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Military History

I must thank communicator for providing me with a link to a US Army War College Strategic Studies Institute document about the war in Iraq. These kind of reports are produced by the defence forces with the aim of drawing out the lessons of campaigns. They can be very frank and are not intended to be circulated outside the military.

In the first part of his lecture, Professor Black spoke about changes in the way that the Second World War has been analysed. If we go back 30 years ago or so, the prevailing theory of warfare was that the side that deploys the most resources wins.

This total war outlook differed greatly from the 19th Century approach, which concentrated almost entirely on the battle. The cost and indecisiveness of battles of the Great War led to a drift away from this approach.

During the 1970s and 80s, combat effectiveness was reckoned in terms of relative killing power of armies. If, to use my earlier entry on Saidor) as an example, the American force loses 40 and the Japanese force of the same size loses 119, then there is a 3:1 effectiveness ratio. Historians like Trevor DuPuy created mathematical models that took various factors such as weather, terrain and fortifications into account.

These models confirmed the effectiveness of the German Army in the Second World War. There were a few problems with this. The most obvious being that they lost the war. This was explained away by the resources approach, which boils down to their being overwhelmed by greater numbers, in line with the then prevailing theory of warfare.

The computerised armies had a disturbing aspect, a tendency to fight on to annihlation, when we know that real armies do not behave that way. Clearly, there are human factors at work here. And this leads us to what is called a Cultural Theory of Warfare.

Professor Black made this point forcefully: wars are not won by winning battles, although it certainly can help. They are won by convincing the other side to give up.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
29th Jul, 2004 06:36 (UTC)
A book I think you might find interesting is 'The Body in Pain' by Elaine Scarry, which was recommended to me by altariel1. This starts with a long discussion of torture, and then a long section on warfare, and concludes with a section on Biblical and artistic attitudes to the body and language. I read the first bit most closely, because that's what I have been thinking about lately, with world events as they are. In the section on war she discusses what it means to defeat an enemy, and she covers some of the ground you mention here. It is relevant to the discussion of the Iraq conflict too, because the unequivocal surrender of the Iraqi government has not resulted in the unequivocal voctory of the Allied forces.

29th Jul, 2004 07:34 (UTC)
Professor Black made this point forcefully: wars are not won by winning battles, although it certainly can help. They are won by convincing the other side to give up.

Which anyone who watched 'Highlander: the Series' has known for years: "The winner is the one who gives up last."
29th Jul, 2004 16:53 (UTC)
True, though I'm not sure that everyone noticed that. But, certainly, that's the main reason I could attribute to Duncan's continual victories -- that he never gave up. Yes, he had to be a good enough swordsman to hold his own, but there always seemed to be a point in the battle where his opponent visibly gave up, and that's when Duncan killed him. Wheras Duncan never stopped fighting. Hmmmm, I suddenly see a commonality with Samurai Jack. (down, down, plot bunny, down!)
30th Jul, 2004 09:55 (UTC)
It would have been hard to miss if one saw the episode I'm thinking of, where it was stated in the text, in so many words - the guest Immortal had taught it to Duncan at some point in the past. Of course, I remember it because it makes a useful personal motto.

Go, plot bunny, go!!!
30th Jul, 2004 14:36 (UTC)
Can you remember which episode it was?

Go, plot bunny, go!!!
Okay, in concession to you, I have added it to the very bottom of the list (item #53), instead of ignoring it like I should have. The end result will probably be the same, though.

29th Jul, 2004 16:50 (UTC)
...wars are not won by winning battles, although it certainly can help. They are won by convincing the other side to give up.

Oh yes! Absolutely! That's the core of it all. The old adage "It takes one to make war and two to make peace" ties in with this -- because you have to remember that wars start because people decide to go to war, not because they have armies.

Which means that psychological warfare is more important than armies.

Which means that going to war against Iraq was almost the single most stupidest move the US could have taken. Because you can't fight fanatics with weapons, you have to fight them with ideas. After 9/11, the US had the moral high ground. Right now they're wading around in the marshes.

30th Jul, 2004 03:13 (UTC)
Or to put it another way, if you don't crack the morale/propaganda side of things, then you're in real trouble.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )