For millennia “war” has meant massed armies moving to and through opposition terrain to kill enemies, occupy territory, overthrow governments and create new strategic reality.
The nation-state world has, since 1945, been proving this model no longer works, that nation-states no longer are invested in it, and that altering strategic perceptions is more important than altering strategic realities.
Let’s look at a few of the largest conflicts most relevant to today.
In the Korean conflict, no one other than MacArthur was thinking that we would alter the government or leaders of North Korea (strategic reality), but only that we would beat on them long enough that they’d stop fighting and pretend to get along (strategic perception) at least to the point of ending their attack on South Korea. MacArthur wanted to alter strategic reality to actually bring peace. He was prevented from so doing. North Korea ultimately stopped fighting, bringing a perception of change, but the reality is the billions of dollars we have since spent to contain them, the destroyed and degraded lives of those unlucky enough still to live in DPRK, the millions starving to death, and a continued threat of DPRK, now heightened by a nuclear arsenal.
In Vietnam, few thought the North or the Viet Cong could or would be defeated by the force America was willing to bring to bear. Rather, America convinced itself (in contrast to all history of limited warfare) that, since we were so big and powerful the north ultimately would roll over and quit. The perception – not the reality – of the North was to be altered. Didn’t work.
In Iraq and Afghanistan, few with either a knowledge of history or understanding of the force America was – and was not – willing to use, remotely considered that either conflict would result in altering the strategic reality.
A medieval Afghanistan that had stymied the Soviets and whose peoples had been completely willing to be subjected to the Taliban and their Dark Ages ideology was – and is – the reality of that landlocked, backwards geography. Any territory accepting “tribal” ideology and governance, so accepting – demanding – of Dark Ages stoning of women and killing of daughters – is so remote from the understanding of most Westerners that any idea of altering their reality while leaving in-place any trace of current governance and leadership, all the way to the village level, is ignorant fantasy. Reality there was never going to be changed. Afghanistan is a “country” only because the West finds it convenient to so pretend. “Countries” are post-1648 Westphalian creatures; Afghanistan is a pre-1648 entity, and no amount of American occupation will alter that without a preceding destruction of their entire polity and replacement of their societal norms (which is how we won WW2).
An Iraq that had kept the lid on secular passions for decades, had been in, but not really of, the neighborhood of sharia and jihad; in fact, it was a bulwark against that neighborhood, which is why we supported Saddam against Khomeini through the 1980s war. Saddam’s Iraq never was an “enemy of freedom,” and never was a threat to America. It was simply a military dictatorship, of which many exist. Killing the government let-loose islamist Furies and altered the strategic reality, something unforeseen only by those living in denial since 1979. Our actions only altered reality to the extent that a different – and more brutal – dictatorship is rising in Saddam’s stead, and across a far wider geography.
Overthrowing Saddam did not alter the geopolitical reality of a dictatorship – and our perception that it would be altered as was the reality of France in 1944, when the citizens threw flowers on our GIs, was adolescent fantasy.
Post-war, the only strategic reality American force changed was to make it worse in Iraq – and across the entire, devolving Middle East, North Africa and S Asia.
Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan only altered perceptions.
Given that America – the only armed entity in the West in reality – no longer will mass armies and alter realities of geopolitical foes, a new – or different – vocabulary is required to discuss armed conflict and the settling of same.
Gone are the days in which America (or the West) will move millions of men to and through a geography to overthrow a leader or government and then occupy that geography for decades (as we have been Japan and Germany for going on 70 years with no end in sight). It is too expensive to do so. The West is broke, Russia is in bankruptcy, and China’s bubble is about to pop. Demography also argues against massed armies. No nation other than China has the manpower to mass armies of the scale of the Industrial Age and WW2, and China’s demographics are horrible. EVERY country in the civilized world has negative fertility, with the possible exception of an America hovering right below 2.1 (replacement).
American “leaders” talk of going to “war,” but they only mean sending a few of our sons off to kill a few of the enemy sons in infantry battles accompanied by a few expensive munitions to kill the odd tribal leader or planner here and there. This doesn’t even alter the strategic perception other than among those not even paying attention – the overwhelming majority of Western voters – and does exactly nothing to alter strategic reality.
