On War #296: Responses

William S. Lind
March 17, 2009

As regular readers of this column know, I usually do not see responses to it because I will not use a computer. (I explain my reasons for that in a forthcoming book, due out in April, The Next Conservatism.) A colleague at Zossen recently put together some responses to two recent columns and sent them to me via the Reichspost. I was pleased to find that virtually all were thoughtful, and here I would like to comment on several.

Most related to On War #293, “The Price of Bad Tactics”:

  • Boris M. wrote, “I wonder if this is the result of bad tactics or the logical consequences of the zero (American) casualty policy followed by the US since the Vietnam war.” Emery Nelson added, “The question that needs to be asked is, ‘Would you rather win with higher casualties, or lose with few casualties?'” I am not sure adopting Third in place of Second Generation infantry tactics would result in higher casualties. It might do so in individual engagements, but it might reduce total friendly casualties in the war. Air strikes serve as one of our opponents’ most effective recruiting tools, both because of the civilians killed and because when you attack someone from an invulnerable position, i.e. 20,000 feet up, you make him want to fight you all the more. If we deprive our opponents of the recruits our airstrikes generate, might not our total casualties go down?
  • Bob P. writes, “We call for airstrikes because that’s what you do to equalize combat power when you are outnumbered.” Later he added, “Most AARs in Afghanistan start with a platoon getting ambushed by approximately equivalent forces, then the enemy forces, through various means (the part I won’t discuss) obtain local superiority. Platoon calls in airstrikes…” I find it interesting that our opponents appear better at concentrating forces at the decisive point than we are. I wonder if two 3GW tactical concepts might help us, namely Schwerpunkt and the importance of maintaining a strong reserve (normally at least one-third of available troops). In contrast, 2GW tactics scatter forces in penny-packets and regard troops in reserve as “wasted” because they are not engaging the enemy. Does that describe what we are now doing in Afghanistan?
  • Jeffrey R. writes, “I do not agree that our officers are not well read and educated on ‘good’ tactics. Remember, they have to operate in a ‘system’ that does not reward innovation and success.” That is certainly true of our system. But it is also true that the U.S. military’s educational system offers little real education. Mostly, it just trains people in one way to do something. If an American officer wants broad education in alternative tactics, he has to educate himself.
  • Sven Ortmann writes, “The light infantry approach doesn’t help much in a terrain that doesn’t offer enough concealment, though. It’s no solution for all problems… Tanks in an assault gun role could handle the problems that plague light infantry in open terrain.” This is correct, in that light infantry is terrain dependent. That is why it seldom fights “pure,” but mixed with heavy infantry (now motorized/mechanized) units. However, those heavy infantry forces also need 3GW tactics, which are simpler versions of Jaeger tactics. In the 1980s, some military reformers, including John Boyd, asked German General Hermann Balck why so many of the best Panzer commanders in World War II had been light infantry officers in World War I. He replied, “Because it was the same.” As to tanks, I would say instead, “infantry guns.” These may be tanks, wheeled assault guns or towed pieces, depending on the situation. Their purpose is to provide heavy direct fire, which in many cases could replace airstrikes with less risk of collateral damage.
  • Max writes, “Somebody was saying there’s no way the current US force of occupation in Iraq could be seriously imperiled by any force on earth.” That bit of hubris is common in Washington, and it has given me many a bad night. If either the U.S. or Israel attacks Iran, we could lose the whole army we have in Iraq. Such a defeat would be our Adrianople, or, given the degree to which we now resemble Imperial Spain, our Rocroi.

The package from Zossen also included some responses to my message to Kaiser Wilhelm on his birthday.

  • R.M. Hitchens wrote, “I’ve always wondered why the very serious Mr. Lind would invoke the spirit of the utterly unserious and notoriously shallow Kaiser Bill…” Martin van Creveld agrees with me that this common view of His Majesty is unfounded. On the contrary, Kaiser Wilhelm was right far more often than were his advisors. He deferred to them too much, it is true, but he explains that in his memoirs on the not unreasonable ground that he was a constitutional monarch. In fact, Kaiser Wilhelm was the most intelligent head of state in Europe in 1914. The greatest fool among the key players in that fateful year was Sir Edward Grey.
  • Nimbus 48 wrote, in kindly fashion, “For many years I have profited from Bill Lind’s articles but I can’t help wonder just what the structure of his ideal monarchy would be.” As conservatives know, there is no ideal structure, in the abstract, for any government. A country’s government must be shaped by its own culture and traditions. For Saudi Arabia, that means an absolute monarchy, and for Britain, a constitutional monarchy, although Commons has grown so powerful compared to the Queen and Lords that it has effectively abolished the British constitution. I also suspect Heaven wants two countries to be republics, Switzerland, to show that it can be made to work, and the United States, as a warning to everyone else.

Finally, as the rector of my church in Cleveland (St. James’ Anglican Catholic Church; if you want to see how a high mass should be done, visit us some Sunday) says, “I am a monarchist because God is.” And I am by choice a subject of Kaiser Wilhelm II because, in all probability, the very last chance Western civilization had of surviving was a victory by the Central Powers in World War I.

William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.

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Mr. William S. Lind
Free Congress Foundation
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