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War Throughout History
From failure to success and somewhere in-between, this section views war from the perspective of reality rather than theory.
"History is written by the winners."
"History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it." -Attributed to Winston Churchill
"Those who will not remember history, are condemned to repeat it." -Santayanna.
"Walk softly, but carry a big stick." -Theodore Roosevelt.
It is hoped by many that one day we will have peace and unity throughout the world. Until that day arrives, people who are free or wishing to be free must be prepared to fight to maintain or obtain their freedom. Freedom is a temporary result of successful Warfare (and lots of politicking... but that's another book). Successful Warfare begins in the mind. To that end, the following section attempts to establish a mental framework in which the necessity of Successful Warfare is understandable.
A people may choose to avoid offensive actions. If they care to survive, they cannot avoid preparation for defensive actions. In the past invasions aimed to wipe out the original inhabitants.
After an early history of militancy, the Roman peoples became addicted to the opulence (or at least the free bread and circuses) that their empire had gained for them. Wearying of fighting their own wars, they attempted to defend their borders with hired help. Where is the Roman Empire today?
Iceland was sparsely inhabited by Irish monks before and when the Norse arrived. Iceland today has one of the most homogeneous (Scandinavian) gene-pools of any nation on earth.
The Tibetans were one of China's scourges for centuries, descending from the Tibetan plateau to raid and pillage the Chinese. The Chinese solved the problem by sending in Buddhist monks espousing the peaceful philosophy of the Buddha. The Tibetans converted en masse. Who's laughing now?
Freedom is not free.
If you can read this, thank a Teacher. If you can read this in English, thank a Veteran. -[anonymous Americana]
Evolution of War
This section details the evolution of warfare and fighting throughout the history of man.
Display vs. Proof.
Fighting requires resources. Expenditure of these resources produces a weakened state, more susceptible to losing the next confrontation. Displays and Intimidation have always been and will always be preferable to actual fighting. This is seen from the lowest orders of animals to the May-Day Parades of the Soviets (and at all stations in between). This is an unalterable axiom of warfare.
Display rather than Proof, however, allows for bluffing and deception.
Safety in numbers: more is better (usually).
In the beginning, there was the Alpha-male. The Alpha-male is, by definition, capable of defeating each an every other individual in "the group" in one-on-one fighting.
Somewhat later, although still in the mists of time, it was discovered that two or more weaker individuals could combine their strengths to overcome an onerous alpha-male. It is also true, however, that allies usually fall to bickering among themselves once the obvious danger of the (former) Alpha-male has been removed. "There can be only one" is a truism of most primitive situations, and is the basis of the Executive branch of government in modern representative democracies (committees are a perfect way to prevent anything from actually being accomplished). Nonetheless, the concepts and utility of combined forces and collective security have been with us ever since. Bigger armies defeat smaller armies with alarming regularity. With a few hiccups (induced by the occasional downfall of society and subsequent dark ages), societal groupings (tribes/states) and their fighting branches (warrior-bands/armies) have tended to increase in size.
Speed vs. Armour
Basic fighting may be defined as delivering kinetic energy to ones adversary in ways least conducive to their continued functioning, while attempting to avoid their reciprocal offerings.
The two primary ways of avoiding the receipt of kinetic energy are Speed (being fast enough to get out of the way) and Armour (shielding, to absorb the blow via the law of Conservation of Momentum). The requirements for Speed vs. Armour are mutually conflicting. The more armour you carry, the slower you can move... the faster you move, the less armour you can carry.
In the evolution of warfare, the pendulum has swung back and forth many times between the requirements for speed vs. armour. Usually it is some tactical or technical innovation which provides the impetus for reversing the swing.
Greek Hoplites in phalanx formations were very heavily armoured for their day, yet they were undone by the administrative superiority of more lightly armoured Roman Legions.
The introduction of the stirrup to Europe in the 5th century AD allowed what had been lightly armoured cavalry lancers to develop into the Knights in Armour of the mediaeval era. The extra stability of stirrups and larger horses allowing, for a time, high speed and heavy armour; the entire ensemble of man, horse, armour and arms being the delivery device for the kinetic energy. The high infrastructure requirements for supporting this fighting style eventually helped to develop one of the highest levels of armouring seen: stone castles -- absolutely zero speed and manoeuvrability, combined with as much shielding as one could quarry, all in an attempt to defend the specific piece of land which allowed sustaining the fighting horses and men.
