On Technology and War (1)

As anyone who casts even an occasional and superficial view at the media knows, military-technological development, driven by hundreds of billions in R&D funding, is proceeding at a furious pace. Not a day passes without the announcement of some new and revolutionary weapons and weapon systems that have recently transformed the entire face of war or are about to do so in the near future. The objective is always the same: namely, to obtain that elusive and often ill-defined thing, military-technological superiority.

As one who has spent much of his life studying military history, specifically the interaction between technology and war, today I want to address the following question. Suppose you have got this kind of superiority. In that case, how do you go about using it?

 

  1. On its own, even the most novel and most powerful weapon or weapon system is useless. That is why it is essential to embed it in everything else that waging war involves. Including, at the very least, organization, logistics, training, doctrine, strategy and tactics. The officers responsible for all these fields must learn what the technology they are working with can and, above all, cannot do. Also, which is equally important, how the various factors interact and how to make them work together in a seamless team.
    A good example of what can happen if this is not done is provided by the rise of modern armored divisions. Come 1940, it was the French who had the most and the heaviest tanks. However, it was the Germans who, having learnt how to use them along with other technologies in an armored division, went ahead and won a victory so spectacular as to turn into a legend.
  2. Any weapon (except nuclear ones, against which the only defense is deterrence) can, in principle, be countered by one means or another. The enemy is not stupid. That is why, the longer the war the more likely this is to happen. Such being the case, the side with technological superiority has a strong interest in making sure that the war is as short as possible. And the other way around, of course.
  3. To shorten the war, it is necessary to take the enemy by surprise. To take the enemy by surprise, the new technology must be developed and introduced in secret, as far as possible. A technology whose existence and characteristics are known is a technology half-countered. But pay heed: maintaining secrecy comes at a price. It can lead to a situation where one’s own troops do not know the new technology as well as they should and where the integrated whole mentioned above is not achieved. A well-known example was the mitrailleuse, an early kind of machine gun. Come war in 1870, it was a revolutionary weapon the French alone possessed. Being large and heavy, though, it was misunderstood and misemployed as an artillery weapon. In World War II, the fear lest the Germans would use proximity fuses against the Allied bombers caused Washington to delay their operational use by about one year.
  4. Any new technology should be used en masse. Short of nukes, rarely if ever in war has any weapon been so powerful as to be capable of acting as a silver bullet. That is why new ones must be husbanded until there are enough of them around to make a real difference. The British in 1915-17 violated this principle. As a result, their armored attacks made little impression on the German defenses. Only towards the end of 1917 did things begin to change. As Guderian, the creator of modern armored warfare, used to put it during the 1930s: boot them, don’t tickle them.
  5. Following directly from this premise, the new technology should be used at the decisive point. In other words, at that point where it can do the greatest good to one’s own side and the greatest harm to the other. Again, 1940—the German breakthrough at Sedan—provides as good a case in point as may be had. French armor was so dispersed that entire units never saw any action at all. By contrast, the German armored divisions were concentrated against a single sector of the French front (so much so, in fact, that the queue of vehicles reached back a hundred kilometers all the way across the Rhine). Supposing there is no decisive point, a situation of which Afghanistan provides a particularly good example, not even the greatest military-technological superiority will be of much avail. The outcome is likely to be a long war which will finally be decided by attrition

Is that enough for today? See you next week.

How Have Heroes Fallen

For those of you who are too young, or have forgotten: there used to be a time when the Israeli military was supposed to be one of the best, perhaps the best, in the world. This was particularly the case between about 1967 and 1973. In 1967 the Israel Defense Force (IDF) only took six days to defeat several Arab armies which, between them, enjoyed a two-and-a-half to threefold numerical superiority over it. In 1973, though similarly outnumbered, it succeeded in repulsing a surprise attack and ended by threatening both Damascus and Cairo. At the time and later—but especially at the time—rivers of ink were spilt in an attempt to explain the “secret” behind these performances. Here I don’t intend to recapitulate the literature in question. Suffice it to say that, when everything is said and done, all of it came down to three factors: motivation, motivation, and motivation.

