So far, the bitch has barked, “Give me your best shot” at some people a little too close to the apartment balcony. This could be entertaining.
War is mainly a catalogue of blunders.
The above quote is most assuredly true and unavoidable. War is a series of traps, a string of opportunities for error. Perhaps the most difficult pitfall to avoid actually begins before combat commences. In fact, it begins immediately in the aftermath of the previous conflict, be it a small engagement or a worldwide conflagration of hostility, and continues on into the next conflict. Put simply, the mistake I write of is the misuse or neglect of possible lessons to be learned. I’ll leave it to Cyril Falls to put it more eloquently:
Those who study warfare only in the light of history think of the next war in terms of the last. But those who neglect history deprive themselves of a yardstick by which theory can be measured.
The obvious mistake is to misinterpret or neglect the abundant information available, be it from failures or successes. An example of this would be the successful torpedo-plane attack on Taranto in early World War II. The Japanese chose to learn from the British air success against a shallow, sheltered harbor, while the Americans learned little or nothing from the sinking of three Italian battleships. Result: five American battleships sunk at Pearl Harbor, less than thirteen months later.
The more subtle trap is to fall into the thinking that the next war will be fought in the manner of the previous one. This leads to limitations on both strategic and tactical thinking and their subsequent effect on training and preparation. Drawing from WWII again, an easily identified example is that of the French. Having seen the trench warfare, relatively stable fronts and bloody results of attacks against fortified positions, the French relied too heavily on this experience with their dependence on the fixed fortifications of the Maginot Line. Result: the capitulation of France to Nazi Germany in just six weeks.
During my time in the National Guard, I saw first-hand this type of thinking, at both a strategic and tactical level. Even into the latter ’90s, much of the US armor training was based on the planned defense-and-counterattack of the anticipated massive tank showdown with the Soviets in Europe. On a small-scale level, my platoon was going through a move-to-contact engagement on the tank simulators at Ft. Knox (I’m talking about the old platoon-to-battalion level SimNet, which may or may not still be in use). The exercise was late in the day and the platoon reacted poorly to the eventual enemy attack. Overnight, the platoon leadership planned for the same exercise, anticipating the meeting with the OpFor to be in the same location. Sure enough, as the engagement was rerun the following morning, the enemy were in the same location and were decimated. We had made a mistake and been rewarded for it — wrong lesson learned.
Military history is replete with examples of both lessons that were failed to be grasped and lessons that were learned too rigidly. How best to avoid this trap? Learn the lessons of the previous conflict but don’t allow them to exclusively dictate doctrine or tactics. Innovate while anticipating innovation. Despite the above case of Pearl Harbor, along with my own examples and many more throughout our history, the modern American military has generally been pretty good about this, overcoming the potential pitfalls with flexibility and innovation. One of my old lieutenants liked to say, “We train in chaos.” (He also, in his fair share, was fond of saying, “I’ll get the next pitcher.” He’s still a dear friend.) This has been noticed by our foes as well, as a Soviet military document apparently held the following gem:
One of the serious problems in planning against American doctrine that the Americans do not read their manuals nor do they feel any obligations to follow their doctrine.
So far in the war against Islamist terror, this potential trap has played to our advantage. In Afghanistan, the Taliban felt secure without a build-up for a repeat of the Soviet engagement. In Iraq, Saddam and his military seemed paralyzed when the ground onslaught took off without a lengthy air campaign, as was expected from the first Gulf War. In both, the US used innovation and adaptation to overcome the enemy without allowing them the luxury of benefitting from their acquired experience.
A trio of historical examples are driving today’s war — Viet Nam in general, Tet specifically, and Mogadishu. The Islamists are hoping that a slow bleed or a sudden hemorrhage will cripple the will of the American public.
Which is stronger — the will of the American people to succeed or their fear of the failures of our history? The hopes of our current enemy based on our past or the future imaginative actions of the American military?
I anticipate having children someday. They and their children will live in the world that results from the answer to that.
It looks like another tragedy, another submission of a human being to the demons of war, may possibly have occurred in Fallujah.
The shooting Saturday was videotaped by pool correspondent Kevin Sites of NBC television, who said three other previously wounded prisoners in the mosque apparently also had been shot again by the Marines inside the mosque.
The incident played out as the Marines 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment, returned to the unidentified Fallujah mosque Saturday. Sites was embedded with the unit.
Sites reported that a different Marine unit had come under fire from the mosque on Friday. Those Marines stormed the building, killing ten men and wounding five others, Sites said. The Marines said the fighters in the mosque had been armed with rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47 rifles.
The Marines had treated the wounded, he reported, left them behind and continued on Friday with their drive to retake the city from insurgents who have been battling U.S.-led occupation forces in Iraq (news – web sites) with increasing ferocity and violence in recent months.
On the video as the camera moved into the mosque during the Saturday incident, a Marine can be heard shouting obscenities in the background, yelling that one of the men was only pretending to be dead.
The video then showed a Marine raising his rifle toward a prisoner laying on the floor of the mosque but neither NBC nor CNN showed the bullet hitting the man. At that moment the video was blacked out but the report of the rifle could be heard.
The blacked out portion of the video tape, provided later to Associated Press Television News and other members of the network pool, showed the bullet striking the man in the upper body, possibly the head. His blood splatters on the wall behind him and his body goes limp.
Sites reported a Marine in the same unit had been killed just a day earlier when he tended to the booby-trapped dead body of an insurgent.
The events on the videotape began as some of the Marines from the unit accompanied by Sites approached the mosque on Saturday, a day after it was stormed by other Marines.
Gunfire can be heard from inside the mosque, and at its entrance, Marines who were already in the building emerge. They are asked by an approaching Marine lieutenant if there were insurgents inside and if the Marines had shot any of them. A Marine can be heard responding affirmatively. The lieutenant then asks if they were armed and fellow Marine shrugs.
Sites’ account said the wounded men, who he said were prisoners and who were hurt in the previous day’s attack, had been shot again by the Marines on the Saturday visit.
The videotape showed two of the wounded men propped against the wall and Sites said they were bleeding to death. According his report, a third wounded man appeared already dead, while a fourth was severely wounded but breathing. The fifth was covered by a blanket but did not appear to have been shot again after the Marines returned. It was the fourth man who was shown being shot.
A spokesman at Marine Corps headquarters in the Pentagon (news – web sites), Maj. Doug Powell, said the incident was “being investigated.” He had no further details, other than to confirm the incident happened on Saturday and that the Marines involved were part of the 1st Marine Division.
The CNN broadcast of the pictures used pixilation to cover parts of the video that could lead to public identification of the Marines involved.
NBC’s Robert Padavick told members of the U.S. television pool that the Pentagon had ordered NBC and other pool members to make sure the Marines identity was hidden because “they (the military authorities) are anticipating a criminal investigation as a result of this incident and do not want to implicate anybody ahead of that.”
In New York, NBC spokeswoman Allison Gollust said the network did not broadcast the prisoner being shot because of the “graphic nature” of the video.
If the evidence on this tape and the accompanying allegations are true, this soldier needs to be prosecuted.
Evidence may find him innocent, or circumstances may hold sway over the extent of his penalty. He must be prosecuted, however, as he seems to have violated orders and US-signed accords.
There may come a time when this conflict requires such barbarity (which was known in other heroic efforts, e.g. WWII) but that time has not come yet. There may be a time when the gloves are truly off and the media are muzzled to save our civilization, but we ain’t there yet. Let’s watch how the UCMJ wheels roll on this one.