These circumstances, however, were wholly undone by the introduction of gun-powder and firearms beginning in the 14th century AD. Firearms induced a reversion to little or no armour. The available armouring technologies were incapable of stopping bullets; and with the slow rate of fire and high rate of misfires, once a soldier had fired his shot, speed was of the utmost importance to complete ones bayonet charge before the enemy could reload.
Automatic weapons and machine guns reversed the pendulum yet again. Speed for charging meant little before the heavy sustained fire of the 20th century. Helmets, so noticeably absent from 18th and 19th century battlefields made a great comeback. It was the extreme heavy armour of tanks that broke the trench-warfare stalemate of WWI.
War planes, and fighter planes, rockets, and missiles... speed, speed, and more speed.
Nuclear weapons, however brought the state of the art back to ever larger bunkers, perhaps culminating in artifacts such as Cheyenne Mountain.
- Fists and feet.....................
- Wooden clubs and unshaped rocks....
- Deceit & Trickery..................
- Pointed sticks.....................
- Knapped stones.......at least 1 million BCE
- Bow (& arrow)......................
- Psychological weapons.(drums, trumpets, war paint)
- Tunneling and Sapping..............
- Copper.............................3500 BCE
- Bronze (alloy of copper and tin)...3000 BCE
- Horse and Chariots.................2000 BCE
- Biological weapons (spreading disease intentionally)
- Iron...............................1500 BCE
- Steel (combination of iron and carbon)
- Bagpipes (psych. weapons)..........
- Stirrups............in the West by 400 AD
- Gunpowder...........in the West by 1350 AD
- Cannon & Mortars...................1350
- Rifling of gun barrels.............
- Railroads (troop & materiel movt)..
- Modern machining...................1800
- Steamboats (as gunships)...........1820s
- Balloons (for observation).........
- Breech-loading rifles..............1850s
- Barbed wire........................
- Iron-clad ships....................1860s
- Repeating rifles...................
- Gatling guns.......................
- Automatic rifles...................
- Smokeless gunpowder................
- Machine guns.......................1900s
- Zeppelins & Dirigibles.............
- Carriers (ships w/ aeroplanes).....
- Poison Gas.........................1910s
- Flame throwers.....................
- Missiles & Rockets.................
- Nuclear bombs......................1945
- Nuclear Submarines and Ships.......
- Napalm and herbicides..............
<the list goes on and on>
Guerrilla Warfare is a redundant misnomer, as "Guerilla" is Spanish for "little war". But we seem to be stuck with the term in English, at least.
Guerilla Warfare takes maximum advantage of speed, and seems to have little use for armour. Furthermore, it would seem to defy the rule of "Strength in Numbers", as most operations are conducted by small highly-mobile groups. During a guerilla attack, soldiers attack the enemy quickly, then "vanish" into the landscape.
To be maximally effective, however, an insurgency must be well entrenched, which is to say, they should have the support of the populous among which they operate. Thus, although they may have very few actual operatives, the collusion of the local non-combatants swells the effective number of real participants far beyond the number of soldiers their adversary may be able to field. Furthermore, the surrounding populous provides maximum opportunity for Cover and Concealment both before and after any particular strike.
Total War is the practice of considering all of an enemy's resources as valid targets; to include civilian population, and means of production (agricultural and industrial).
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, there were no industrial means of production, aside from perhaps mining, smelting, and the activities of smiths (armourers). Agricultural means of production (farms and farmers) were more often siezed to augment the invader's supplies than destroyed, or rather destroyed by their defender to deny them to the invader (Scorched Earth Policy). Civilian populations, however, have always suffered during war, whether because they were taken to be sold into slavery, because their food was taken or destroyed, because their homes were occupied or destroyed, or due to the pestilence which always accompanies warfare.
During the high middle-ages in Europe, the code of Chivalry supposedly forbade the mistreatment of non-combatants. It is not at all clear that the civilians would agree that this was actually the case.
And for an all too brief period around the 18th century, War was considered a Gentlemen's' Sport: supposedly not making more of a mess than could be cleaned up by tea-time. This is more likely a Victorian romanticisation, all the more plausible the further you were in time and space from the battle field.
WWI and to a greater degree WWII were text-book examples of Total War; with indiscriminate use of Chemical Weapons and bombing (conventional and nuclear) of industrial/population centres to destroy enemy resources and morale.
Law of War
In conjunction with the increased use of Total War, the Geneva Conventions have been an attempt by the larger players in geo-politics to provide a framework for minimizing the inherent suffering of war. In particular, guidelines have been laid down concerning the "fair" treatment of medical facilities and personnel, clergy/chaplains, the wounded, and prisoners of war.
The International Red Cross (and sister organizations such as the Red Crescent, et al.) are the bodies responsible for implementing many of the humanitarian assistances prescribed under the various Geneva Conventions.
