesn’t win anymore; it simply out produces the enemy.

And what both sides in the Civil War discovered was that it was downright deadly to move masses of men across an open field in the face of modern weaponry. (Gen. George Pickett learned that painful lesson at the Battle of Gettysburg.)

So, one would think that military leaders across the world would look at the carnage the Civil War produced and rewrite their manuals.

Didn’t happen.

World War I broke out and the fools tried using the same tactics of moving masses of men across open fields. The result was even more disastrous. It wasn’t until World War II that the generals finally caught on, even though a variation of this archaic tactic continued in the form of assorted amphibious landings. A stretch of water offers even less cover than an open field.

It’s a hard and fast rule of military tactics that one never gives up a tactic simply because it doesn’t work. In the face of failure, the response is more of the same.

The atomic bomb pretty much put an end to the age of industrial warfare. There’s not much sense if fighting an industrial style war if you are going to annihilate civilization. But, that didn’t stop leaders from churning out tons of military hardware designed for a form of warfare that had outlived its usefulness. The result was failure in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Fast forward to our Eternal War of the Empty policy in which the United States finds itself mired in two wars of aggression, a new record for America. If Vietnam should have taught our leaders one lesson, it’s that you can’t wage an industrial war against an insurgency. For one thing, most insurgents are bright enough to pass on amassing large bodies of men on an open field in order to march them towards the enemy. Nor does bombing the shit out of them work, as we painfully discovered in Viet Nam. Advanced technology much of an advantage in such a war.

This is a lesson we’re learning big time in Afghanistan. Nick Turse and Tom Engelhardt point out that, counting both active duty and reserve forces, the United States enjoys a 1,286:1 ratio over al Qaeda. However, this doesn’t stop our leaders from repeating over and over that al Qaeda represents a threat to the homeland and to the stability of Afghanistan and the Middle East.

This ignores the hard truth that al Qaeda doesn’t really exist. If two pissed-off Muslims sit down at a table and try to dream up ways of zapping the invading American forces, they are, ipso facto, an al Qaeda cell. As Turse and Engelhardt point out:

The Pentagon with its giant bureaucracy and its miles of offices and corridors, is the headquarters of the U.S. war effort, but there is no central al-Qaeda headquarters, not in Afghanistan or Pakistan—not anywhere. There is probably no longer an “al-Qaeda central.” Osama bin Laden has vanished or, for all we know, may be dead. Think of it, at best, as an open-source organization that is remarkably capable of replicating by a process of self-franchising.

Of course, this assumes that the reason we’re fighting our wars of aggression is to defeat al Qaeda. Not so. al Qaeda is simply a marketing tool to justify the continued existence of America’s number uno White Elephant, the Pentagon. Where once we branded nationalistic guerilla movements “communist,” we now call them “terrorists” or, even better, al Qaeda in (fill in the blank).

Of course, the reverse is true—al Qaeda needs the United States military to justify what remains of its existence.

I don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories, but I have to wonder… Look at how botched recent attempts to blow up airplanes have been. You had Richard Reid with his shoe bomb, the plot to blow up an airplane with a bottle of shampoo and, finally, the exploding underwear. In all three cases, scientist agreed that there was no way in hell the devices could have brought down an airplane.

Some call it stupidity, even though history has taught us that it’s not wise to think of your enemy as stupid. Could it be, instead, an example of tactical brilliance?

I’m sure al Qaeda, or any terrorists with a single cell of grey matter, realizes that to actually bring down an airplane would bring a firestorm of death and destruction down on their homes. One the other hand, al Qaeda wants to keep America’s knickers in a knot so we will continue to ramp up our military presence in the Middle East, thus making it easier to recruit more insurgents.

What better way is there to accomplish this than with botched up bombing attempts. The suicide bombers are thrilled with the idea because it means they avoid a premature death. Our leaders get to spaz out every time an attempt fails and we ramp up our military efforts up another notch. For both al Qaeda and the Pentagon it’s a win-win strategy.

Meanwhile, we are treated to the paradox that with every drone and bomb we explode the Taliban increases their control of the Afghan countryside. But hey! Industrial warfare worked in the past so there is no reason it won’t work in the future.

That’s what the military calls learning from experience.


david myers said...

You could be right about this being a conspiracy. Conspiritors ( political hacks and their corporate handlers - plutacrats) have intentionally trivialized and turned the phrase conspiracy theory into a disparaging label. This is so that when someone suspects that a conspiracy is taking place the conspirators can debunk that person's accusation immediatly by calling her/him a cospiracy theorist. I suspect there is some truth in a lot of conspiracy theories dismissed out of hand. Call this a conspiracy theory.

Case Wagenvoord said...

That's the beauty of any label. As soon as you hang it on somebody, they're marginalized.

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Ivan Hentschel said...

Many thanks to the investment advisor above: we really need this rude intrusion into an otherwise noble enterprise ( you big jerk).

At any rate: war( killing people, blowing things up, devastating countrysides and cultures) is a seemingly incurable form of male caucasian nostalgia or romantic (although bloody) reverie. Through this activity and via this line of thought, they continue to seek dominance over the world, as if they were Britian's Royal Navy or the Spaniards of the 1700's.

In today's world, however, it runs contrary to humanitarian needs and the against the dwindling resources of the planet.

And the song of war drones on and on.