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Military History

Attended a lecture tonight (breaking all the records this year) by Professor Jeremy Black from the University of Exeter, research fellow at ADFA.

He is a noted 18th Century historian but illustrated most of his points with Second World War examples, that war being better known to the audience than most 18th Century conflicts.

Reading through Field Marshal Blamey's papers in the Australian War Memorial, he was impressed by the reports on operations. Written immediately after critical battles and campaigns, they give detailed reports on what happened with lists of lessons learned. The report on Malaya was available in time for the Papuan campaign; that on Papua came out in July 1943, in time for the lessons to be applied in New Guinea. They are by the participants themselves but are written in the blunt style typical of the Australian Army. I rely heavily on these reports myself.

Military History isn't as widely taught as you might think. Indeed, within the Australian Defence Force at the moment there is an internal arguement about its place in military training. Knowledge of military matters by policy makers at the present time and under the current dangerous circumstances is dangerously low, although I know that scientists and economists feel that way too.

At the end, he had a few things to say about the war going on in Iraq.

He said that events in Iraq were entirely predictable. I wouldn't go that far myself. Certainly I was able to predict rates of advance during the conventional phase very accurately; and the course of events from a military perspective. And it pains me to record that many of the problems being encountered were picked up the First Gulf War, in Vietnam and in some cases in World War II. But the politics is not my sphere so that part remined a mystery to me.

Some of you may be aware that the US military services are going through a difficult time at the moment. They have a war to fight with limited means and there is a lot of bitterness and resentment at the field officer level, reminiscent of the Vietnam era. There has been a resurgence of inter-service in-fighting. They feel that they are being blamed for the war and failures. They don't believe that the American people are behind them.

America is far more populous than Australia (293 M vs 20 M) and much richer (GDP/capita of US $37,800 vs $28,900). So we tend to think of America as all powerful. In fact the war has shown up American weakness and pointed to its limits.

The US Army has only 10 divisions, 3 of which (plus parts of the 2nd Infantry and 10th Mountain Divisions) are currently in Iraq. It is overstretched and overcommitted.

Professor Black remined us that in the 19th Century the French conquered most of West Africa with Senegalese troops under French commanders. Given all the money that the US has poured into Middle Eastern countries, why does it have to use so many of its own troops?

This shows up failings of American diplomacy. From a military historian's point of view, I would say that, unlike the British or French, the US Army has never been fond of the idea of non-American troops and officers leading native troops have not been favoured for promotion. This was especially noticable in Vietnam.

Professor Black felt that under the circumstances, a call to countries like Britain and Australia to take over US responsibilities, not neccessarily in Iraq.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
28th Jul, 2004 07:05 (UTC)
You might be interested in this US Army report on the costs of the Iraq war.


I have only just started to read it, but he seems to be saying that the war was relatively 'inexpensive', though my feeling is that this ignores some of the hidden costs. I think he also introduces an arbitrary cut-off of costs, between 'war' and 'occupation' which makes sense under old-style ideas about the parameters of war, but is a false distinction in the modern world.

In any case, I think you might find it interesting if you haven't seen it before.
28th Jul, 2004 07:09 (UTC)
there are links to further journalistic discussion of this paper here


Enemies who do a better job of exploiting the natural complexity of the Earth's surface for cover and concealment could pose much tougher targets - as we have already seen in the performance of al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan and Serbian forces in Kosovo. Our technology's performance is strongly affected by the nature of its targets, and our targets were extremely permissive in Operation Iraqi Freedom. If we overlook this, we could exaggerate our technology's potential against better-skilled enemies elsewhere.

I do believe that technology can only go so far to defeat hidden and embedded resistance.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )