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The Armies of Ashur II, Continued

"You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out." General William Tecumseh Sherman 1820-1891

If one needs a philosopher of war, then it is General Sherman, the first general to reduce to pithy maxims the content of Von Clauswitz' treatise On War. War is cruelty, it is the attempt to break the will of a political class, and their followers. Within this spectrum there are various degrees of cruelty, and various degrees of the subjection of the civilian population to war. However, the wars which lead to the greatest barbarity are those which accept that there are limited resources of place, and thus, the liquidation of peoples seen as excess must take place.

In such wars, genocide seems a moral duty to those who are swept up in the frenzy.

[Part I, Part II,Part III and a summarized version here].

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Atrocity as Policy

This war differs from other wars, in this particular. We are not fighting armies but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war.

WTS 1820-1891

America has degenerated into a cultural complex that would have been familiar to the ancient Neo-Assyrians. Let us state the bald fact that the only belief which holds our army in the field in Iraq is the lie that they are there to avenge 911, because Saddam was behind it. It is a conspiracy theory view of history, lacking in even the vaguest foundations of truth. The elites of America were persuaded to accept the invasion of Iraq on the equally misguided assertion that Saddam had some form of Weapons of Mass Destruction, and was within range of acquiring some deterrent status. This too is absurd: prior to the war, there was no credible evidence of anything resembling credible evidence of a WMD program or capability in Iraq which was capable of delivering any form of attack.

In short the threat to country was the excuse for a war which has other purposes. Those other purposes are the subject of much speculation. Some feel it was to get access to Iraq's oil, others felt it was to deny the world access to it to keep oil prices high. Some believe it was to relieve pressure from Israel. But out of all of the hypotheses available, none understand that there was not a reason for war, but a complex of reasons, and these, in turn, go back to the cultural complex of the United States in the present moment.

This is where analogies to Neo-Assyria fade away, our time is not theirs, however many parallels it might have that are illustrative. But there is sufficient parallel in the God-King cults of both nations to produce atrocity as a policy. Because while atrocities attend war the way fleas attend dogs, the policy of atrocity is the hallmark of an altogether different kind of conflict. It was, again, Sherman who pointed this out – the war between the Union and the South was a war of people's not merely a war of political interests. Hence it was necessary to deliver a shock to the culture which had seen war as an appropriate way of dealing with constitutional issues. "War is the remedy our enemies have chosen," He wrote "I say let us give them all they want."

However, his objective was not the slaughter of civilians, but the destruction of what can be called "strategic material" and depriving what remained of the rebellion of centers of civilian support. Sherman's tactics changed the face of warfare, because they removed the aspect of engagement from war itself. The idea of a "battle" in itself was becoming obsolete in the sense that Europeans had known it for almost 800 years – that is the engagement of forces that represented the embodiment of the will to fight, often lead by a monarch, or by his close surrogates. The last "battles" of this kind were less than a decade in the future – the Battle of the Sedan in the Franco-Prussian war being, truly, the last.

The next step from the war of material attrition, is the war of human attrition. Americans were, by 1861, well acquainted with wars which were intended to erase other nations from the map, they had done so to the Cherokee Nation, and would do so repeatedly in the conquest of the west. These wars were attended by slaughter of civilians and desecration of bodies which we associated with war mixed with genocide.

However, the two parts had not met. While individual bands of men might slaughter, and armies might use the technologies of railroad and telegraph to organize campaigns, the application of technology to slaughter was only beginning to occur. It awaited weapons of wholesale slaughter. The first of these was the incendiary shell, followed by the repeating, and later automatic weapon. But it is with the development of flight and chemical munitions that the marriage of technology and eradication was finally attained. If slaughtering large numbers of people is your aim, then poison and fire are the tools to accomplish it.

The allied strategic bombing of Japan is a case in point of the application of technology for the purpose of not merely defeating the war aims of the enemy and frustrating his manufacture – which is a dubious notion with strategic bombing to begin with – but instead the purpose is to eradicate large slabs of population, with the implicit threat of doing so to the remainder. It was Truman's cold declaration to the Japanese after two atomic attacks that they would face a "reign of destruction from the air".

The only point to using fire against cities made of wood and paper, is to kill as many of the inhabitants as possible.

The realization by Truman, prodded by members of the State Department, that the United States was fighting a place cult in Japan, though they did not use that particular term, embodied in a God-King, and upheld by symbols, shaped the last phases of the war. The shift from bombing military targets, to destroying civilian centers, was based on the recognition that defeating the armies of the Empire of Japan would not be enough if the civilians fought onward.

It takes very little time with the Assyrian and Neo-Assyrian corpus to understand that one of the most important transitions from Middle Assyrian empires, to the Neo-Assyrian empire, is the celebration of atrocity, both for the purposes of subjugation, and for the purposes of maintaining control over the core homeland of Assyria. The boilerplate of taking a city, flaying the leaders and then burning the "young men and maidens" is a refrain in the annals that the Assyrians kept. This is not what their enemies accuse of them of, this is what they recorded themselves as having done.

Let us, however, reach back to the 1950's, because American involvement in Iraq reaches back to that time, and the present problems do as well. Indeed, Saddam himself began his rise to power out of the blowback from American involvement in Iraq.

At that time America was involved in a conflict framed in ideological terms. Ideological wars permit a different brand of dehumanization and liquidation. Individuals, rather than groups that are identifiable by sight, are seen as the bearers of infection. It breeds paranoia, and feeds on mythologies of vampirism, demonic possession and betrayal. Because anyone – a seeming friend, or neighbor, or family member, could be possessed of the demon ideology without overt sign the paranoia and personalized destruction of ideological warfare – the dreaded door knock in the middle of the night – produces a hallmark strand of violation of human rights which is traceable back to ostracisms of ancient Athens.

In that time the United States feared any form of "communist" influence in states so much, that it was willing to take advantage of, and even create, political disorganization in order to gain a chance to liquidate them. These programs were modeled on the late World War II and post-World War II programs to assassinate key members of the Nazi party in Europe. These programs, seen as necessary and effective, were duplicated, and one of those places was in Iraq. Saddam began his career, as an assassin.

