De-mystifying war

We here talk about war a lot, but it strikes me that many of our readers are not familiar with war. Yes, you read about it in the history books, and there’s a definition in the dictionary, and for many of our so-called thought-leaders and policy-makers war is something you play on your X-box. Townie’s post of agreement without comment alludes to the heart of the matter near and dear to our hearts: the study and victorious commission of war. It was something I never learned in Army ROTC at VMI, and barely learned as a company-grade officer in Bill Clinton’s Army. I did learn to deploy a lot though.

The individual unit is the soldier. The soldier’s war is called ‘tactics.’ Tactics are rather simple.

  1. Discover your enemy. If you don’t know, you go and find them. Usually they will announce themselves after a certain point. You find each other because you both have a purpose, a national goal or a low-level mission that requires your meeting. He has a family, a faith, friends, and a future. The soldiers eliminates his enemy’s future, rendering the rest fruitless.
  2. Distract your enemy. We call this “fixing.” The purpose of the distraction is to keep your enemy focused on what you want him to focus on. Fixing anchors the next step.
  3. Create mental and moral tension by stretching your enemy’s mind to consider more threats and threats of increasing intensity. This is done by attacking from a second direction, advancing into a range that ensures the probability of a hit with a bullet, or even hand-to-hand fighting. The message the soldier is communicating in lead and flame is that his enemy will die, without question. Human beings can deal with up to 3 threats to their own life, any more and they snap. When they snap, they can’t think and this absence of mental order is called “disruption.”
  4. Prevent the enemy from getting help. We also call this “disruption” because it prevents the enemy from getting himself back in order. You can use explosives, or stop their communicating, or delay the arrival of food, fuel and ammunition and replacements. You must, must, must do this to win. Many commanders trust to luck or chance to win, but this is foolishness and medal-hunting.
  5. Prevent the enemy from preventing you getting help. For every soldier shooting there are 10 soldiers working day and night to provide help. When there is no help, either the enemy is winning, or is usually (99.9999%) the case, your leader left the responsibility for planning and getting help to other people. We call the people who falsely receive the blame for not providing help “REMF” because they are left waiting in the dark without a requisition for a device to read the commander’s mind. I call them ‘Loggies’ and they are usually the heroes of every war.
  6. If the enemy flees, give chase and seek to kill them all. This is called “exploitation.” You are exploiting their fear and absence of mental and moral order to defeat them in the most thorough manner possible: death. This step is also Step 1, above.

From the soldier’s tactics up though the Operational and Strategic levels of war, you find the same 6 steps, but with increasing levels of complexity and different tools to use. Finding your enemy becomes easier. The goals of warring with your enemy generally tend to be presented as exercises in peevishness or outlets for national outrage. In truth, one goes to war to accomplish a goal. That goal can be increasing the economy or living territory, or reinforcing the perception of unassailable strength which increases security, or the imposition of a new philosophy.

Folks will wail and gnash their teeth, rending their garments that in comparing tactics to the Operational and Strategic levels that I’m foolishly comparing apples to oranges. No, I’m comparing lemons to limes to oranges. There are similarities, there are differences, but to know the difference is a subject of study and practice, practice, practice.

I’ve been told Airland Battle has been dead, yet in studying doctrine (I was my job for many years), I never found its replacement. Oh sure, there’s an ethos of going-it-alone among the infantry and armor – after, it’s all about them, amiright? But successful commanders ensure they have help at all times.

Airland Battle provided a concept that I haven’t found since 1991. It’s called “what are we going to do tomorrow?” There is always a tomorrow, and usually it involves conflict. Some folks call this ‘fighting the peace.’ Or losing it. There are some rules we’ve forgotten in this post-modern and post-post-modern world. One is to be alive the next day (see also “help at all times”). The second is to have a purpose for tomorrow. The third is to have a plan for tomorrow. The first thing about the conflict tomorrow: it’s with civilians who have their own faith, families, futures, and culture – they get cranky with new philosophies and new currencies and new ways of ordering their lives. In Just War Theory, these civilians are left completely untouched, living life with the occasional mourning of a son slaughtered by Americans, as it should be.

In 2001 America invaded Afghanistan. By mid-2002 the war was won, but there was no thought of tomorrow. Colin Powell’s doctrine of ‘you break it you buy it’ was meant as a warning to take ownership of the tomorrows. For Afghanistan, we thought to return it to pre-1977 (the Communist coup d’etat) when Afghanistan was very westernized, but after 30+ years of hardcore Saudi-based Islamism which was difficult to grasp, our tomorrows were planned by Vizzini whose mental processes were continually disturbed by facts committed by Afghan civilians that were “inconceivable.”

Nothing is inconceivable. War is certainly conceivable. Tactics, operations and strategy have been known and understood by people who not only didn’t know how to read or write, but also lacked a written form of their language. They spent their time learning their weapons, learning their enemy, and adapting themselves to stick their weapons in their enemies. Why we go to war is knowable, as is knowing what we’re going to do once the shooting stops. What is inconceivable is why we don’t study war more and practice, practice, practice.

About DaveO

Retired soldier, micro-farmer, raconteur and pet owner from the great state of Oklahoma. Wandered in as a frequent commenter and have been enjoying blogging ever since.
This entry was posted in Use of Military Force, VMI. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to De-mystifying war

  1. burkemblog says:

    We seem to be at an interesting inflection point with regard to what the function of militaries are these days. I am reminded of my own first years of service, when the Army decided to embrace AirLand battle or whatever we called it in 1973–forget Viet Nam, forget counterinsurgency, and focus on the godless Communist hordes in Europe–who were, of course, an existential threat until 1989 (and maybe are slowly becoming one again?). Now I think we’re in the same boat. I mentioned Rosa Brooks’ How Everything Became war and the Military Became Everything. She argues, among many other things, that war and peace are not binaries but two points on a kind of continuum. Our mistake is thinking that the two cannot exist simultaneously. I recommend her book highly. She calls for a rethinking of how we look at the nature of conflict, and argues for a rethinking about just what military force should do. I think that’s something that needs to be decided before we can start considering strategy and the operational art. Harry Summers is probably spinning in his grave right now.

    Like

    • DaveO says:

      Thank you for the suggestion. I’ll probably have to order it through Amazon. One soldier-emeritus told me a long while back that America exists in the states of war and pause. “Peace” being an invention of Madison Avenue.

      For folks who are still curious about Airland Battle, I recommend Harold Coyle ’74’s “Team Yankee,” and Sir John Hackett’s novel “The Third World War: The Untold Story.”

      Like

      • burkemblog says:

        I met Hackett at West Point, and he was kind enough to autograph his two books for me–but only after I told him I’d been stationed in Moenchengladbach when I bought and read them.

        Like

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