[FoRK] Military history lesson
andrew at ceruleansystems.com
Wed Jul 21 00:21:18 PDT 2004
My corrections to what appears to be the from memory recital of a
publik skool history education.
On Jul 20, 2004, at 5:33 PM, Owen Byrne wrote:
> I'm sorry - but the US couldn't defeat Vietnam
That is a really strange way of putting it. Viet Nam was actually the
first war after WWII where investment in technology gave the US a
decisive advantage on the battlefield. A lot of other countries,
notably the USSR, copied many tactics and technologies developed for
and during the Viet Nam conflict. If you look at the kill ratio in
Viet Nam, the US enjoyed very high conversion ratios and superior
command of the battlefield, far higher than in Korea. ARVN forces,
equipped with American weapons and with rudimentary US military
training, also had good conversion ratios.
US = 47k + ARVN = 227k
NVA+VC = 1.1M
The part of history that matters: By the time US troop strength had
parity with the NVA/VC forces around 1968, the NVA/VC were suffering
catastrophic losses far beyond the replacement rate such that by 1969
the US side greatly outnumbered the NVA/VC. It is generally
acknowledged by historians on both sides that if the US had not decided
to withdraw for political reasons that the US would have won within two
years. We know now that the Tet Offensive was the last gasp for the
NVA, a Hail Mary play, which was a military failure. Unfortunately,
this coincided with the beginning of a structured reduction in combat
action against the NVA by the US, effectively giving them a free pass
after they had already blown their wad and failed.
In essence, it was a military victory in every sense of the word. For
various non-military reasons, when it was time to make the final
killing blow the US walked away.
So stating that the "US couldn't defeat Viet Nam" has no military
truth. The US decisively defeated the NVA/VC as a general rule and
inflicted severe damage that the NVA could not sustain. The war was
almost over when the US withdrew.
> nor for that matter, Iraq.
Iraq was a starkly decisive military campaign. I think the Syrians,
Iranians, and such have been a larger nuisance than the Iraqi military
> This despite the fact that pacification of
> your colonies seems to be the war you train for.
The US has colonies?
We only started seriously training for urban pacification and
occupation in the 1990s. This is the first combat deployment we've
ever engaged in of this type. We used to deal with urban pacification
the same way everyone else does: pave the city. Doing things the new
way is tactically much trickier, but friendlier to civilians and
infrastructure than all the tried-and-true methods. There have been
some bugs that have been worked out in practice.
One of the benefits the US will get from this is that the military will
have a seasoned and experienced corps of officers and NCOs that are
intimately familiar with how to do extremely effective urban conquest
and occupation. That is valuable institutional knowledge that is very
difficult to come by.
> The last time the US faced a real military power - Korea - the Chinese
> discovered that US soldiers are very good at running away.
Umm... That was a UN operation and the US was a secondary part of the
troop strength (at the peak, the US had about 300k troops there). Even
with badly degraded logistics of that theater, and the fact that the US
was facing Russian fighters and fighter pilots, a numerically superior
Chinese regular force, plus the North Koreans, the US troops gave
*vastly* more than they got. The Koreans just about cancel each other
out, both in strength and casualties. The difference between Chinese
and US casualties was an order of magnitude. The weapons technology in
theater was roughly equivalent for both sides at the time (we are
talking 1950 here, and we'd been helping the Chinese just a few years
prior). Despite being badly prepared and outnumbered, the US still
managed to fight the Communists to a standstill.
If you read the Chinese accounts of the war, you'll note that they
write that the ROK soldiers were persistent under withering fire, while
the US soldiers would quickly withdraw ("run away"). This is easily
explained by well-known differences of doctrine that also explain why
the US had such low casualty rate in its engagements historically. It
is classic doctrine for US military forces to withdraw when faced with
stiff resistance and make heavy use of stand-off and area effect
weapons (e.g. bombs and artillery) to minimize the risk to soldiers.
The willingness to press forward in a meat grinder situation shows in
the casualty figures for the Koreans and Chinese.
> Actually I think the (obvious) solution to your points is already in
> 1. Asymmetric warfare - hit 'em where they ain't
> 2. Sow discontent amongst their allies. Ideally the US should be left
> 3. Get them to invade foreign countries to stretch their resources
> and leave more vulnerabities to use 1. against.
This naive from a number of dimensions.
Asymmetric warfare is only effective within a certain set of
parameters. Arguably the biggest weakness of the US military in the
current engagements was a lack of practical operational experience
dealing with occupation and pacification in these types of scenarios.
Well now the US military has that experience, and a lot of it, and the
next time they have to do it it will go much more smoothly. And much
of the so-called "asymmetric warfare" in Iraq has been Islamic
extremists, which is a completely different problem independent of Iraq
and not unique to the US. If anyone is still paying attention, the US
military has slowly but surely become very effective in dealing with
insurgents, guerillas, jihadis, and various other nuisances.
The primary weaknesses in the US military structure and doctrine
exposed in the last few years are as follows:
1.) While our intelligence in the industrialized countries is
excellent, our intelligence in the third world is sadly lacking. I'm
sure this is being aggressively addressed.
2.) We very obviously lacked real experience implementing our new
civilian-friendly tactical and occupation doctrines. This has been
remedied by extensive experience and should not be a problem in future
It is worth noting that the US military did not repeat any of the
mistakes of the previous Gulf War. The doctrine, equipment, and
technology evolved to a more efficient and effective structure in that
relatively short gap. The actual warfighting machine is ridiculously
competent and the technological advancements continue to prove
But you still haven't explained how this will bring down the US. There
are certain economies of scale to military operations. You can't just
bait the US into invading country after country, because 1.) the US
will be fully aware that it is being baited, and 2.) the US can invade
an awful lot of countries before running out of steam. In short, the
US would have a *long* run before it went into decline. Even if the US
did go berserk, there would be a whole pile of countries that would
rather make peace with the US rather than face the possibility of being
on the other side of its military machine. That's just practical
reality. And if other industrialized countries could be implicated, as
you are suggesting, then they are setting themselves up to be hurt. US
intelligence is poor in the third world, but excellent in the
In fact, I think that this would have a stronger likelihood of ending
up at an alternative outcome: The US, along with a good sized
collection of other countries, achieves overt military dominance and
control of the globe. Most countries, like people, will go along to
get along. The US has generally been quite restrained in the use of
its military, and I don't see how encouraging the US to behave
otherwise is a good idea when it is as economically and militarily as
powerful as it is. You'll likely end up with unintended consequences.
So feel free to come up with realistic scenarios.
j. andrew rogers
More information about the FoRK