However he rose to power behind the cresting idea of pan-Arab nationalism, and part of a movement known as "Rebirth". Whatever the specifics of the movement, one can see how the attempt to revive a people who, at various times, had been at or near the peak of world civilization in wealth, learning and influence would have appeal. The rapid disintegration of this movement into a mere tool of strong man cults in Iraq and Syria exposes the fundamental weakness of the "Ba'ath" ideology. Saddam corrupted, if it was indeed all that difficult, a Pan-Arabist and conceptual movement into a tool of his personal reign.

That Saddam was a God-King is obvious from his monumental architecture and trappings of rule, trappings that were maintained almost until the bitter end. That he was also a local cult is something which is not as clearly appreciated. He ruled with the power of his local clan – "al-Tikriti" means from Tikrit, the city. And when given a clear chance to escape, he, instead, chose to hide in the environs of that area. His cadre of assassins, torturers, and other forms of state apparatus of repression were drawn from his clan. Baathism descended rapidly through sectarian chauvinism, down to clan localism in less than 20 years.

But Saddam was not, as a Marxist might say, in possession of the objective means of production of his own rule. He could not manufacture tanks, missiles, communication equipment or other important props to his power. Instead, he was kept supplied by the USSR and the United States as they jockeyed for power in the middle East.

It was the United States, in particular, that would help Iraq obtain chemical munitions which Saddam would use to eradicate the Kurds.

The Great King, The Mighty King, the King of America

The policy of atrocity is rooted in the desire to eradicate the will to resist, and then the existence itself of another population. It requires an elaboration in order to both justify its necessity, and to create the necessary rationalization and dehumanization of the target peoples. In short, people will destroy other people like animals, but only if they are first convinced that the target people are animals, and then convinced that these animals are rabid – diseased.

The creation of this substratum of unreality among the military and civilian class of a nation is part of the purpose of a place-cult. It relates the worthiness of people the triad of place, god and descent, and asserts that all are the same thing – that to threaten one is to threaten all of them.

Let us again be blunt: having saturated the American military with the propaganda that Saddam was behind 9/11, that Iraq is the central front in the war on terrorism and thus preventing future attacks, and that Saddam was in possession of the capability of producing mushroom clouds – it is inevitable that the American military would commit war crimes as a matter of policy.

Let me repeat that – if one primes ones military with genocidal propaganda, they will behave accordingly.

The disintegration of both Shia Islam and Baathism, now hybridized with Sunni Arab Chauvinism rooted in particular localities of Iraq, is not hard to document. The focusing on shrines – which bring in huge revenues, the use of bombings against civilians, the slaughtering of recruits, the use of kidnapping and torture by insurgents and Republic of Iraq military and security arms is all to easy to document. Bombing funerals, markets and other props of civil and religious society shows the eradicationist behavior which is now endemic among the combatants in Iraq, and their civilian supporters.

That the toppling of Saddam has led to this was entirely predictable. It was evident, from the experience of Yugoslavia and the Congo, that the only possible result of toppling a strong man without political stabilization would be de facto partition and sectarian warfare. This has been amply born out by events. However, what is important is that the United States has been drawn into this matrix, and is a participant in the sectarian atrocities.

That Americans have become entangled in this is for reasons different from Vietnam. In Vietnam the overwhelming reason for American troops committing atrocities was their inability to create safe haven, and a fear of a populace which had large numbers of people hostile to them, and willing to engage in assymetrical warfare. These kinds of abuses are seen in Iraq today, with recent headlines as a mere example.

However, what is not the result of simply having over-stressed and exposed troops is Abu Ghraib, and the torture and abuse which went on there. While the blame has fallen on low ranking individuals who happened to be caught, the interrogation strategies are the direct result of training and orders made by superiors, and the creation of a concentration camp with a torture wing was not the result of a two striper's commands. Instead, the existence of such a place – taken over from Saddam – is a clear indicator of a wholly different driving mechanism for atrocity in Iraq.

The pictures themselves tell the tale. This image, obtained by dates from 2003 only months after the invasion and so called liberation of Iraq. It shows clearly that far from being the result of a unit which time and command forgot degenerating in discipline, that, instead, Abu Ghraib was planned, consistent and by procedure. Someone conceived of our rendition of Abu Ghraib, some one planned it, some one ordered it, some one broke it down into steps for enlisted personnel to follow.

The Neo-Assyrians would thread a rope through a person's jaw, and pull them around like a dog. like this photograph here. But what of the greater atrocities? The leveling of whole cities? For slaughter of surrendering combatants and probable civilians Some 2000 bodies were identified in Fallujah. There is no realistic model of the rebellion in Iraq which allows all 2000, or even close to all 2000 to be combatants. Several of the pictures out of Fallujah are of babies and adults who have been burned, and, in one case left, as Iliad might say to the dogs and all of the birds.

In short Fallujah follows the model, not of a liberated city, nor even of an army of occupation, but of a concerted effort to destroy the civilian population's will to resist. The cold pictures are backed by polling and other survey data, and by the cryptic "lost in action in Al-Anbar" province. This province – which stretches to the Jordan border – is the focal point for military resistence to the United States, because this is the smuggling channel for petroleum which was evolved during the long sanctions period. It is here that the life line for the insurgents money flows, and it is here that they have begun to create their own place cult of Islam. Of the various rebel groups, many use the provinces name specifically. It is in and from mosques that they base operations, requiring that the US treat mosques as a target.

For those needing hard visible proof that the war between the United States and Iraq has devolved towards the situation which Neo-Assyria faced with Babylon – a kind of quasi symbiotic twilight conflict, where the military power, desperate for energy to feed its armies, has become an instrument of disintegration.