But it is enormously expensive in both dollars and lives lost.
And it only works because of the stupidity of generations of American politicians so enthralled by our victory in WW2 that they never even stop to consider that we have won exactly zero “wars” since, and that our own strategic perception is not going to enable us to do so.
All we have done on the various battlefields on which we have sacrificed sons since 1945 is to enrich the military industrial complex against which our last victorious combat general, President Eisenhower, warned us in 1960.
Geopolitical crises will not stop, however; witness ISIS, a threat to all civilized people that our grandparents already would have dealt with.
Consequently a new way of speaking and acting in the face of foes is required. And that begins with public discussion.
What, really, are drone strikes? They are punitive measures. They are not strategic. They do not displace governments whose behaviors cause us to deploy force.
Drone strikes are nothing more than inexpensive executions of enemy planners and leaders, with the goal of degrading their ability to deploy force. We accept that collateral damage will occur – which is why we call it “war.” Countries always have accepted collateral damage in war. The goal of each conflict has outweighed such damage and that’s that.
But drone strikes are too tiny to alter strategic behavior. Those driven by their God to kill everyone not believing in their God will not lay down their arms. To anyone. As history shows, they will become more and more lethal across broader and broader regions until they win, which is how islam expanded – or are killed. It is fantasy to think religious terror can be stopped other than by its destruction; it is not based on logic and the logic of losing in battle will not stop it. And it is absurd fantasy to enshrine pre-modern killers with rules configured for modern battlefields. A “Rule” says, “Don’t do that;” pre-modern savages look at you like you’re a subhuman idiot, cut off your head and say “Or what?”
The West is not going to go to “war” again. But our citizens ought to prevent sacrificing our sons in “wars” we aren’t going to “win” but do nothing to alter strategic reality.
Policies involved in engaging violent enemies with force need to move in the direction of drone strikes: punitive measures that cost little, result in no loss of American life, and can, over time, degrade the ability of the enemy to kill. This is intelligent violence.
But it is not intelligent enough. ISIS continues massacring people in brutal fashion nonsensical to civilized peoples. A hellfire missile unleashed by a drone operator has a kill radius of a few tens of feet. This is not enough to end savagery by tens of thousands across millions of square miles – across a geography larger now than the combined areas of the largest extents of NAZI Germany and Imperial Japan.
And their savagery is not going to stop.
Massing armies is treating them as equals – and they are not. It is spending trillions to sacrifice our own sons in wars we don’t need to fight.
(Have you ever stopped to consider the numbers – generations – of American children who will not be born because their dads lie dead in the sands of the Middle East to no effect? How many Mozarts, Einsteins, Hemingways, Faulkners have we lost? We will never know. Why would any intelligent, civilized people be willing to accept this?)
But punitive strikes are a reasonable methodology to destroy enemies.
We just aren’t making them large enough. Killing tens isn’t enough. We must kill thousands to alter the strategic reality.
We killed 2M Vietnamese in Vietnam – and lost 58,000 American lives. We killed 1M Koreans in Korea – and lost 38,000 American lives. We have killed hundreds of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis – and lost thousands of American lives.
And altered the strategic reality in no instance.
- A nuclear warhead on Pyong Yang in 1950 would not have killed 1M Koreans – nor 38,000 Americans.
- A nuclear warhead in Hanoi in 1963 would not have killed 2M Vietnamese – nor 58,000 Americans.
- A nuclear warhead on Tora Bora would not have killed tens of thousands of Afghans – nor 5,000 Americans.
But each of those examples would have altered the strategic reality, saved countless lives – on both sides – and ended the conflict.
In serious geopolitical conflict, violence – works; nothing else does.
In 1945, President Truman was faced with estimated Japanese dead in a home-islands invasion of between 5,000,000 (War Department) and 10,000,000 (Navy Department), plus 1,000,000 Americans. His choice to use nuclear weapons saved between 6,000,000 and 10,000,000 lives, even counting the long-term radiological effects of primitive nukes. (Counting those, fewer were killed by atomic bombs than by firebombs in Dresden or Tokyo.)
Hiroshima and Nagasaki were outside of the current understanding of “war.” They were not massed armies or conventional explosives or naval blockades. Essentially, the atom bombs were punitive strikes: They penalized a nation for waging war. And they ended that war. And saved lives doing so.
