Winning: Cherished Myths


: September 2, 2005

Why is it to difficult to determine who is winning the war on terror? Partly, it's because we still dont agree who won wars and battles in the past. Take Vietnam. The U.S. didnt lose the war. When American forces withdrew in 1972, the South Vietnamese government was still in power. The north eventually won, not via a guerilla war (American and South Vietnamese efforts had destroyed the guerilla force in the south) but via an invasion with conventional forces (including lots of tanks), right across the border. The north tried it first in 1972, right after U.S. troops were just about gone, and failed. So they built up their forces for three years, tried again, and succeeded. 

There are plenty of other myths in military history. How about the one depicting the Germans as the super soldiers during World War II, while Americans were considered a bunch of losers who needed superior numbers to prevail. While the Germans had a lot of good ideas, and were pretty lethal, their big advantage was better training, for both troops and leaders (officers and NCOs). But when combat experienced American units encountered German troops at the end of the war, if was often the G.I.s giving the Germans a beating, and lessons on how its done. 

Even World War I, long dismissed as a thoughtless head-butting contest, has been revealed as anything but as historians go take a closer look at what really went on. Seems everyone was coming up with many startling new ideas throughout 1914-18. The problem was that both sides were doing it, which maintained the stalemate until the very end, when both sides developed the weapons and tactics (for infantry, tanks and aircraft) that would define warfare for the next century. But if you just believed the conventional wisdom, youd miss what was really going on. And youd miss the real lessons of those wars, the lessons that can save your ass in future conflicts.

We can see this struggle between reality and conventional wisdom being played out in Iraq right now. The media needs excitement, and a touch of scandal, to attract eyeballs, and stay in business. As a result, many dramatic events are being buried by what passes for exciting news from the combat zone. Examples abound. Casualty rates are at an all time low for this kind of war. While the news spotlights casualties as another sign of failure, the many casualties that should occur, but dont, get little or no coverage. 

Another spectacular change that gets little notice is the extent to which robots and networking are becoming commonplace on the battlefield. This is as dramatic as any of the major innovations developed during World War I. But all this probably wont get the attention its due, by civilians anyway, for another decade or more. 

An even less noticed innovation is the application of modern policing and investigation methods to Iraq operations. The troops involved often refer to CSI: Baghdad, in recognition of the thorough investigations of enemy attacks and battle scenes. What gets even less attention (and the geeks with guns prefer it that way), is the many types of analyses that information is subjected to, and the insights that produces for American commanders. While the terrorists in Iraq are making a mighty effort, they are losing. You wouldnt know that from reading the news. But someday you will, after you read about it in a history book.




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