The Perfect War

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Dr. Sanity has a wonderful article about the demand for an antiseptically perfect war, with no collateral damage, no casualties (certainly no bystanders), and everything wrapped up in a nice little package before the attention span of the american public, attuned to half-hour television programs, begins to wane.

Voctor Davis Hanson discusses some of the alternatives to decisions and where they might have led.

The first thing I want to ask the people who expect this is: When is the last time you saw a casualty-free game of chess? I used to be fairly good, not a master but good enough to win two class championships. I have never seen a game that didn't have casualties in the form of pieces taken from the board. For all the chess stuff I used to read, I've never heard of one. A so-called Fool's Mate (The fastest possible end to the game) takes a pawn, in addition to the king. Furthermore, it's ridiculously easy to guard against, and even attempting it between players above the level of rank novice is considered insulting. Furthermore, stronger players have in their repertoire the ability to take advantage of the fact that their opponent even makes the attempt.

This translates over to real war, as well. Yet there are those that would have us act as if our opponents were rank novices, and act as if not doing so is obviously stupid and unreasonable. Karl von Clausewitz, whose 1832 manuscript "On War" has one of the defining quotes of warfare in general: "War is very simple, but in War the simplest things become very difficult."

War is not a chessboard. Real War, particularly the war we find ourselves in at the moment, is nothing like a chessboard, and yet there are principles that translate. There are at least two participants who are doing their absolute best to inflict defeat on the other. The board does not stand still; you need to figure out what your opponent is going to do while you're doing what you intend to them. You need to frustrate your opponent's designs at the same time carrying out your own. Opportunity is where it happens or where you make it. And there is no such thing as the Perfect Game or the Perfect War outside of the realm of fantasy.

When you assume your opponent is incompetent, you lay yourself open to serious losses when they prove you wrong. Indeed, this itself is a strong indicator of incompetence, and Arminius is one of the earliest recorded leaders to take such advantage of a lazy, incompetent opponent who thought he could never be seriously challenged, although he's hardly the only one.

Our opponents the Islamists are not incompetent. Militarily, they cannot match our soldiers, but the evidence is overwhelming that at least their upper echelons are well aware of this. Economically, they cannot hope to match us in the logistical support we give our soldiers. Wars are fought with money and supply lines as much as with bullets and men; indeed history records examples from Pyrrhus of Epirus and Hannibal Barca forward where the men of one side outfought the other, but that side lost the war anyway.

But the most important leg upon which a war effort is founded is the will to resist, as we rediscovered in Vietnam. Our soldiers outfought the communists, our economy out-supplied the communists, but our people lacked the will to carry through to victory, and so we suffered an ignominious defeat whose consequences we are still suffering today. I've mentioned this before, but Sun Tzu's words from 2500 years ago never stop being true: "Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting." Will to fight is the all-important consideration in war. You can have the best soldiers, the best equipment, the most ammunition, the best leadership, the best strategy, and everything else.

But if you haven't got the will to use them, you shouldn't have bothered. You've wasted your time, your money, and your effort to procure them.

Now, there will be those reading this who will say, "That's precisely my point!" because they want the money it took to produce and use these things spent elsewhere. They don't want us to ever use our military, many do not even want us to have one. They want the resources used elsewhere, so they fight their use in military applications. This is a political self-fulfilling prophecy, and their will not to fight is the closest thing to an insurmountable barrier we face in this war. They have, from the beginning of this war, been doing their best to wear down our will to fight from within. Going back to the first principles from The Art of War, they are doing everything they can to break our resistance from the inside. "Showing the 9/11 images is upsetting," and so they don't get played in the media or emphasized as needed by our government. Do you think Roosevelt, George Marshall, or our media of the 1940s allowed our grandparents to forget about Pearl Harbor? Not on your life. The reminders were all over the place until well after VJ day.

The argument the anti-war crowd is making most consistently is "Our leaders have made mistakes!" Now, if you've studied military, political, or mercantile trade history in any depth, you know this is about the same as saying "water is wet". Mistakes are going to happen in any war. It is endemic to any situation where you have an active intelligence planning against you, and war is certainly that. It's like saying "fire is hot," because the inevitable consequence is some people are going to get burned. It is one of the strongest reasons to avoid war; war is nonetheless sometimes, as now, the least harmful course - provided you have the will and make the effort necessary to win. But there is no such thing as a Perfect War. We often hear cheerleading about World War II, but the fact is that FDR and George Marshall didn't have to deal with a hostile media and anti-war organizations doing their best to tear down the plans the whole war, not to mention opportunistic political opponents willing to do anything for power or the hope of power. Indeed, the Republican candidate for president in 1944 pointedly refused to criticize the war effort despite such spectacular mistakes as putting off the invasion of France in favor of the Italian campaign that wasted a year and tens of thousands of lives. Churchill's "soft underbelly of Europe" was anything but. Whereas it may have looked to the politicians an easier target, the generals knew better but obeyed their political masters (Our troops were still fighting in Italy when Germany surrendered). Indeed, although our domestic oppostion to the war is horrified by the idea of slavery, their intellectual tradition dates back to the Copperheads of 1864, who would have made peace with the Confederacy on generous terms, allowing slavery to continue with no definite end in sight.

More Sun Tzu: "The best warfare strategy is to attack the enemy's plans, next is to attack alliances, next is to attack the army, and the worst is to attack a walled city." Well, walled cities are different than they were in Sun Tzu's day, but that does not effect the validity of his point. The most elementary, bottom level plan of any war has to be to stay in in and keep fighting until the enemy gives up. If you cannot do that, you might as well not start, and indeed, you shouldn't start. It doesn't matter if you're leading the marathon, ten miles ahead of the next runner. If you give up and walk off the course with five meters to go, you didn't win and you didn't finish. Everyone who simply didn't give up will beat you. You are a loser.

"But you're missing the point!" some of you will say, "We shouldn't have been in this war at all!"

To which I respond: No, you have missed the point. The time to make that argument was before the war began. Even if you said so then, the decision has been made, and it went against you. The decision you have to make now is whether it is more important that the United States and its allies prevail, or that the other side do so. There is no "We didn't mean it!" in war. The notion of our leaders being out of control warmongers is pure wishful thinking on behalf of their political opponents. Nor will we be able to escape the consequences of losing if we quit. This is realpolitik. There is an idea that the United States has not got the willpower for a sustained war effort, and never will. There is significant evidence that it is true, and every time we quit the battlefield we have won while our opponents have not yet given up, we bolster every future would-be opponent. If you're playing a baseball team that walks off the field in the fourth inning of every game, you know you'll win every game by forfeit. The idea carries over into realpolitick. If our opponents know we will quit before the end, they will know that anyone can beat us. Given that knowledge, there is no reason for the dictators of the world, religious or otherwise, not to do so. They don't care how bad things might get for their people for a while, they don't care about how many of their people die, they only need to know that they'll win in the end, and they will fight. Unlike a liberal democracy with all of our rights, they can make their domestic opposition disappear.

The time to discuss whether we will fight has now passed. Like it or not (and I don't), we are at war, and the options are whether we win or the Islamists do. Nor is this a war of aggression on our part, as so many have attempted to paint it. The Islamists have told us exactly what they intend doing to us, and acted in a manner entirely consistent with their stated intentions. Every so often they or some of their apologists mouth some words to the effect of "nice doggie!" because diplomacy is the art of saying "nice doggie!" until you find a big enough stick and they seem to be fresh out of sticks at the moment. But those words are for the accommodationists and appeasers within our own ranks; among themselves, when they think the West is not listening, they are brutally frank about their intentions and plans, and you can find the reports on the internet pretty easily if you look. And they will find more, bigger sticks if we only let them.

Once you begin a war, you are in it until the end. You can realize this and attempt to make it a happy ending for civilization, or you can look for the nearest exit and face consequences orders of magnitude worse than sticking it through. Korea, although a draw on the battlefield, was a strategic victory in that it taught the communists that they could fight the west with peasant soldiers on a modern battlefield, and planted the first seeds that we were not mentally capable of a long war. Vietnam, where we won on the battlefields but left the job unfinished and our allies unsupported, gave communism a boost where it would otherwise have fallen apart years earlier than it did. Without the morale boost from Vietnam that gave them the successes in Africa, Central America, and elsewhere, communism would have rotted from within significantly earlier.

The Islamists cannot match our troops, our training, our economy that supports those troops. But they have other weapons at their disposal, weapons that we deny ourselves. They are willing to brutally murder non-combatants. They are willing to abuse the civilized covenants of sanctuary. Most importantly, they have learned from the successes of the communists in fighting us. They know there is an element within our society that "refuses in any circumstances to fight for King and Country" (as this article shows, they haven't changed), and indeed, will do their best to break our will to resist from within. The Islamists are doing their best to encourage this group, by the way, as for instance Saddam Hussein's cultivation of "Red Ken" Livingstone, among many other activities, illustrates. They know that every time there are casualties, of whatever number or nature, this segment of our society will seize upon it anew as proof that we shouldn't have gone to war, misinterpreting as evidence of faulty planning.

This claim is nonsense. In fact, it's not only blind stupidity, it's suicidal blind stupidity. Yes, people die in war. They get hurt, crippled, maimed for life. I'm trying to keep the language here civil, so I cannot begin to adequately convey how bad this is. The alternative is far worse. If our opponents know we have no stomach for any casualties, they will inflict them upon us at every opportunity to force us to retreat lest we have more casualties. This is simple application of the principle of breaking the will to resist. If any would-be opponent knows how to break our will to resist, we will become a nation that can win no wars. If we can win no wars, potential opponents will make certain we fight, or actually, don't fight, more and more of them. History has not been kind to nations that could not fight or could not win wars. They don't last very long.

Those members of our military who have volunteered to stand in the front lines of our defense know that a certain number of them are not going to come back. They are willing to undertake those risks in order to guard us all. But that it does guard us all is necessary to the equation. If the equation becomes "As soon as a few of you get knocked off, we'll quit!" they won't volunteer in the first place. It defeats the entire purpose of their volunteering. Instead, those so inclined will go find some other civilization to guard, as ours will be doomed.


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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on April 22, 2006 1:55 PM.

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