But the bulk of the atrocities are carried out by local individuals against each other. According to various estimates some 150,000 Iraqis have died in the last 3 years outside of combat operations, added to this another 50,000 killed in combat operations of various kinds – which includes civilian deaths. In a population of 20 Million, this is equivalent to 6 million deaths in the United States. There has been, and continues, a holocaust in Iraq.

The reason of course is that the real wealth of Iraq is not above the land, but under it. Only one group may control the place which is Iraq, which means all groups must create, not merely military or economic, or even social and political, rationalizations. They must create a cult of place. For the United States 911 is the beginning of all 21st century cults of place. America is still a Septembrist nation, washing aside all other meanings of the word. The attack on American place, and its shock to the individual small people is to be the subject of a reverent film. This connection – of how the attack on the World Trade Center was not an act, but it struck at the times of individual friendship and family, and was thus the most unholy of acts – is used as justification for our actions in 911. Thus are armies have been told, over and over and over again, that they are the fist of a god, a god whose vengeance is against an army of darkness –vast, looming, pervasive.

As the Assyrians cried to Shamash when they felt oaths had been broken, our law too is degenerating down into a mere conveyance of power from place to place in its progress through the realm, in order to hold the homeland together. To be dishonourable, and to be opposed to our place cults will are one and the same. The genocidal bigotry which was the Neo-Assyrian trade mark is returning now – with far right wing films looking back tenderly on the age when to be black and in the wrong place, was a hanging offense. Freedom in their vernacular means Lynch Law.

We have learned that War is Hell from so many quotations, and this war, as any war, has seen a share of irreducible misery. The alternative to war is often enslavement by those who make war upon you. There is no sympathy from this pen for those who urge enslavement on others out of some misguided sense of moral purity. However, an analysis shows that the suffering in Iraq is not for the objective of some liberation, it is not in line with America's old concept cult of international liberation, self-determination and enrichment of human destiny, but is, instead, a policy where atrocity is woven into official orders, and the rationalization for atrocity is pumped into the propaganda which the troops are fed.

America, in World War II, and again in Korea, faced place cult dynamics in Japan, Germany and in the PRC armies that joined in the conflict. America faced them again in Vietnam. In each case our best response was to attempt to annihilate the social organization which created the place cult itself. However, in each case America's efforts were supported by the belief in a concept cult of civic society and Democracy. That America rose as far and as fast as it did is a proof of the power of that civic cult. The reason the United States is ineffectual in Iraq, even though we are "undefeated in the field" as one German book post World War I declared – is not because of some stab in the back or failure of our place cult, which is the belief that all place cults come to when beaten, but that the place cult of our time is incompatible with both our military means and our ends.

It is leading to a more important failure, more important than military failure. That failure is the collapsing of American cultural production.

What allows America to act as it does is both a cultural unity, and an economic system which that cultural unity supports and feeds from. It is the image to the rest of the world that we place in the minds of billions which is before, and behind, any exposure to specific actions. The Neo-Assyrians never had this cultural superiority. Instead, it was Egypt and Babylon that others mimicked in that day and age. American cultural superiority flags, simply because we are no longer able to speak the language of progress which the rest of the world hopes to share, but instead, we speak the language of protecting our place on the pinnacle, which is increasingly alienating to other nations.

Nations that will begin to seek other models in their struggle upwards.

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On July 1, 2006 - 1:28pm JPF311 said:

Re: However, the wars which lead to the greatest barbarity are those which accept that there are limited resources of place

This is pretty much a meaningless statement since resources are ALWAYS limited in every war. Infinite resources do not exist in a finite world. Extreme barbarity in war seems to have no absolute pattern, though there is a tendency for wars which involve either gross disparities in cultures or else rigid and conflicting ideologies to become exceedingly cruel and merciless. Wars between peoples with roughly equivalent cultures and technologies where only pragmatic concerns are at stake (some parcel of land, or control of a trade route) generally are less fierce since those sorts of conflicts are amenable to solution by compromise and reason. Of course there are exceptions: World War I was the the latter sort of war and while its cruelty was far less than that of the ideologically-based WWII, it was still quite savage.

Re: Let us state the bald fact that the only belief which holds our army in the field in Iraq is the lie that they are there to avenge 911, because Saddam was behind it.

Huh? I have never heard anyone claim that. To be sure some trial balloons were floated back in 2002 by administration propagandists trying to tie Saddam to 9-11, but they sank like the proverbial lead zeppelin. Certainly today no such notion keeps us in Iraq. We are staying for much the same reason World War I continued long past the point when it was obvious neither side could make headway militarily: our leaders are too stubborn to admit a mistake (George Bush and Kaiser Wilhlem II have rather similar personalities and failings) and so they carry on, deluding themselves that victory is nigh.

Re: Sherman's tactics changed the face of warfare

In the 19th century West, yes. But scorched earth tactics have been around a long time. The Assyrians themselves were masters of such.

Re: The next step from the war of material attrition, is the war of human attrition.

Again, nothing new under the sun. See: Caesar at Alesia, Vespasian at Jerusalem, Cromwell at Drogheda, or the whole of the Thirty Years War. The 18th century had seen little of that sort of thing (since its wars were mainly over territory and dynastic advantage) and even the Napoleonic Wars had not been wars of attrition except in Spain* and Russia. But the tradition was not invented at Atlanta, still less at Dresden and Hiroshima.
* And in fact I would suggest that the closest historical parallel with our Iraq involvment is Napoleon's Spanish misdaventure: a war he did not need to fight, undertaken mostly for national bravura and coated over with high-sounding rhetoric about reforming a dysfunctional society, a war that should have been a cake-walk (and in terms of the actual invasion was so) but which provoked an unending guerilla campaign marked by callous cruelty on both sides. Spain at least had Goya to chronicle the blood-letting. Iraq has not produced any such witness.

On July 2, 2006 - 11:42am Tom Wright said:

You're trying to avoid points, not addressing them.

A war over place is precisely the kind that resists compromise. Trade and succession can be negotiated. See Armenia, Kosovo, Israel, the American-Indian wars, for starters. Maybe read the Old Testament for the Hebrews' policies of conquest.