Today, though, that motivation is no longer there. Official figures how that the percentage of conscripts who volunteer for combat units, especially but not exclusively the armored corps and artillery, has reached an all-time low. What follows is a brief analysis of a few of the causes that have got the IDF into this sad state.

  1. Social changes. In the Israel in which I grew up, the Israel of the 1950s and 1960s, the best thing anyone could be was a soldier and a “fighter” (in English). To the point where the first Hebrew-language song I, having arrived from the Netherlands as a four-year old, learnt had to do with how wonderful soldiers were and how the girls should welcome them (instead of looking for opportunities to accuse them of sexual harassment, as is currently the case). To the point where people sent each other New Year cards with pics of soldiers, tanks, jeeps, etc. And to the point where youngsters who for one reason or another were not drafted sometimes committed suicide. But no longer. Much the best positions the IDF has to offer are in intelligence, computers, and combinations of the two. To the point where people are prepared to pay for having their offspring enter them. And with good reason: as was described in D. Senor and S. Singer’s Startup Nation (2011), it is these units that lead to good jobs and, here and there, great wealth. Adding a hundred dollars to combat soldiers’ monthly pay, which has recently been decided upon, is unlikely to change this situation.
  2. The role of women in the military. The IDF during its years of glory was the world’s only army to draft women and provide them with some kind of weapons training, albeit that it was almost purely symbolic. In return for not having to fight or shed their blood, women served for shorter periods, had to be content with less glamorous work, and enjoyed limited prospects for promotion. No longer. Owing to their physical weakness, women are still very rare in any units where they have to do excessively heavy work, let alone such in which they might become casualties if war breaks out. For example, when announcing the graduation of the first thirteen “tankwomen” the other day the IDF was careful to point out that they would not serve in any dangerous sectors. Nor is it clear who is going to do the heavy maintenance work required. Women can volunteer for “combat” units if they feel like it; men are assigned even against their will. Meanwhile, in units and positions that do not come under fire and do not require such work, women have gained complete equality. Women in other words, get all the cushy jobs. Nor, owing the above-mentioned social changes, can men compensate by serving in combat units. Not to put too fine a point on it, men get screwed.
  3. Until 1973 inclusive the IDF always fought enemies stronger, or at any rate more numerous, than itself. As it did so it heaped glory on itself. No longer. Starting as far back as the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, it has fought weak opponents almost exclusively. So much so, indeed, that in many cases the term fought—as against Palestinian kids armed with nothing more dangerous than rocks—has become a misnomer and should have been put in apostrophes. Fighting the weak, the IDF became weak. Its performance deteriorated and its victories no longer counted as such. To quote Friedrich Nietzsche, nothing is more boring than a victory endlessly repeated. Especially because, as the very need to repeat them shows, the victories in question are, in reality, no victories at all.

So far, the IDF. But this blog gets read in many different places around the world. Does any of this remind anyone of the situation in your own countries?

 

Guest Article: The View of the Jade Emperor: Why North Korea is Right for China

By Karsten Riise

It is always a delight to read William S. Lind. His informed way of putting issues on their head is thought-inspiring, and always makes you wiser – even if, as in this particular case, he happens not to be right.

Is North Korea really a disadvantage to China?

In an analysis “The North Korea Threat to China” 9 November 2017, Lind argues, that North Korea should be seen as a threat by China. Briefly put, his argument is that North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons may induce Japan, South Korea, and perhaps even one day Vietnam to acquire their own nuclear arsenal. And that indigenous nuclear arsenals in the hands of China’s immediate neighbors would make it difficult for China to create a buffer-zone of client states around herself.

