Friday, December 4, 2009

Short History of Warfare and Its Contemporary Failure

I'm looking at what should be a pretty complex issue, however as usual I will most likely ovrsimplify things, for easier writing and easier comprehension of the basic points I'll be making (a tactic that can often be mistaken-sometimes correctly- for me not wanting to melt my brain with hard thinking) today.

"War's very object is victory, not prolonged indecision. In war, there is no substitute for victory" --General Douglas MacArthur

The quote seems simple enough, as it should be. Most things in this world are simple, until someone with a more than just an ounce of intelligence starts scrutinizing them and pondering enough scenarios to fill a library, along with those who choose to counter with their own thoughts. The human mind is capable of a lot, which has led to much good, much bad, and much ugly things in our world.

War fits the latter two categories. War is very often the result of disagreements over simple things. One man disparages another man's ego, and suddenly a duel is in place for them to settle their differences, no matter how many people are dragged into their conflict, willingly or otherwise. Rhetoric is ratcheted up on both sides, in the hopes of compelling others of their own righteousness, and possible allies in their "fight against evil."

War and Politics have been intertwined with each other since the invention of both. In the beginning, politics often led to war. Then the armies fought it out, with total victory in mind. While politics played a role int he war, it was often mere infighting as to who got to do what, and who gets credit for this or that. But neither side ever deviated from the main goal, which was to dominate and eliminate the enemy until the point of surrendering. Many times, the same war was fought between the same opponents, multiple times, with just a different name assigned to each particular conflict. While armies decimated each other, it was a back and forth of unsettled politics between the foes, with certain stretches of 'peace' between the events.

One example of this would be the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. American authorities and British authorities had squabbles, first resulting in the war for our Independence. Later, political and economic reasons, led us back into war with the British. Since that point, both countries have gotten along for the most part, keeping a more peaceful temperament with each other. There are of course, thousands of other examples, such as European Empires fighting back and forth over the centuries, but I'm not going to muddy the waters by including each and every one of them.

You look at politics even in the Civil War. Politicians shaped the arguments, engaged the people, next thing you know, America is imploding on itself in all out war. Strategy was largely determined by generals. Occasionally the Commanders-in-Chief would step in if a general wasn't doing his job, which was create victories. Lincoln was forced to re-assign, or outright remove many generals for their failures, ineptitudes, or downright unwillingness to take the fight to the enemy on multiple occasions, but we wont get into specifics on that today.

The last "conventional war' that was ever really fought, at least as far as American involvement goes, was World War 2. Armies were identified with clear distinction, and the name of the game was killing the enemy and taking land, chunk by chunk, until the enemy surrendered. Even within this war, political infighting was apparent within the ranks of any given country's military and government, as well as between nations and their allies. But, as I mentioned earlier, in the end, the goal was clear. Tactics and basic strategy may have changed, depending on the situation on the ground, but the overall strategy was simple: Defeat the enemy everywhere you meet him, and drive him back to his home. He can choose die or to surrender. There are NO other underlying circumstances to be optioned. You send out your soldiers to win the war, so they can come home.

Well, World War 2's ending saw something a bit different than that. After victory was declared, many nations' armies occupied enemy territory even as peace was assumed. Two superpowers emerged in the world. First was America, who had helped greatly the efforts of Europe to get out of the Nazi chokehold, while also battling the Japanese on the other side of the world. Second was Russia, who depsite losing tens of millions of soldiers, had kept Germany from expanding its control over them, and helping the allies make headway into Europe by obliging Hitler's attempt at a two front war. Disagreements were rampant between the allies and the Soviets over who got control of where, and a nearly 45 year standoff ensued known as the Cold War.

Enter Politics not only as the decider of when war would be waged, but where it would be engaged, how it would be fought, and to what extent it would be fought. The world was suddenly divided into two camps. You either supported America and Capitalism, or the Soviets and the Communist form of government and economics. True, some countries essentially tried to stay out of the mess, but the majority of countries around the globe found themselves tied more to one side or the other. Again this is a vast oversimplification. If you want a lot more intricate detail, you can find a wealth of knowledge from a fellow blogger, Scott, over at

America soon adopted a foreign policy that was designed around the idea of stopping the spread of communism, whereever in the world it may show its face. Our next major conflict found American forces in Korea. The Korean peninsula divided itself up. You had the communist regime controlling the north supported by the Chinese, while leadership in the south attempted to avoid communism, enlisting the help of America to repel communist forces. It was a drawn out conflict, which technically still exists today. Peace is fragile under a truce, as neither side could force the other side to surrender, and technically the two sides remain at war. While militarily the war could have been won, politics played a major role in deciding just how far American forces would go. For all the sabre-rattling America did as a government in response to the "communist threat", she did not wish to fully engage China or Russia into the war. The threat of nuclear war was always there, as the Soviets had developed their own arsenal in response to America's nuclear capabilities (and history of use at the end of WWII), and neither side wanted to test the resolve of the other. Evnetually the 38th parallel was drawn as the dividing line, and the Korean peninsula remains divided to this day.