As to the perception of Saddam's involvement with 9/11 I refer you to polls taken then, showing an average of about 70% of Americans believing this propaganda. Hardly a trial balloon.

Its was war practiced by Americans that changed after Sherman. Newberry's point is that we are replicating previous types of war, not that we are inventing brand-new ones, except as far as technology ramps up the effectiveness of the old type.

Unfortunately for his arguments Newberry writes too fast and leaves dangling sentence fragments and the like that may fracture his points. He is trying to find large processes so that predictions can be made. Worth trying for, I think, even if you are not persuaded.

I don't have the familiarity with history enjoyed be experts, but I feel a bit of Newberry's worry that American cultural dominance is fading, or will do so. When the City on the Hill has franchises that contradict its principles the admiration will not persist. 


On July 2, 2006 - 1:12pm JPF311 said:

You know your sophomoric insults (which I have tried to ignore) suggest to met hat you are some snot-nosed, pimply 14 year old who has not yet mastered the art of courteous discourse. Try growing up and then come back and discuss the issues like a rational adult. Just because someone disagres with you does not mean you have to when and cry like a thwarted child.

On July 3, 2006 - 4:19pm Njorl said:

Sadly, I liked the article. While I didn't agree with all of it, I found much of it very interesting. I was very disappointed that the author is not worthy of discourse.

I particularly enjoyed his, "Since you can't read, I can't explain it to you" comment in the last part. Mr. Newberry, for future reference, the fugue is a wonderful form for baroque music, but it does not make a good model for a sentence.

On July 2, 2006 - 1:14pm JPF311 said:

Re: A war over place is precisely the kind that resists compromise.

Why? A war over territory (as opposed to say, religion) is easily solved by compromise (assuming the actors have not invested too much national or personal pride in the matter). Territory can be carved up in all sorts of ways which results in both sidse getting a half loaf and being able to claim a degree of victory.

On July 2, 2006 - 1:20pm JPF311 said:

Re: As to the perception of Saddam's involvement with 9/11 I refer you to polls taken then, showing an average of about 70% of Americans believing this propaganda.

I have seen those polls too, but I have never encountered a single person, either in the real world or online (and that includes conservative blog sites like RedState and Tacitus) that believed that assertion. At most I encountered a few people in 2002 who were boiling mad over 9-11 and were willing to see the US lash out at any Arabs or Muslims whether they were guilty of anything or not ("They hit us so we need to hit them 10 times harder"-- and never mind who "they" were). In today's ideologically fraudulent USA, polls are automatically suspect since it's very easy to phrase questions in ways that get the desired response, or even just doctor the results outright. Why is it the GOP always manages to pull some poll or other out of its butt showing the US people supporting whatever lame-brained idea has just come out of the Bush White House? Their numbers are about as credible as the stuff that used to come out of Brezhnev's economic statistics cooking department.

On July 2, 2006 - 1:31pm Tom Wright said:

The Washington post works for the GOP? I have indeed met people and work with a couple that bought the line. I've heard military in Iraq say so.

What's your point?

On July 1, 2006 - 3:57pm phelicity said:

Lt. Cmdr. Swift, the defense lawyer for Mr. Hamdan said this morning that because of our conduct of the Iraq war and our policies at Abu Ghraib and Gitmo we have squandered our most important political capital, that is, our image in the world of a nation committed to the rule of law, domestic and international, and most particularly our committment to fairness. He repeated a number of times that unless terrorist groups have a constant supply of willing recruits, world wide, they will be ineffective, and the best way to discourage people from joining these groups is to, by word and deed, convince them that we are not the bad guys. And that is exactly where we are failing and will continue to fail until, and unless we recapture that which set us apart in the world as a nation committed to fairness and justice.

On July 1, 2006 - 6:21pm CoCo said:

Some day in the not too distance future females might rule the world. Then we won't have huge goverments as such, we will have only a Universal Board of Ethics Court to review all Actors and a Assassination Squad to carry out verdicts.

Thrifty, efficient and final, wars won't be necessary. They will be over before it begans.

On July 2, 2006 - 4:15pm hcberkowitz said:

I might argue that Clausewitz expanded on pithy maxims from Sun Tzu, but Uncle Billy Sherman did have a certain way with words. You might want to look at a different explanation of Viet Nam, which specifically looks at it as a problem of attritional warfare, compares that to the attritional strategy of Grant & Sherman, and then explores the legal issues of attrition warfare involving civilian populations. Telford Taylor, the chief US prosecutor at the International Military Tribunal, wrote Nuremberg and Vietnam: an American Tragedy. I don't fully agree with Taylor, but it's a provocative piece.

Returning to Clausewitz, however, one of his important contributions to military theory was the idea of centers of gravity, expressed as concentric rings. COL (ret) John Warden used this idea in the initial proposal for the 1991 air war against Iraq, which he discusses in a broader theoretical context of air warfare. Warden, known for not playing well with others, especially those outranking him, was sent back to his DC office, and a modified plan developed by generals Horner, Glosson and Schwarzkopf.

With a good center of gravity analysis carried out competently, it may be possible to conduct wars without civilian attrition as a basic part of strategy. Several caveats apply.

  1. The key centers of gravity must be sufficiently small that destroying them will remove the obstacle to the desired solution for the attacker.
  2. It must be possible to engage the centers of gravity without major collateral damage. Again assuming the appropriate centers of gravity are selected, various precision weapons and other selective means may make this more possible then it had ever been
  3. A rational leadership must be able to recognize when the above preconditions do not apply, and seek resolution through nonmilitary means.

Point 2 is significant when looking at the historical population bomhing in WWII. That strategy was used, in part, because the technology of the day was not adequate for hitting targets more specific than a part of a city. Even raids on purely military targets like the Ploesti refinery, extremely costly to the attack force, still lacked the ability to engage other than area targets. Yes, there were some relatively precise attacks in WWII, but they either were at ranges where aircraft more agile than bombers could be used, or where a particular target and a particular specialist unit & set of capabilities came together.

