Monday, July 11, 2005

War of the Worlds


War of the Worlds
By Vince R. Ditrich

A billion dollars a day. That’s a lot of money, no matter how you slice it. The United States spends even more than this on its military, whose current principal concern is the ‘War on Terror’. One would imagine that such expenditure would practically ensure success, save lives, eliminate any conceivable opposition, and clean things up once and for all.

A billion dollars a day is more than a trillion dollars every three years. This is an amount of money so huge that the human mind is at a loss to even imagine it. A thousand billion! Since 2001 the US Military has cost its taxpayers at least 1.87 TRILLION dollars. Yes…Trillion. The Apollo moon program cost $24 billion – From experimental rocket planes to walking on the moon over the period of a decade, with a price tag that, even converted to today’s dollars, was far less costly than a few months worth of policing the Axis of Evil. And the moon project succeeded.

It’s said that Generals are always preparing for the last war. They go to military colleges and soak up the lessons learned in the wars that their fathers fought. Even when clearly warned by their teachers and fellow officers of this flawed tendency in themselves they repeat the mistake, like a weak-willed dieter gorging on a piece of cake at midnight.

To be fair, western militaries have made efforts to avoid the same old trap by trying to use history as a window to the future. The United States, for example, has a military hierarchy that is well-educated; it is also sensitive to the public’s ultra-low threshold of tolerance to casualties and has at its fingertips the finest hardware and resources any military has ever enjoyed. Granted, it looks larger on paper than it truly is, but a little known truth ameliorates this apparent weakness…And that is this: There is no nation-state on the planet which can seriously challenge the US military as it currently stands constituted. American spending alone counts for an unbelievable 50% of the entire world’s defense spending. The US Forces have more of everything than the next several countries on the list combined. Their great ally Britain is responsible for only 5%. They have the strongest nuclear deterrent, they possess the greatest reach in intelligence gathering, have the biggest Navy, the largest and most effective Air Force, have the most overwhelming Army, the best equipped Reservists, have more combat and engineering specialists, a larger Medical Corp, a practically inexhaustible worldwide infrastructure of bases and assets, and of course have the most fascinating gadgets, manned, unmanned, secret or known. No sovereign country that wishes to survive the fight can take them on.

But the Terrorists aren’t a sovereign country. The problem the US faces is that the terrorists of the world – groups, incidentally with very little to lose, have shrewdly stolen and taken to heart a tactical concept made famous by American soldiers from another generation: “Hit ‘em where they ain’t”. Attack your enemy not where they are strong and prepared; no, the point is to find their weakness and capitalize upon it through imagination and surprise. Ironically, this concept, proved repeatedly in WW2 by the US and its British ally, was merely an adaptation of the clever guerrilla tactics deployed by early American Colonists against the British during the American War of Independence… And, presumably, before that, by underdogs throughout history

The terrible killing fields of World War One, where General Haig disposed his British troops based on the belief that direct frontal assault upon strong-points would eventually crush the enemy by destroying his morale as well as reducing his materiel and manpower only helped to provide the world with its first man-made military cataclysm. This attritional holocaust was dubbed ‘The Sausage Grinder’ by friend and foe alike. Clearly, Haig was not the only one who espoused such barbaric methodology, but he certainly defended it most famously. His disastrous strategic concept was discredited, but only after the flower of European manhood was destroyed, and an entire generation sat stunned, wounded & scarred. The social response in the lands of the victors to the unmitigated butchery of the Great War was revulsion, isolationism, neglect and avoidance, appeasement, all of which richly fed both Fascism & Nazism, and sadly hastened the next, even greater world cataclysm which followed only 20 years later -- a trial that the west survived only by the skin of its teeth.

