Technology vs. Ideology in Warfare


America is the home for the mother of invention. We are a nation of inventors, tinkerers, and mechanics. From the humble locales of basements, garages, kitchens, and living rooms have sprung cars, airplanes, computers, and other innovative technology. Mark Twain's character Hank Morgan from "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" captures the essence of the "can do" spirit of America by attempting to literally drag the dark ages of Camelot into an enlightened Yankee industrial one.

This is one of the many dividends of a free society, where the market encourages new products, profits the inventor, and benefits the consumer with choices and comforts.

We are, as Sting once sang, spirits in a material world. Therein lies the rub. As the Apostle Paul once wrote:

"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high."

~ Eph 6:12.

Some enemies cannot be defeated by physical means. Subjugating a nation or people by destroying their infrastructure and killing large numbers of them does not always defeat their spirit, or ensure the peace will be permanently won. That World War II resulted from the victory of World War I, "The War to end all Wars," bears this out.

The US Armed Forces enjoys the most modern and cutting-edge military equipment in the world. We have an American tradition to trade treasure for blood, relying on hardware in warfare to spare the lives of our troops. There is nothing inherently wrong with this — it shows the value we put on human life to spare and save as many of our troops from the death and hazards of combat as possible.

But the danger begins when we equate the effectiveness of advanced weapon systems dominating the enemy in the battlefield with obtaining the objectives of victory. Lasting victory and peace cannot be attained by high kill-ratio body counts alone — Unless the goal is outright genocide instead of subduing a nation. In his book "Street without Joy," an account of the French war in Vietnam, Bernard Fall makes the argument that the biggest strategic error in the war against the Communist North Vietnamese was the concept that technology could defeat ideology. By 1952, 80% of the French military effort in Vietnam was subsidized by the US under Eisenhower. The French enjoyed complete air superiority and air transport for the quick deployment of their elite paratroop battalions. They had tanks, half-tracks, armored cars, and transport vehicles, while the Viet Minh had virtually nothing except bicycles and the occasional truck. The French even had an armed navy to patrol the rivers. Yet the French lost. Following another eight years of military intervention in Vietnam, with a ten-fold increase in the amount of troops, equipment, and cutting edge hardware, the US lost too. The same result occurred in the Korea War, with the French colony in Algiers, and the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Apologists for these defeats will usually cite the lack of willingness of the losing side to exercise total warfare by using all military means necessary to defeat the opposition, including the deployment of nuclear weapons. This is often referred to as the euphemism "All options are on the table."

The point they miss in recommending escalation of force is that it leads to a Pandora's box of unforeseeable consequences and outcomes. In the case of the Korean and Vietnam wars, escalation would have led to a disastrous war with China. In Afghanistan and Algiers, it led to political outcry of protest at home and worldwide, because while the people in both of those countries the Soviets and the French sought to subdue could be killed, they could not be defeated. And if you have to kill your enemy to the last man, woman, and child to win, it no longer becomes a war of conquest, but of annihilation. Total war cuts both ways, especially when the defenders are willing to sacrifice as much as the invaders are willing to do whatever it takes. It becomes a case of game one-upmanship, and history has long proven that the invaded country has the home field advantage. Advanced military technology is superb for winning conventional tactical battles in the short term. But were the defender engages in total warfare with the entire citizenry of its country, willing to trade bodies and blood to blunt expensive hardware over an indefinite time, technology becomes the loser of the exchange.

Occupying armies never rest. They expend tremendous amount of effort maintaining supply lines, projecting force through patrols and convoys, and keeping up the faade of control over the inhabitants. Over time, their morale degrades from fighting and dying in a strange land, against a people that are often consider sub-human to the occupying soldier, who refer to them in slang terms such as Ragheads, Hajjis, Gooks, Slopes, Krauts, or Nips. These troops look forward to the day when they will be rotated back home, and leave the forsaken warzone behind.