Even if modern weapons systems were available, the political conditions might not have accepted their use. As a hypothetical exercise, let us assume that the US was aware of the 20th of July plot against Hitler, and had a time machine through which it could bring a one B-2 bomber with the appropriate navigational satellites. The plot almost succeeded even though Hitler was not killed, due to communications failures on the side of the plotters and fast response from Goebbels and other members of the elite.

That B-2 could have assured Hitler's death with a 2000lb precision guided bomb (Mk. 84 with JDAM guidance kit) into the conference room. and then systematically hit the centers of gravity of the counterrevolution: Goebbels' office, the Berlin defense battalion under Major Remer, the SS communications center, two or three SS/Gestapo/SD buildings, and, perhaps, the Paris SS headquarters. It still would have bombs left, especially if it used small precision weapons on point targets, such as a 250lb concrete-filled Small Diameter Bomb on Goebbels' office. Civilian casualties would have been minimal.

But would that have been acceptable to the Allies? No, for several reasons, starting with FDR's equivalent of "Bring 'em on", the policy of unconditional surrendeer. The coup members in Germany would also have wanted to keep fighting the Soviets, an impossibility for the alliance in force.

With rational objectives and realistic assumptions, wars may not have to involve attrition of the population. Of course, why would anyone expect rational objectives and realistic assumptions from the current crew?

*equal opportunity offense to both extremes*

On July 3, 2006 - 3:47pm BevD said:

The difference between ancient armies and the U.S. modern army is that the U.S. army does not set policy, they set strategy. When Grant and Sherman met in Cincinnati, their mission was to set a strategy that would result in the surrender or Lee's army. The fact that many of those battles produced so many casualties was a by-product or result of that strategy. The policy set by Lincoln was always the same: if the rebels were to lay down their arms and go back to their homes, they would be welcomed back into the Union. Lincoln never wavered from this policy. Up until the post Vietnam era, the military did not have the authority or the will to set policy.

It was Powell who made the leap from the army setting strategy to the army setting policy and that was rooted in the mistaken historical analogy drawn from that war - that Americans lost because they failed to bring maximum forces to bear, a clear cut objective, and a decisive means of ending the conflict and leaving after victory. (Along with the other three criteria to be met) And this of course, is the danger to historical analogy - we often draw the wrong lesson from it.

Newberry is mistaken in his assertion that the military is responsible for what he calls a "war of attrition" and the resultant war crimes. This policy was set by the civilian control of the military. That part of the military implemented it, will forever be the greatest disgrace committed by the U.S. army. Newberry is also mistaken in his assessment of the motivation for combat troops - it is not "propaganda" that motivates troops, but guilt. From the beginning of their training, when they are completely segregated from society, they are inculcated with the belief that their survival is dependent on each other, and the unit to which they are assigned. I would point out that for the majority of combat troops in WW II, the overwhelming motivation mentioned by them was the need to get it over with so they could go home. Propaganda might serve to motivate people to join the service, but it has never motivated men to fight in combat.

One major reason why this administration has made so many drastic mistakes, isn't that they failed to make historical analogies, it's that they drew the wrong conclusions from the Munich aggreement to the Viet Nam debacle - and the reason for that is that they are historically illiterate. If I find any historical analogy applicable to this administration, it's the analogy of Nicholas II and his minister Pleve - and the question is whether like them, this administration is viciously stupid, or stupidly vicious.

Santanyana was wrong - it isn't history repeating itself that condemns us, it's our inability to forgive history that condemns us.

On July 3, 2006 - 4:51pm hcberkowitz said:

You make good points, but I'd like to comment on some things that are nuances, but I believe important ones. First, perhaps we can refine the definition of "strategy" and put it in context. Most current theorists use four main levels:

  1. Grand strategy: Set by the highest national authority, civilian in the US, it uses all available means to implement national policy. It is a superset of Clausewitz's definition of war as the extension of national policy by military means. Grand strategy includes military means, but also diplomacy, covert and clandestine activity, economic warfare, psychological operations, and operations by multinational coalitions. The US Army recently came up with an awful acronym that still conveys the spirit, MIDLIFE: military, intelligence, diplomatic, law enforcement, information, finance, and economic. The decision to go to war and to end wars is at this level.
  2. Strategy: Typically set by high military command, this sets the overall context for the use of military forces and the industrial and other support they will need. It sets the conditions for starting actions, and, properly, end conditions (e.g., when is victory or defeat? What postwar environment is desired? How do we leave?). It usually defines the theaters of war and their relative priorities.Attrition may be defined at this level, but invariably needs approval by the grand strategic authority
  3. Operational Art: This tends to be at the level of theater or sub-theater command (i.e., Combatant Command to Corps). One of the key aspects is it tries to create the conditions under, and locations of combat or related operations. It allocates forces to major bases (or equivalents such as amphibious and carrier groups)
  4. Tactics: , the techniques of achieving one's objectives in actual combat.

Again, please excuse a long introduction, but I wanted to be sure we had common definitions. One of the key observations about the protests during Viet Nam came from COL (ret) Harry Summers in On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War. Paraphrasing, he observed that one of the main sources of domestic conflict was that protests were directed at the uniformed executors of policy (i.e., strategy and below) when their real argument was with the civilian makers of policy (i.e., grand strategy).

The attritional strategy in Viet Nam, coupled with arcane "signaling" techniques, came primarily from Secretary of Defense McNamara and his staff, with operational details from Westmoreland. It's important to remember that Westmoreland did not have responsibility for the theater, and the intermediate headquarters of Pacific Command did not have a major role in strategy. The best analysis to date is by COL HR McMaster, a PhD in history currently commanding 3 Armored Cavalry Regiment, and rather legendary for the Battle of 73 Easting. This scholar-warrior wrote Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam, which, as well as analyzing US policymaking, brings in new interviews and documents.