The horrible lessons of static warfare however were learned by the military men of WW2, particularly the Nazis. Even Hitler in his darkest spasms of Wagnerian nihilism couldn’t abide the thought of yet more gore-soaked trenches misted over by corrosive clouds of mustard gas. Speed, stealth, flexibility, intelligence were now the watchwords. Strategies developed wherein smaller and more mobile groupings of shock troops, re-enforced by tanks and air support, launched themselves upon a weak point, infiltrated, encircled, and broke up the defense into small, easier to handle pockets of resistance.

The Terrorists, in a sense, have adapted this flexibility of thinking to their own needs. The battlefield is now a large city; the targets are the hearts and minds of its populace. For the Terrorists civilian deaths are merely icing on the cake. The more dead, the happier they probably are, but the real point is to keep everyone in a constant state of fear. They wait, wait, wait, then slip in, do their dastardly deed (to their minds it is a glorious one) and leave their victims to do the remaining damage to themselves.

The Terrorists would like to goad the West into becoming what it fears the most. This tactic is unfortunately bearing fruit. Curtailed civil liberties willingly sacrificed to combat terrorism will do much harm to the very precepts that western democracies are founded upon; martial law can be effective, but only for days or weeks, not years and decades. The thought of surveillance cameras on every street corner was pure over-the-top Orwell only 5 years ago but now Britain is liberally covered in them. Great Grandmothers are now routinely being forced to remove their belts, shoes and outer garments at airports, facilities that have now been reduced to nothing more than joyless transportation hubs crawling with machine gun toting, bullet proof attack-dog wielding troops. The public will temporarily submit to this but will vacillate between fear and rage eventually lashing out at the indignity, the inconveniences, and the grating feeling that they’re being played. They will seek an eye for an eye.

Politicians will try to placate with new offensives, commitment and re-commitment of troops to yet longer but less stable occupations, and will be repaid for their efforts with more dead soldiers and civilians, heated protest at home, and the cold shoulder abroad.

However, for all the terrible cost we will never truly fight fire with fire, militarily or emotionally. We’re bound to our history, traditions, technologies, morals and our laws. The regular citizens of the western democracies won’t countenance repaying the terrorists in kind. Gitmo, Abu Ghraib – these are attempts to circumvent law and ‘hit ’em where they live’, but in truth very few support the existence of these places or the acts performed there. The response to reports has been horrified disbelief. Abuse? Neglect? Torture? From our side? Even without the perversion of secretly supported enclaves of illegal vigilantes, there are countless opportunities for combat troops, always wobbling at the edge of the Geneva convention anyway, to put one toe over the line, thereby pouring gasoline on the fiery resentments of the citizens of the countries they occupy -- and delighting the leaders of their manipulative resident guerrilla factions. The public is fighting the last war, too.

If British or American public support for invasions and occupations should wane, there will be yet another attack, and another, and another. Now that the armies are there, the Terrorists will stop at nothing to keep them there.

If their presence is so hated, then, why would the Terrorists be desperate to drag it on ad nauseum?

Here is where the fiendishly clever aspect of their strategy reveals itself. They certainly know -- even a child realizes -- that they cannot do more than pinprick the west. How possibly could sporadic bombing make any true and permanent material dent? But in their travels the Terrorists have stumbled upon a Grand Irony. These men, at best fringe dwellers hunkering in caves, culturally clinging to the last vestiges of the Stone Age, hoping to revive it, still manage to see clearly what we in the sophisticated, educated, wealthy west do not.

What they see is simple arithmetic. At a more than a billion dollars a day for US forces alone, it won’t be long before the west has spent every cent it has, and every cent it’s likely to earn for several generations. The western democracies will be broke; in the world where we have for so long decided the rules we will no longer do so. We will be powerless. Exhausted, it will be possible to knock us over with a feather. The Terrorists’ rope-a-dope will have succeeded.

So, unless we awake to the trap we’ve entered and try to find a way out it is conceivable that we, the mighty, will fall, to our own utter shock and disbelief like HG Wells’ Martians who, though marching to within a hairsbreadth of total victory are suddenly and unexpectedly laid low by mere microbes.