It serves China

This argument neglects the Olympic fact that China is already confronted by an enormous arsenal of US nuclear weapons, based in South Korea, Okinawa and aboard the US Navy. It also overlooks the fact that some American leaders, due to their country’s faraway location, may be much more prone to risk a nuclear confrontation in East Asia than the indigenous countries inside the region are.

Accordingly, my response to Lind is that China must be happy with North Korea and its nuclear policies. If North Korea can somehow cause the enormous arsenal of US nuclear weapons on China’s doorstep to be swapped for a much smaller nuclear arsenal controlled by the people who live close to China’s borders, and who depend on good relations with China, not only for their survival, but also for their prosperity – then China should be satisfied. 

Finally, we must remember that North Korea has a pivotal role as a friendly buffer state for China. 

North Korea needs a nuclear deterrent

Unfortunately North Korea needs nuclear weapons as a deterrent against the USA. 

In 1945, the USA used nuclear bombs not once but twice. You might have thought that one such mass-killing was enough. But it wasn’t. General Douglas McArthur wanted to use nuclear weapons against North Korea, but fortunately was prevented from doing so by his president, Harry Truman. At the time, in closed talks, the US leaders shocked the British by casually hinting that the USA was considering attacking Communist China with nuclear weapons. To calm their allies they said that, in that case, they would “avoid striking the bigger cities” (Gribb-Fitzgibbons, Imperial Endgame, 2011). During the Vietnam War Henry Kissinger, according to a TV documentary, raised the possibility of “nuking” North Vietnam, telling Nixon “don’t be so shy about it”. 

Numerous historic deliberations of the USA to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear adversaries, and the way the USA breaks its commitment on the Iran nuclear deal, all confirm this. 

North Korea needs intercontinental capability

Now you would think that North Korean possession of nuclear weapons capable of devastating its neighbors Japan and South Korea should be enough to deter the USA from attacking. But unfortunately it is not. 

The current panic in Washington DC, just as North Korea is on the verge of acquiring missiles capable of reaching the continental USA, proves that, deep inside the minds of US leaders, there has been a false sense of comfort that any US escalation to a nuclear exchange involving North Korea could not touch the American homeland. It even seems to make a difference to US leaders whether North Korea can “only” reach Guam, Alaska or California – or if North Korea can hit their own personal residences in Washington DC. Now, due to North Korea’s new long-range missiles, that false sense of US comfort in its ability to apply nuclear blackmail is about to evaporate. 

In other words, North Korea now makes sure that nuclear deterrence in East Asia will become absolutely effective. 

It is often argued that North Korea is somehow posing a problem for China. That is entirely wrong. North Korea acts as a “wild-dog on a leash” – and China holds the leash. This is exactly similar to the old play of “good-cop”/“bad-cop.” North Korea plays the role of “bad-cop,” and allows China to play the “moderator.” Thus China can always enter the scene as the “good-regional-cop,” as an indispensable partner in talks with the USA. 

China’s play-book works every single time.

China now gets into an even better position vs. the USA

Armed with nuclear missiles capable of reaching Washington DC, North Korea becomes an even better “bad-cop.” As the false sense of comfort of the US leadership vanishes, the “wild-dog” on China’s leash becomes ever more awe-inspiring for the USA. 

Now the USA needs China even more, so as to handle the “wild-dog.”

What China – and North Korea – do is, from their point of view, quite correct.

No Escape

Of Saint Augustine it used to be said that anyone who claimed to have read everything he wrote was lying. The same is true of Philip Roth. I do not claim to have read everything he has written. But I have read pretty much, and each time I add another volume I am astonished at how good a writer he really is.

The Dying Animal, the book I want to discuss today, just fell into my hands by accident. Published as long ago as 2001, it is as fresh today as it was then. The basic story is simple. The life of the protagonist, David Kepesh, has been described in some of Roth’s previous books. Now he is a moderately well-known art critic in New York. He appears on local TV and radio on a regular basis and teaches a class in “creative criticism.” Needless to say, most of his students are young women. Each year he immediately notices the one he wants. There are, however, any number of spoilsports around. That is why he waits until the course is over and all the grades have been handed out. At that point he invites the students to a party at his home, and the mating game can get under way.