I'm not sure I would agree that Powell (and actually Weinberger), in the Weinberger-Powell strategy, necessarily redefined the level of grand strategy in a role as soldiers. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is a statutory advisor to the President, so I'm not suggesting that he went out of appropriate military bounds in defining the need for bringing adequate force to bear.

Indeed, this Administration avoided many other aspects of the Weinberger-Powell doctrine, such as obtaining national consensus. Clearly, there was pressure from Rumsfeld to use minimum force. The Adminstration also rejected the coalition approach of Bush the Elder, which applied both to high-intensity combat, and, even more important, to reconstruction and peace enforcement.

The attritional grand strategy in the American Civil War was first recognizable in the "Anaconda Plan" of then Chief of Staff Winfield Scott. As a practical strategic and operational plan, it was the collaboration of Grant at the strategic and Sherman at the operational levels, with definite review and approval by Lincoln. There's an interesting analysis by Telford Taylor, chief US prosecutor at the International Military Tribunal (i.e., the four-power trial of the Major War Criminals), looking at the attritional strategies in the Civil War and Viet Nam, ">Nuremberg and Vietnam: An American Tragedy. I don't completely agree with some of Taylor's conclusions about war crimes, but there is much of value and even more to think about.

*equal opportunity offense to both extremes*

On July 3, 2006 - 9:25pm BevD said:

Powell wrote Weinberger's speech which set forth the conditions for military use and then set about implementing them. Sure, I completely agree that there are nuances, which is why we need to be careful in defining policy as strategy. The grand strategy of the U.S. military as defined by the JCS, is to protect and defend the United States. Now how they might go about that is, I agree, defined as operations, which should be within those metrics set by the civilian control and subject to such.

I completely agree that the Powell doctrine has been quashed by this administration - in fact, I believe that is part of the reason why Rumsfeld was so eager for this war - to prove that the Powell doctrine was ineffective and downright dangerous. But then, Rumsfeld was one of those dead enders that believed that we lost Viet Nam because the peace mongers and the press. We know that isn't true - we lost Viet Nam because we were beaten by the Viet Cong. (Of course, I think Powell is wrong too in his assessment of how and why we lost)

I don't believe that we fought a war of attrition as strategy in the civil war for the reasons I already posted. As Shelby Foote pointed out, those kinds of losses were acceptable during that war. If those kinds of losses had been sustained in modern warfare battles there would be substantial outcries by the press and the public. (As an aside, when Rumsfeld was asked during the beginning of this war, how many casualties the people would put up with, he replied, "10,000." And wouldn't you like to know the polling and research that provided that answer?)

I cannot emphasize enough, that the U.S. military is not responsible for policy, nor does it set policy. That is strictly a civilian responsiblity and the army should not meddle with policy. As Grant said in his memoirs, "strategy must be the servant of policy, policy cannot be the servant of strategy." When they do become one, we have tragedies such as WW II, where not only did they become one, they became one man.

p.s. I can only take Lincoln at his word when he wrote Grant that he did not presume to tell Grant what strategy to use, nor did he want to know - but as long as Lincoln lived, he set policy and directed it.


"Mastering the run-on sentence in my lifetime"

On July 3, 2006 - 9:35pm hcberkowitz said:

The grand strategy of the United States, arguably by statute (National Security Act of 1947) doesn't come from the JCS. Even when one considers Goldwater-Nichols, the main strategic documents come from the National Security Council. For cursed reasons, every administration seems to decide to rename the basic NSC documents, so you'll encounter Presidential Directives, National Security Decision Memoranda, and half a dozen names for the same series of documents. Most have an unclassified extract, but the main document is classified.

I don't believe that we fought a war of attrition as strategy in the civil war for the reasons I already posted. As Shelby Foote pointed out, those kinds of losses were acceptable during that war.

I disagree, and I think it's the consensus of the majority of historians that the Union strategy was very deliberately attritional. While one could argue that terribly bloody fights such as Antietam or Gettysburg were meeting engagements, not planned attrition, the Wilderness is hard to rationalize in any way than attrition. Unfortunately, I don't have my library fully unpacked, but I am fairly sure there's a letter from Grant saying he could afford to lose men more than could the Confederacy.

In other words, the issue of attrition had nothing to do with public opinion. It had to do with the two sides' ability to keep soldiers and to generate replacements. Remember, the South had an ever-growing problem of soldiers deserting for no other reasons than to work their farms.

Another argument that the ACW was attritional with respect to manpower was the Union's refusal to exchange prisoners -- it was a Union decision that getting back trained soldiers would help the South more than the North.

Attrition doesn't always mean direct killing. Sherman's March to the Sea attrited the ability of the South to feed itself.


*equal opportunity offense to both extremes*

On July 4, 2006 - 9:21am BevD said:

Well, we'll have to disagree - certainly battles were attritional in the rate of casualties, and Grant said himself that he "regretted the last charge at the Wilderness", the closest he ever came to admitting terrible mistakes that were made by him during that war. Grant and Sherman's devised strategy was to surround Lee's army, cut off its supplies and force it to use its depleting resources. Attrition may have been the by-product or result of that strategy but it wasn't in and of itself the strategy. The great fear towards the end of the war was a breakout by Lee to the mountains where the strategy would then by necessity become attritional on both sides and would involve civilians as great numbers of casualties.

I still contend, and will always contend that the U.S. military has always set strategy and civilian government policy. The reason I argue this is because of the distinction made by the constitution, congress and tradition in this country that the military is under civilian control. I can point out several examples of conflict between the civilian executive branch of the government and the military when the military or members of the military did indeed try to set policy and were dismissed or "resigned" from their commissions or were reprimanded - McClellan's political manuevering during the civil war, McArthur's machinations during the Korean conflict, Patton's ill-considered remarks during his administration of Bavaria and the rebuke received by the central command during the last gulf war for their too vigorous pursuit of the Republican Guard.