Years later, after Vietnam had won its independence from France, America had its own advisors in the south of Vietnam, helping fight and train with their armies, while Ho Chi Minh led a communist movement from the north. Minh' splan was to keep Vietnam unified under a communist banner. America and the south Vietnamese were determined to repel the communists.

While guerilla warfare has always been used in conjunction with conventional war tactics, this was the first war in which America found itself on the opposite end of a well sustained guerilla movement. American forces were harassed daily by guerilla forces consisting not only of regular army units, but iregular units as well. And interesting turning of the tables, considering these tactics were used successfully by the Americans in their own war for independence from Britain. While taking massive casualties through this long drawn out war, the American forces had successfully repelled guerilla attacks as well as win every major military engagement during this time. However, politics was playing a heavy hand in this engagement. American Commander of the Army, General William Westmoreland, asked for and received the troops he asked for to fight this war. Militarily we had the ability to engage the enemy and drive them back to Hanoi. Politically, we were not willing to do so, give the possibility of threat from the Chinese and the Soviets, and what that meant as far as possible large scale war again.

And so today we look at current American war zones, Iraq and Afghanistan. Militarily winnable wars. However, we have also engaged a multitude of other objectives, such as the spreading of democracy, stability of the governments and the regions as a whole, and I'm sure a host of other things, that Scott can go into more detail about.

These days, almost no war is winnable under the whole sense. No country seems to be willing to define just what victory is (Hat tip to Classicliberal2 for pointing that out. Note, this link wil take you to his blog, not the specific comment. He's very smart, and write's well thought out commentary. Despite he and I often disagreeing on most things political, its a good conversation and learning experience)
Victory these days, is so multi-sided that we send off our soldiers to go fight battle after battle, usually with no idea what the actual goal is. I mean sure, from the young soldiers perspective, go find and kill the enemy. But the macro scale of what the war is about, or what defines victory is often shielded from or completely incomprehensible to the common soldier.

And to a certain extent, I think that part of the PTSD we see in soldiers these days is the direct result of constant political shifting of the winds in regards the war (and not necessarily our ability to diagnose it better than in the past). A soldier fights small and large battles, but with no clear direction on where to go. The mission changes every day, victory is either not defined very clearly, or defined at all, bsides some vagueries thrown out by the higher ups. And sometimes I wonder if THEY even know what the overall objective is.

There is a lot of conjecture on both sides (pro- and anti-war) as to why we are in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq is winding down, we hope. Afghanistan is heating up again, after what seemed to be a long time stuck in a holding pattern. Some wish we'd pull out immediately, which comes with serious political implications. Others say we ought to throw more soldiers (which the President has decided to do on a smaller scale) at the effort there in Afghanistan (which also has serious political implications).

These days, the idea of a pure war do not exist. They are entirely too intertwined with politics, which are often filled with a whole lot of 'what-ifs" to function as they were intended. Which really makes it a disgrace and a show of dishonor to our troops to send them places to do things to which there is no real end game. We send them off to foreign lands to either babysit, or to inflict, view and experience death on a daily basis, only to someday bring the live ones back, and having accomplished nothing but the shedding of some blood. Also to is the concept of fighting a moral war, that somehow we can change the rules of engagement to make it somehow better. This can only be accomplished in the circles of theoretical, but misguided minds.

As a military history buff, and a former member of the military, I make it my official position that unless we can define our goals and just what victory is, our government has no business sending our troops anywhere. Let them stay here in the states and territories with their families, ready to defend our own citizens, until a clear need to dispatch them away to far off lands actually arises, and then, and only then, with a clear plan in place for the military to do what it does best.
If we adhere to such standards, I think that the relatively few wars we would actually engage in would be far more supported by the people here at home, which in turn would make it a less politically divisive issue to tear each other and our leaders at the time down.


scotterb said...

Did my earlier comment not get saved. Shoot. I'll try to re-craft it tomorrow. It's too late tonight.

Mookie said...

Scott- you posted it to the post written just before this one, but copy&paste is wonderful and here is what you said:

VERY interesting and well developed post! (And I'm not just saying that because you said nice things about me). War indeed has run the gamut from being rape and pillage hordes of Vikings or Huns to 'the sport of kings' for European nobility. Some times massacres have been the norm, sometimes rituals with few deaths. Conflict is everywhere, how it gets handled has varied through history.

I think you are absolutely right that what we call "war" is in many ways a political military operation. When politicians cease seeing their military as young men and women who should only be put in harms way and forced to do things that might bother them forever only when absolutely necessary, and instead see them as a "political tool" to achieve abstract goals, then it is an abuse of the military.