The International Court at The Hague is the responsible body for trying and prosecuting parties suspected of breaching the guidelines laid out in the Geneva Conventions. [vide War Crimes and War Criminals]
Various treaties have been attempted to eliminate or reduce the threat from Chemical, Biological, and Nuclear weapons of mass destruction. None of these have been nearly as comprehensive as the Geneva Conventions. The United States, for instance, reserves the right of 1st strike with Nuclear Weapons, the right to retaliate with Chemical Weapons (2nd strike), and will not use Biological Weapons (no strike).
It is extremely important to note, that the Geneva Conventions and these other treaties are all agreements between the governments of states/nations. Supranational terrorist groups are NOT parties to these agreements, and indeed, their most basic tactics fly in the very face of these agreements. It is left as an exercise for the reader as to whether or not these individuals should be accorded the rights guaranteed under these agreements.
Religious and Ideological Wars
Aside from merely wishing to conquer another group, and take what is theirs, Religious and Ideological Wars have been an attempt by one party to violently control the way another group thinks, or to subjugate or at least harm them because of what they think.
A non-exhaustive list of examples of this behaviour include the spread of Islam (7th century onward -- the creation of the Caliphate), various civil wars of the Byzantine Empire, the Crusades (12th through 14th centuries), the Wars of the Reformation, the spread and containment of Communism (the Cold War)(20th century), and the more recent disagreement between Islamic fundamentalist terrorists and the Western Nations.
Levels of Military Thinking
If you're only thinking about military matters, you're not thinking about strategy. Strategy encompasses all the tools at a nation's disposal: military, diplomatic, economic and social. Military force is but one tool in a nation's toolbox.
Strategy is defining a nation's needs and objectives, and then devising a plan for meeting those needs and objectives. For example, in WWII Hitler knew he could not sustain Germany's military/industrial expansion without access to oil. Germany had no oil reserves and neither did any of its immediate neighbours. The closest oil reserves of any size were in the Caucasus mountains of Russia. So to meet Germany's need for oil, Hitler's strategy was to invade Russia and take theirs.
The actual invasion plan was not a strategic decision, but an operational one. At the military operational level, you are concerned primarily, if not solely, with military matters. So the decision to invade Russia was a strategic decision, but the decision of when and where to attack, and with what forces, were all operational decisions. Typically, strategic decisions are made by a country's political leaders while operational decisions are made by its senior military commanders.
If you can smell the smoke and hear the gunfire, you're in a tactical situation. Tactical engagements are often called "battles." The battles of The Alamo and Little Big Horn are famous examples of tactical battles. While strategic situations may take months, years or even decades to play out, tactical situations are usually resolved in a few minutes to a few days. In land combat, tactical decisions are made at the lower levels of the command structure, from junior officers down to individual soldiers. In naval combat, they are typically made by junior to senior level officers commanding anything from a single ship to a large carrier group. In air combat, tactical decisions are made by squadron leaders, who are typically mid-level officers, to individual pilots. Tactical decisions must typically be made quickly, under fire, and with immediate life-and-death consequences.
Decisions can however, be both a tactically good decision, but a strategically bad decision. This is how tactics and strategy are usually differentiated. For example, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor destroyed far more American military resources that Japanese military resources. This was a tactical victory by the Japanese, but the overall grand strategy was a failure because the events following Pearl Harbor resulted in Japan's defeat.
Between the political abstractions that characterize strategy and the minute-to-minute, life-and-death drama that characterizes tactics, lies the realm of operations. Operations tend to be strictly military affairs and are orchestrated by senior military commanders, generals and admirals. Operations tend to be unfold over days, weeks or even months and to involve large numbers of men and several battles. The Invasion of Normandy and the Tet Offensive are famous examples of recent military operations. The distinctions between these levels are fuzzy. For example, in the Battle of Gettysburg in the Civil War, there were actually a number of smaller tactical engagements, making the overall Battle of Gettysburg look more like an operational engagement than a tactical one.
Military Branches and What They Do
The primary job of the army is to take and control territory and to stop the enemy from doing the same. Modern armies are composed of basically 3 groups. First is the infantry, composed of individual soldiers fighting "up close and personal" with personal, hand-held weapons. This is the dirtiest, most dangerous, and most important job in the military. In the beginning was the infantry, and the infantry is still considered "The Queen of the Battlefield." You can bomb the enemy's capital into a smoking rubble, but until your guys are walking around in its streets and cleared out any survivors, you can't claim to have conquered it.
