Saturday, December 24, 2011

30 Days of Heinlein - Day 21

We make war as personal as a punch in the nose. We can be selective, applying precisely the required amount of pressure at the specified point at a designated time. We've never been told to go down and kill or capture all left-handed redheads in a particular area, but if they tell us to, we can. - Starship Troopers


My take - Heinlein wrote these words back when war was an overwhelmingly indiscriminate killer.  We can still wage war so that entire grid squares get burned to the ground, but we've invested decades of time and billions of dollars to create weapons and tactics that allow us to pick and choose our targets well enough that the deaths of bystanders is now considered an anomaly.

4 comments:

RauĆ°bjorn said...

But where has it gotten us? The last time we won a war against a foe with technological parity was WWII. At least once we've emerged less than victorious against foes with inferior equipment and tactics since. And no, changing the mission parameters mid-fight, does not count as a "win", neither does wrestling an aggressor to a standstill.

Of the three ways to win a war, only one has repeatedly proven itself both effective and morally tolerable; destruction of the enemies industrial base. And that means civilian deaths.

The propaganda war can win, but with only a small history of success I'd not bet on it as a primary method. While destroying the military (the current philosophy) is sound against a technologically inferior foe, it has proven unsound against one of roughly equal power.

Unless we're ready to commit to a protracted war of attrition, one lasting decades, surgical warfare is a way to win battles, but not a war.

North said...

Merry Christmas!

DaddyBear said...

Raudbjorn - You're right, we haven't used the ability to turn cities into smoking holes in a very long time. But attacking the industrial infrastructure of an enemy is only useful if they themselves are the ones manufacturing the tools of continuing the war. Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq didn't make much, if anything, of their war materielle. It was either given to them or bought from the Soviets/Russians and Chinese. If we weren't willing to attack those industrial centers, we had to discover other ways to fight.

And if you can't just blow the enemy and everyone around him to hell, you're going to pay a higher cost for the war in blood and time.

Where we lose is when we as a society lose our will to fight. We were rarely beaten militarily in Vietnam. We fought a vastly numerically superior enemy to a standstill in Korea, but the country didn't mobilize for total war and the war effort was politically limited. In Iraq, we fought a conventional war at first, but had to transition to more targeted efforts once the enemy changed from a conventional Warsaw Pact modeled force to an insurgency.

In all three circumstances we had to either change our definition of victory or outright lose because we got tired of trying.

The trick now is to remember how to fight a conventional war but still be able to fight the low intensity war we're still fighting. My hope is that we don't end up like the British AEF in 1914 in the event that we end up locking horns with a large technologically parallel enemy. We will be able to behead just about anyone we get to, but an army that isn't trained and ready to fight a well-supplied force with tanks and modern artillery is going to pay a huge price.

And Merry Christmas to you North!

Josh K. said...

Merry Christmas, and Happy New Years to you and all of the Bear Clan!

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