To make up the numerical disadvantage of fighting the enemy on his home ground, the occupiers rely on technological superiority. Maintaining these sophisticated tools require modern mechanized armies to become road bound for their supply lines — lines that can stretch for hundreds to thousand of miles over land and sea. As a visual metaphor, think of the length of the shaft on a spear compared to that of the spear tip. The shaft represents the proportion in size of supply needed for the spear tip to be effective. The expense and the effort of maintaining these supply lines is enormous. It takes more gas to transport the gas that is actually required in the field. Supply lines can tie up as many troops to guard the supply bases and patrolling the supply lanes as the troops that actually do the fighting.

A familiar military cliché goes; "Amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics." A perfect example of the importance of logistics and supply occurred recently to the NATO forces in Afghanistan. In response to an infringement of its sovereignty, Pakistan threatened to close the supply lines to NATO forces in Afghanistan.

BARA: In a major development, the federal government on Friday announced disconnection of supply lines to the allied forces stationed in Afghanistan through Pakistan in an apparent reaction to a ground attack on a border village in South Waziristan agency by the Nato forces.

Political authorities of the Khyber Agency claimed to have received verbal directives to immediately halt transportation of all kinds of goods meant for the US-led Nato forces in Afghanistan for an indefinite period.

Notwithstanding being equipped with Predator drones, night optics, body armor, computer communication systems, sophisticated air, armor, and artillery support, nothing sends more fear up the spine of a military force than to be cut off from its umbilical supply cord in hostile country. In this same manner the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad, the Russians in the Finnish mottis, and the French at Dien Bien Phu all met their end. State-of-the-art military hardware becomes so much useless junk without fuel, ammunition, and spare parts to maintain them in the harsh environment of war. Not to mention that an Army marches on its stomach, and needs food and medical supplies besides.

This is nothing new under the sun. The ancient Israelites were once intimidated by their enemies, the Canaanites and Philistines, who rode iron chariots. Notwithstanding the advanced military technology their enemies possessed, the Lord said to Israel:

"But the hill country shall be yours. For though it is a forest, you shall clear it, and to its farthest borders it shall be yours; for you shall drive out the Canaanites, even though they have chariots of iron and though they are strong.”

~ Joshua 17:18

In one epic battle, 900 of the fearsome iron chariots were mired in mud after a sudden storm via divine providence caused a nearby river to overflow, flooding the plains. The Israelites, led by resistance fighters Barak and Deborah, defeated their nemesis Sisera and his immobilized chariot army. In another Biblical example of low tech beating high tech, we have the young David, a mere boy with a shepherd's sling, eschewing to wear Saul's armor, defeating an superior opponent equipped with the finest military armor at the time.

Faith in military technology begets a dangerous shortsightedness and trust in the arm of flesh. It replaces ethnics and sound strategy with short-term convenience and tactical advantages that will win battles, but not a war. A million dollar, sophisticated guided missile may have "fire and forget" capability, but the survivors of the innocents it kills will never forget who fired it. So-called "Smart" weapon systems are not yet intelligent enough to discern the difference between a terrorist packing an AK and a woman carrying an infant before final impact. Thus impersonal technology creates new enemies out of the deaths of others — and a self-perpetuating cycle of war.

The growing cost of military technology will break our country's financial ability to fight as much as troop casualties breaks our hearts and morale. The USSR went broke trying to keep up with the US during the Cold War Arms race. Thanks to the technological advantage we hold, the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer more combat losses in proportion to our troops, but in return for high body counts, they succeed in exhausting our economy in maintaining an expensive, technological-gadget army. What the terrorists cannot do by physically assaulting Americans and property on US soil, they are accomplishing by bringing our financial ruin by baiting us to empty our national treasure and to go into debt with foreign banks to buy expensive "Wunder weapons" to defeat them. This same false hope for salvation via technology led the Germans believe they could still turn the tide late in War II against the advancing Allies. Instead, it prolonged a losing war, leading to a Gtterdmmerung that left their country in ashes. We need to stop being enamored by our "technological terrors" as our nation's savior. Military technology is a two-edge sword, bleeding us of our livelihood, our freedom, and our souls, as much as it cuts the enemies we employ it against.

September 27, 2008

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