A Soldier's View

From: Bill Payne (bpayne15@juno.com)
Date: Tue Oct 09 2001 - 00:28:30 EDT

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    Recently, I was asked to look at the recent events through the lens of
    military history. I have joined the cast of thousands who have written an
    "open letter to Americans."

    14 September, 2001

    Dear friends and fellow Americans,

    Like everyone else in this great country, I am reeling from last week's
    attack on our sovereignty. But unlike some, I am not reeling from
    surprise. As a career soldier and a student and teacher of military
    history, I have a different perspective and I think you should hear it.

    This war will be won or lost by the American citizens, not diplomats,
    politicians or soldiers. Let me briefly explain. In spite of what the
    media, and even our own government is telling us, this act was not
    committed by a group of mentally deranged fanatics. To dismiss them as
    such would be among the gravest of mistakes. This attack was committed by
    a ferocious, intelligent and dedicated adversary. Don't take this the
    wrong way. I don't admire these men and I deplore their tactics, but I
    respect their capabilities. The many parallels that have been made with
    the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor are apropos. Not only because it was
    a brilliant sneak attack against a complacent America, but also because
    we may well be pulling our new adversaries out of caves 30 years after we
    think this war is over, just like my father's generation had to do with
    the formidable Japanese in the years following WW II.

    These men hate the United States with all of their being, and we must not
    underestimate the power of their moral commitment. Napoleon, perhaps the
    world's greatest combination of soldier and statesman, stated that moral
    is to the physical as three is to one. Patton thought the Frenchman
    underestimated its importance and said moral conviction was five times
    more important in battle than physical strength. Our enemies are willing
    -- better said anxious -- to give their lives for their cause. How
    committed are we America? And for how long?

    In addition to demonstrating great moral conviction, the recent attack
    demonstrated a mastery of some of the basic fundamentals of warfare
    to most military officers worldwide, namely simplicity, security and
    surprise. When I first heard rumors that some of these men may have been
    trained at our own Air War College, it made perfect sense to me. This was
    not a random act of violence, and we can expect the same sort of military
    competence to be displayed in the battle to come. This war will escalate,
    with a good portion of it happening right here in the good ol' U.S. of A.
     These men will not go easily into the night. They do not fear us. We
    must not fear them.

    In spite of our overwhelming conventional strength as the world's only
    superpower (a truly silly term), we are the underdog in this fight. As
    you listen to the carefully scripted rhetoric designed to prepare us for
    the march for war, please realize that America is not equipped or
    seriously trained for the battle ahead. To be certain, our soldiers are
    much better than the enemy, and we have some excellent counter-terrorist
    organizations, but they are mostly trained for hostage rescues, airfield
    seizures, or the occasional body snatch, (which may come in handy). We
    will be fighting a war of annihilation, because if their early efforts
    are any indication, our enemy is ready and willing to die to the last
    man. Eradicating the enemy will be costly and time consuming. They have
    already deployed their forces in as many as 20 countries, and are likely
    living the lives of everyday citizens.

    Simply put, our soldiers will be tasked with a search and destroy mission
    on multiple foreign landscapes, and the public must be patient and
    supportive until the strategy and tactics can be worked out. For the most
    part, our military is still in the process of redefining itself and is
    presided over by men and women who grew up with - and were promoted
    because they excelled in - Cold War doctrine, strategy and tactics. This
    will not be linear warfare, there will be no clear centers of gravity to
    strike with high technology weapons. Our vast technological edge will
    certainly be helpful, but it will not be decisive. Perhaps the perfect
    metaphor for the coming battle was introduced by the terrorists
    themselves aboard the hijacked aircraft -- this will be a knife fight,
    and it will be won or lost by the ingenuity and will of citizens and
    soldiers, not by software or smart bombs.
    We must also be patient with our military leaders.

    Unlike Americans who are eager to put this messy time behind us, our
    adversaries have time on their side, and they will use it. They plan to
    fight a battle of attrition, hoping to drag the battle out until the
    American public loses its will to fight. This might be difficult to
    believe in this euphoric time of flag waving and patriotism, but it is
    acknowledged that America lacks the stomach for a long fight. We need
    only look as far back as Vietnam, when North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen
    Giap (also a military history teacher) defeated the United States of
    America without ever winning a major tactical battle. American soldiers
    who marched to war cheered on by flag waving Americans in 1965 were
    reviled and spat upon less than three years later when they returned.

    Although we hope that Usama Bin Laden is no Giap, he is certain to
    understand and employ the concept. We can expect not only large doses of
    pain like the recent attacks, but also less audacious sand in the gears
    tactics, ranging from livestock infestations to attacks at water supplies
    and power distribution facilities. These attacks are designed to hit us
    in our comfort zone forcing the average American to pay more and play
    less and eventually eroding our resolve. But it can only work if we let
    it. It is clear to me that the will of the American citizenry - you and I
    - is the center of gravity the enemy has targeted. It will be the fulcrum
    upon which victory or defeat will turn. He believes us to be soft,
    impatient, and self-centered. He may be right, but if so, we must change.
    The Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz, (the most often quoted and
    least read military theorist in history), says that there is a remarkable
    trinity of war that is composed of the (1) will of the people, (2) the
    political leadership of the government, and (3) the chance and
    probability that plays out on the field of battle, in that order.

    Every American citizen was in the crosshairs of last Tuesday's attack,
    not just those that were unfortunate enough to be in the World Trade
    Center or Pentagon. The will of the American people will decide this war.
    If we are to win, it will be because we have what it takes to persevere
    through a few more hits, learn from our mistakes, improvise, and adapt.
    If we can do that, we will eventually prevail.

    Everyone I've talked to in the past few days has shared a common
    frustration, saying in one form or another, "I just wish I could do
    something!" You are already doing it. Just keep faith in America, and
    continue to support your President and military, and the outcome is
    certain. If we fail to do so, the outcome is equally certain. God Bless

    Dr. Tony Kern, Lt Col, USAF (Ret)
    Former Director of Military History, USAF Academy
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