The Perfect Soldier: Special Operations, Commandos, and the Future of Us Warfare by James F. Dunnigan
More Books by James Dunnigan
Dirty Little Secrets
The Gulf War and Victory Disease
by James Dunnigan
June 23, 2002
The following is an excerpt from "Getting It Right," a book on the reforms in the US military, mainly the army, between Vietnam and the 1991 Gulf War.
The Gulf War was unique in American military history. Never before had there been such a stunning American victory in the first battle of a war. One would hope that this would be the pattern for the future. One might hope in vain unless careful attention is paid to the "Victory Disease." Up until Vietnam, Americans had never felt that they had lost a war. But Vietnam was different. Although U.S. troops were generally victorious on the battlefield, the war ended with American goals abandoned and, in effect, an American defeat. That feeling of defeat led to more peacetime reforms that the U.S. armed forces have ever experienced. The results were obvious in the Gulf War. What happens next will not be so obvious. What happens next is a long struggle against the insidious Victory Disease. This affliction has been caught by most armies after they have won a war. The American military has caught it after every war, except Vietnam.
The Victory Disease throws the following curves at the conquering heroes;
It worked so well last time, let's do it again next time. When a nation is defeated, it generally looks for a different way to fight the next war. The old ways obviously didn't work and new techniques are not only sought out, but practiced vigorously. The winners have a different attitude, best summed up as, "don't mess with something that works." Actually, this attitude was once sound advice. But in the last two centuries, new technologies have arrived at an ever increasing rate and winners and losers had to adapt and change quickly, or else. The Victory Disease tends to make winners blind to these needed changes. Worse yet, it does not concentrate the victors efforts as much as it does for the losers. Already, one of the new buzzwords in Washington is "Desert Storm Equivalent." This is false, no future war will be a "Desert Storm Equivalent," even in another war with Iraq, or a new one with Iran. The reason that their will not be another Desert Storm is that potential adversaries of the U.S. have learned the lesson not to give the U.S. six months to buildup its forces. More foreboding is the comment of one Third World officer, "don't go to war with American unless you have nuclear weapons."
Congratulations, you're fired. After a feeling of exhilaration, the victorious armies fellow citizens and political leaders then tend to think, "if these guys did so well, maybe we don't need as many of them." Nations do not willingly spend large amounts of money on troops in peacetime, particularly democracies.
What exactly did we do in order to win? In defeat, everyone has some defects to work on. In victory, the defects are less visible and much more effort is spent on embellishing ones good points. This embellishment is often at the expense of a realistic assessment of what actually happened. Losers want to be winners again and are quick to dump old habits. Winners have no where to go but down and are reluctant to fiddle with what is obviously a winning combination. This is further complicated by everyone tending to claim a larger share of the victory than a dispassionate analysis would indicate.
False Expectations. The public, the politicians, and even some of the troops, will form expectations about future wars that are unlikely to be realized. Senior officers fear facing Congress after a future conflict that gets more Americans killed than Desert Storm. The troops dread facing troops with more fire in their bellies than the Iraqis. And everyone fears surprise, yet surprise is one of the constants in warfare.
For the American armed forces, the Gulf War brought forth all four symptoms to one degree or another.