Then there is the artillery, composed of big guns, or more recently, rockets. The guys firing the big guns rarely see their targets. They rely on forward observers to tell them where to shoot. An observer can be a guy on a hilltop, a guy in an airplane or anywhere they can see the target. This is called "indirect fire." If the guys firing the guns can see their targets it is called "direct fire." Artillery guys hate direct fire because it means the enemy is way too close. Half of all combat casualties are caused by artillery, so locating and destroying the enemy's artillery is always a high priority.
Finally, there is armour or tanks. Tanks specialize in moving quickly across relatively open ground and delivering a lot of fire-power. While tanks look big and imposing, they do have their vulnerabilities. Their main one is that they can't see very well. So tanks depend on infantry to be their eyes. A tank without infantry cover is very vulnerable. The Marines like to say that "Hunting tanks is fun and easy." Tanks need room to move to be at their most effective, so they are of limited usefulness in heavy jungle or forest (like Vietnam), mountains (like Korea and much of Afghanistan), or in built-up cities (like Stalingrad). But in flat, open areas, like the deserts of Iraq and the steppes of Russia, they are fearsome indeed.
Using ships to transport goods is by far the most efficient way to move large amounts of people and goods across oceans. The job of navies has traditionally been to ensure that your country maintains the ability to move your people and goods, while at the same time, interfering with your enemy's ability to move his people and goods. One of the most noteworthy recent examples of this was the North Atlantic campaign of WWII. The Americans were trying to move men and materials across the Atlantic Ocean to help Britain. At the same time, the German navy, using mainly U-boats, was trying to stop this traffic. Had the Allies failed, Germany probably would have been able to conquer Britain as it had the rest of Europe.
In addition to this basic role, modern navies have developed other capabilities as well. An example is putting nuclear missiles into a submarine to turn it into a mobile, almost undetectable missile base. Submarines have also distinguished themselves as superb platforms from which to spy on the enemy. The recent best-seller Blind Man's Bluff is a gripping account of how this was done during the Cold War. The American navy has invested a lot to develop the ability to conduct amphibious assaults, that is, to attack from the sea using land-based forces (think D-Day). This is the primary mission of the U.S. Marines. Aircraft carriers also provide the navy with a mobile airfield which can be used to conduct air operations virtually anywhere in the world.
The Air Force
The introduction of aircraft in the early 20th Century adds a new dimension to warfare. That dimension reflects itself not only in new ways to deploy fire but also in boosting the ability of the ground troops to deploy their fire, supplying knowlegde about quantity, quality and disposition of opposing forces. Air power has a negative effect on the enemy's morale as well.
Since the introduction of balloons to spy on the enemy and to direct artillery barrages the importance of the aircraft rose exponentially:
- balloons and reconaissance fixed-wing aircraft: spying, spotting
- air-superiority fighters: air-to-air fighting, gaining control of the air-space
- tactical bombers: targeting foes in the battlefield - JU-87 Stuka
- strategic bombers: destroying the enemy's ability to wage war - Allied campaign against the Axis
- rocket-proppeled unmanned one-use weapons - V1 and V2
- rotary-wing aircraft: both as gunships or transports
- multi-purpose unmanned aircraft: both as gunships or as reconnaissance
It's now impossible to disassociate ground and air power: the regular infantry or even small, commando-like units can call upon superior firepower in the form of airstrikes; small, highly mobile, unmanned aircraft can acquire information about enemy forces or infrastructure to direct ground operations. It's the exploration of all dimensions that deliver victory.
Logistics is essentially distribution and delivery of supplies to troops. Supplies include anything from food rations, to additional soldiers, to munitions, to fuel and anything in between. As armies of an invading force moves out of it's home territory, supply lines are formed to deliver such supplies to soldiers fighting towards the front. Without supplies, soldiers will go hungry, vehicles will run out of fuel, guns will run out of ammunition, and armies will be unable to replace men lost in combat.
The concept of logistics has become increasingly important throughout the history of warfare. The more advanced military technology is, the more supplies necessary to continue a war effectively. For example, soldiers fighting with swords required far fewer and complicated supplies than soldiers fighting with gunpowder muskets. Today modern soldiers fighting with assault rifles with tanks and armored personnel carriers require a large variety of complicated supplies including ammunition, fuel, repair kits, additional weapons, etc.
Logistics is also part of strategy. During World War II the Chinese forces used a strategy where they purposely let the Japanese forces take land, while buying the Chinese forces time. Eventually the Japanese advance was halted as Japan simply could not find the supplies to reach further into China, while trying to fight an insurgency in the territory Japan occupied at the same time.