On July 4, 2006 - 11:54am hcberkowitz said:

I suspect we are using different definitions of attrition. When I use it, I mean a strategy of forcing the other side to use up any resource that it cannot replace as fast as the other side. It is not limited to personnel losses. For example, in naval warfare, maneuver that runs the other side out of fuel, when the side with the initiative will burn fuel but can replace it, is attritional. The sentence below sound attritional to me.

Grant and Sherman's devised strategy was to surround Lee's army, cut off its supplies and force it to use its depleting resources.

Did you mean to say has not set policy below, since all of your examples of conflict were resolved in favor of civilian, not military policymakers?

I still contend, and will always contend that the U.S. military has always set strategy and civilian government policy.


*equal opportunity offense to both extremes*

On July 4, 2006 - 8:38pm BevD said:

I think we may be putting on the same green here - when I use the term strategy I mean the operations by which an army advances a plan of action. When I use the term policy, I mean the guidance and guidelines set by the civilian control of that army. When I use the term attrition I mean actions by which one side causes so many casualties that the other side can no longer fight because they do not have the manpower to continue.

Here's an example which might make my point clearer - in this current war, the U.S. civilian control, (namely the DOD) has developed and implemented strategy by instructing and informing the U.S. military in tactics, manpower and operations. At the same time, the administration has not provided an overall policy for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. They have no doctrine (and pre-emption is a tactic or strategy, not a policy) that sets forth principles by which we conduct our foreign affairs with Iraq or other nations. The point here, Howard, is that the administration by creating this vacuum, is forcing the military to devise policy on the fly which they're neither authorized or trained to do. It's not only dangerous, it's stupid - it makes us look inconsistent and it has continually blindsided the military.

In my opinion, the Lincoln administration's ability to provide a policy and guidance to the military allowed the military to devise and implement strategy. If you're as great a maven of the civil war as I suspect (and I am myself) you already know what that policy was and how dangerously close we are now to a military meltdown. Anytime we have a failure to exercise civilian control of the military we have a systems breakdown.

p.s. Yes, I meant that everytime in the past when the military tried to set policy the civilian government decided in favour of civilian control and exercised such. One reason of many as to why VN was such a disaster was civilian control of strategy without an overall policy. Rumsfeld and Cheney have been so sociopathic in rooting out the Powellians in the military that they've ruined it. They were wrong about VN and they're wrong about Iraq.


Hope this is a tad clearer, good night. I look forward to your response.

On July 4, 2006 - 9:51pm hcberkowitz said:

*sigh* I am dogsitting in a semi-rural area, where fireworks are fairly unlimited. Four medium to large dogs were scared to death outside. On bringing them in, I can best describe their activities last night as eating the house. I may need a nice peaceful war.

Rearranging a bit, let's see if we can come to some common definitions.

When I use the term policy, I mean the guidance and guidelines set by the civilian control of that army.

I would call this the assignments given to the military under grand strategy. There's also an industrial/economic component of how the army is equipped and trained.

When I use the term strategy I mean the operations by which an army advances a plan of action.

This could range anywhere from strategy to operational art to tactics, depending on the scope of the operation.

When I use the term attrition I mean actions by which one side causes so many casualties that the other side can no longer fight because they do not have the manpower to continue.

I agree with the idea that one side no longer has the resources to fight, but that resource isn't always manpower. In WWII, the Imperial Japanese Navy was immobilized for lack of oil, as evidenced by the one-way sortie asked of the Yamato task group. Yes, they did have special attack suicide capabilities, but essentially zero capability for conventional warfare.

Just to confuse things, they lost the ability to conduct carrier operations after the Marianas Turkey Shoot, not strictly because they didn't have people, but because an idiotic policy failed to rotate pilots back as instructors. They fought their best pilots until they were dead, throwing green replacements against Americans that had at least been taught by veterans, and were led by combat-experienced officers.

In the Six Days War, Egupt became ineffective once it no longer had an air force. A conventional force can no longer win when the other side has air superiority.

We can now plausibly speak of attriting information systems. I believe it was Powell who commented, in 1991, that the most sophisticated sensor left to the Iraqis, before the ground offensive, was binoculars. Facing a ground force with excellent night vision equipment and JSTARS, the Iraqis were literally fighting blind--yet they still had large forces.

Stalin's purges of the Red Army, in the late thirties, was arguably self-attrition -- it doesn't take long to train infantry in primitive tactics, but it does take time to find the Zhukovs after you've shot the Tukachevskys.

Have you read HR McMaster's Dereliction of Duty? It's the best analysis of civilian idiocy, and the conflict in the senior military about what to do about it, that I have read.

Apropos of the Civil War, there were some aspects of military-civilian relationships that are not emphasized enough. At the start of the war, officers invariably resigned formally before going to the Confederacy. AFAIK, there were no mutinies, although I vaguely remember a problem unit in Maryland. In 1864, McClellan ran as a civilian -- ironically getting farther into the process than Douglas MacArthur.


*equal opportunity offense to both extremes*

On July 5, 2006 - 12:43pm BevD said:

I believe it's necessary to carefully delineate between policy and strategy for the same reason our government does - to separate and limit those responsibilities to their respective branches of government. That's why in fact, I believe, those responsibilities were apportioned to the two branches - executive and legislative, and there is no military branch of the government - to stop the excesses and power grabs by unchecked and politically powerful militaries.

Grand strategy is imo, that mission statement or statement of goals and an overview of the means to attain that/those goals. An example would be the statement issued by the U.S. GCS.

Other definitions have already been stated and while I certainly agree with many of your points, ny argument still stands that the U.S. army is different and is an example of American exceptualism. I vigorously dispute Newberry's claim that the U.S. miitary has a policy of attrition and that the policy is one of wholesale slaughter of military age men. That is simply not true.

Yes, we've fought battles of attrition, and some would say wars of attrition, but he is still wrong - the U.S. military has no such policy because the U.S. military does not function as an institution that has that responsiblity. The consequences of assigning that responsiblity to the military would be disastrous.

I certainly agree with you about Stalin.