The way Western leadership needs to begin discussing “war” is in the context of punitive strikes. Not massed armies. Not trillions of dollars squandered to alter perceptions of behaviors we find repulsive – but to alter strategic reality and end those behaviors.
And because taxpayers and parents have every right to demand that their money and the lives of their children are spent as productively are possible in ending threats to their lives, their freedoms and their future, or in protecting those unable to protect themselves, then our most productive weapons must be used against these enemies.
America must stop talking about limited war – about “war” at all – and turn the conversation to punitive strikes in which we identify, locate and annihilate, as we did in WW2, the threats and the societies from which those threats emerged at as low a cost to ourselves – and to the civilized world – as possible.
Will collateral damage occur? Of course. But if the enemy is willing to kill civilians to alter their reality by regressing thousands of years, we ought to be able to accept that civilians will have to die to stop the regression of human society – and all human rights. Are the rights of civilians feeding and equipping ISIS more – or less – important than the lives ISIS takes through their barbarism? We need to be able to accept that a civilian populace that accepts and supports the rise of the likes of ISIS does, as did the citizens of NAZI Germany and the citizens of Imperial Japan, deserve whatever is required to annihilate the barbarians they have allowed to prosper.
Many argue that we can’t annihilate islamist terrorism due to this collateral damage. Yet these same people do not provide an alternative to doing so. Are the lives of others in the region, countless human beings having their heads cut off for not being ruthless violent savages themselves, of so little importance that we are comfortable containing (for that is all “degrading” really is) this savagery to their towns and villages and regions?
Have we – still – learned nothing from Vietnam, in which we demanded “peace” but left and ignored the millions of deaths in the vacuum of our absence? In which “peace” meant to Americans that Americans no longer were dying – as we ignored millions brutalized and murdered once we left?
Islamist terror must be stopped. History shows that only annihilation stops this particularly virulent form of theocratic savagery. Islamists throughout history have seen civilization, they know what the West can bring. They know – and fear – education and modernity. The spread of Islam was stopped twice in Vienna when the West still believed in itself enough to destroy its enemies. It wasn’t stopped by teaching them to read or lecturing them on Western behavioral norms. It was stopped by annihilating their ability to wage war.
Islam hasn’t changed other than to become MORE violent and more savage in the context of a world leaving it behind at an accelerating rate. It has regressed centuries. Of all major cultures, islam is the most illiterate, valuing learning and literacy less than any successful culture ever has. From Beslam to Pakistan they kill schoolchildren. No one who allows or condones – or feeds, trains, provides children to – this savagery deserves mercy.
Islam is death. That is all it is. It has contributed nothing but savagery to the civilized world for centuries.
But the civilized world need not squander civilized people to stop it. We can – and we must – stop it; there is no “Plan B.” We have the productivity to do so at no cost in lives and very low cost in dollars.
The West must accept historic and current reality – and alter that reality, not just alter our perception as current leadership has done by accepting President Obama’s absurdity of “learning to live with terror.” No civilized people must “learn to live with” a terror they can stop. No intelligent leader who believed in his own civilization, societal norms or the human beings he leads would even think, let alone utter, such a ridiculous statement.
Islam is not going to end its violent savagery on its own. America is not going to mass armies to defeat it. It must be defeated; no Plan B exists.
It is time to begin moving the conversation toward productive tools to end this savagery.
It is time for Western leaders to begin the discussions of “punitive strikes” against the enemies of civilized peoples from China to Russia to London to Madrid, Sweden, and America. And to insist that these strikes be meaningful.
We have been trying since 1979, when Carter let loose Khomeini and modern sharia terror on the world, to contain it, to alter “hearts and minds.” Everything has gotten worse.
It is time to annihilate it. No reason exists to allow it to continue to fester. Every reason exists to exterminate it.
But as long as we talk about “war,” with pictures of Normandy and Berlin in the back of our minds, and insist on deploying millions of men and thousands of tanks and planes and ships, we will not reach a civilized goal: ending this threat to all the peoples of the world.
Our vocabulary must be changed from “war” to “strikes,” and those strikes must be annihilating.
Our sons and daughters, our freedoms, our rights, our civilization deserve nothing less.