Her name is Consuela Castillo. She is twenty-four to his sixty-two. As Roth is careful to point out, the attraction is mutual. He is attracted to her reverence for him as well as her beauty. Especially the erect way she carries herself (she is Cuban, and very proud) and her “powerful” breasts. The latter she is careful to put on show by keeping the upper three buttons of her blouse open. She is attracted to the courteous way he treats her, his relative renown, and his culture. In addition to being a literary critic he plays the piano, albeit not too well. So different from men of her own age who “masturbate” on her body, as she puts it.

Some feminist critics, desperately jealous of their younger “sisters,” have denounced Roth and his protagonist as typical male chauvinist pigs. For the benefit of any members of that extraordinary breed—feminists—who may be reading these lines, let me emphasize: Consuela is not an innocent victim. She has slept with men before. Even as she sleeps with David she also sleeps with others, including two brothers. She is neither too stupid to understand what is going on nor, as we soon learn, too weak to say no. In fact it is hard to say who, David or Consuela, leads the other in the minuet that slowly, inevitably, takes them to bed. By presenting Consuela as if she were an unwitting ninny, the critics in question do her a much greater injustice than David ever did. If, indeed, he did her any injustice at all.

In fact it is Kepesh, much the older of the two and very much aware of approaching death even when they are making love, who holds the weaker cards. She can throw him out at any time. A year and a half into their affair, when he refuses to join a party her family is throwing in which he would have to pretend he is nothing to her but a kindly old teacher, that is just what she does.

The loss of Consuela sends David into a depression that lasts for years. What we, the readers, get are his memories and his thoughts. About sex, that enormously powerful drive no one, young or old, can ignore. About nature which, for reasons of its own, has made men basically polygamous (marriage kills sex, is what Roth says not only in this volume but in several others as well). About nature which, again for reasons of its own, has made women want nothing as much as children, which of course implies a long-term, stable, relationship even if, over time, it becomes sexless. About the man—David’s son—who, trapped into a marriage he hates, takes a mistress and is crushed by the resulting burden of guilt. About another man who, trapped into a marriage he hates, escapes from it, only to quickly enter into another one just like it.

About the young woman (not Consuela) who, overwhelmed by the freedom modern contraceptives provide her with, uses it to do exercise her right of sleeping around with anyone she wants and ends up with serial divorce and a nervous breakdown. About the woman who, determined to do whatever it takes to have a good career, attains that goal—only to discover that she is past the age at which one can fall deeply, deeply in love and that what she really wants, i.e. a family and children, is beyond her reach. About the childless couple who call five times a day so as to forget that, in reality, they have nothing to say to one another. And about the man and the woman, both of them unattached and independent and mature people, who are looking for a “pure” relationship based exclusively on free will and mutual attraction. Only to discover that time creates its own obligations and that such a relationship does not exist.

Another six and a half years have passed. David is seventy now. All of a sudden Consuela reenters his life. She is thirty-two, a young woman in the prime of life. Even better looking than before. But she has cancer. One of those glorious breasts is going to be cut off, and she worries no man will ever love her again. Besides, her chances of survival are just sixty percent. Of course she is terrified. Most of her immediate relatives having died, she turns—where else?—not to any of the young men she has slept with. But to the one man who, though he is no longer sexually attracted to her, she knows she can trust. Absolutely and unconditionally. She asks David to photograph those magnificent breasts of hers from every side and angle, which he obligingly does. Next thing he knows, she calls him. In the middle of the night. She needs him right by her side. And he knows that, if he goes, he will be “finished.”

Roth is too good a writer to tell us the outcome of all this. But the moral, I think, is clear. However much we may twist and turn, and however much feminists may rant and rave, neither men nor women can escape from what nature has made them.a