Yes, I read Dereliction - my question now is whether the effect on the Powell generation of officers was as profound as he claims. It would appear that the lesson absorbed was to cover his ass. (I despise Powell for many reasons including his weak and disgraceful behavior in this current debacle.)

Your comments on the Civil war/civilian/military relationships is right on the money - there really is not enough excellent analysis of it.


Dogs and 4th of July - I can empathize...

On July 5, 2006 - 5:16pm hcberkowitz said:

Yes, I agree there are aspects of American exceptualism in its military. To add to the example of McClellan working within the system, you are probably familiar with some other examples. The well-known relief of Douglas MacArthur, and the less well-known relief of MG Edwin Walker, hardly caused a ripple in the professional military; it was accepted both had gone too far. There's still a great deal of distaste for the action of MacArthur, and indeed Patton, against the Bonus Marchers.

I started to refer to the officer corps rather than the professional military, but realized I needed to change it. While it's not unique to the US military, the professional noncommissioned officer corps is the mark of the best militaries. NCOs are often the real keepers of tradition. In recent years, I've gotten to know some career NCOs (well, my mother was a wartime Navy chief before she was commissioned into the Army), and been fascinated. I've encountered many excellent historians among officers, but my all-around walking reference on the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires is an engineer sergeant. He doesn't think much of Islamic law and culture, but when he criticizes it, he normally quotes extensively from the Koran and Hadiths. We have a running dialogue on jihad theory, which really started in the twelfth century, and much of which is 20th century.

Getting back to Dereliction, McMaster is a highly regarded example of the post-Vietnam leader, where Powell was from a somewhat earlier period. In particular, McMaster entered service as the military was reinventing itself, and trying to avoid some of the decisionmaking errors of Viet Nam. McMaster's doctorate isn't that unusual these days. Another excellent writer and soldier is BG Dan Bolger, who looks more at the changes in training and doctrine. Tom Clancy's "commanders" series gives some very useful insights, mostly from officers that were senior generals in 1991, about the changes in the Army.

There was enormous change from Viet Nam to Desert Shield. There's still a lot of reinvention going on, not the Rumsfeld grand concept but the way people work. I cannot adequately express the absolute loathing of every serving soldier I know to working with draftees. One of the fundamental reasons is that there is a higher degree of trust and delegated authority in an all-volunteer services, which, of course, still have their micromanagers.


*equal opportunity offense to both extremes*

On July 5, 2006 - 7:57pm RJB said:

. I cannot adequately express the absolute loathing of every serving soldier I know to working with draftees

That is a pretty strong sweeping statement. As articulate as you are, you don’t even have the words to describe how strong the LOATHING is?

The vast majority of our current soldiers have been in service less than thirty years and the draft ended longer ago than that. If most soldiers actually LOATH the idea of serving with a draftee, I wonder how they came to such a strong negative opinion?.

We have previously discussed the draft and I have already agreed that a volunteer army which has had a long time to train and to establish unit cohesion is most likely the best combat unit but the draft supplied needed men for every major war the United States fought in untill after Vietnam and they performed honorably and well. In which of those wars was the draftee unnecessary

I also will say now that I don’t expect a draft, unless the neocons continue to set our beligerant foreign policy for a few more years, and I don’t want to see a draft, but seriously,would todays soldiers rather be greatly outnumbered than have a draftee next to them?

In my own individual experience, the draftees I was surrounded by were the best soldiers by far. That was one time in one place, but it is a fact of which I have first hand knowledge.

I know that nothing in your statement demeans the peole who were draftees, but it implies that they are considered to have been very poor soldiers or else why would todays soldiers LOATH the idea of serving with a draftee today?

On July 5, 2006 - 8:30pm hcberkowitz said:

As articulate as you are, you don’t even have the words to describe how strong the LOATHING is?

Not in a few words. I don't say this lightly, but I take it from friends that served certainly from the mid-eighties to the present, as well as retirees going back to Viet Nam. The intensity I heard in voices, that I saw in eyes, is not something I could express in a few words. There are novels that get across certain of the intensities of the soldier.

Have you read Heinlein's Starship Trooper? For those who have only seen the movie, the title, the names of a few characters, and that there was a multilegged enemy was about all the book and movie had in common. The book was the first science fiction novel to go onto a formal military service professional reading list (Marines), but I believe it's on all of the lists. There are many things there quite relevant to today's military, but I'm thinking of a comment made by one character, an infantryman. Stripping the specifics of the book, he says he would resign before entering battle, if he didn't know the people on either side were volunteers and graduates of the very tough training program he survived.

You ask,

would todays soldiers rather be greatly outnumbered than have a draftee next to them?

and I answer that unless that draftee had the same level of training, almost impossible to achieve, with today's systems, in a two-year draft commitment, I would say the answer is yes. There are quite a few very literate soldiers, and they might well, if asked this question, refer to Joshua's Band, or begin talking about "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers." There's a surprising number of Shakespeare lovers, and Henry V would rank very high among the favorites.

Interestingly, my housemate, now a civilian emergency physician, was an enlisted medic before medical school, and an Army medical officer during Desert Shield/Storm. I hear the same mindset from military medical personnel, from people in theoretically noncombat roles such as public affairs and intelligence analysis, and from all ranks.

I'm conveying what I consider a real emotional reaction, although it's also mixed with several other factors. One is the incredibly more realistic training, and the general principle of getting more information to the soldier in battle and giving him more autonomy to make tactical decisions. Yes, sometimes those decisions are very, very bad.

The resulting level of motivation allows smaller units to do certain tasks. I've been told by several sources that the small number of infantrymen on a Bradley specifically assumed the motivation and coordination level of volunteers, volunteers who would train and serve longer than draftees. I don't know this truly was the analysis, but it's plausible.

Yes, I remember Viet Nam, and talking with people just having returned. There's a very different mindset today.

*equal opportunity offense to both extremes*

On July 3, 2006 - 4:18pm Njorl said:

deleted by author, wrong spot

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