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The War Nerd shows how simple 4GW theory can be

22 January 2009

4GW is simple, despite efforts by practioneers and theoraticians to make it seem complex.  The War Nerd’s columns illustrate the simplicity of its use and its remoreseless  efficiency.  Like this one, demonstrating how the moral high ground is usually a key to victory in 4GW.

Rules in the Era of Squeamishness“, Gary Brecher (“The War Nerd”), The Exile Online, 12 January 2009 — Excerpt:

When you look at the fighting in Gaza, or any of the other small, chronic wars we get these days, you notice that traditional war buffs, the ones who like to talk about WW II, don’t have much to say. If they say anything at all, it’s usually, “They should just wipe’em out!” Like, “Israel should just wipe the Pals out!” Or “America should just wipe Iraq off the map!”

And on paper, they’re right. Israel could kill every single man, woman and child in Gaza if it wanted to. And Hell, it probably does want to. So why doesn’t it? America could wipe the Sunni Triangle off the map easily, nuke the whole place or use neutron bombs-Hell, nerve gas, even-if we were worried about limiting damage.

But nobody does this stuff. Why not? That’s the big question. That’s what drives the frustration you’re hearing when these old-school war buffs try to deal with war circa 2008: they think in terms of hardware, and the hardware-the nukes-doesn’t seem to apply, somehow. So why not?

… Mao’s military advisor was a German communist cadre named Otto Braun. … Braun convinced the Chinese Communist leadership that these bandit tactics were too low-down and no-count for the People’s Liberation Army. He got them to adopt a “Blockhouse Strategy” which was basically exactly what Hezbollah’s “bunker strategy” was. Only it didn’t work. The Nationalist forces attacked Mao’s bunkers, sustained huge losses but kept attacking, and eventually wore down the Communist defenses.

That was the pattern of warfare up to 1945: accept huge losses to take enemy territory, because when you do, you will be able to neutralize those territories for good. So it pays off. You lose, say, 300 men taking a section of Maoist territory by overrunning those blockhouses. You’ve now gained a peasant population of, say, 100,000. You now get the return on your losses: you immediately kill any Communist sympathizers in the region and force all the young men to sign up with your army at bayonet-point. You’ve made good your casualties because, once you control the enemy territory, you change it for good, turn it from red to blue.

You can’t do that now, except once in a while, in remote places like Sudan or Congo where none of the locals have friends in the media. For most other places, where the news cameras are willing to go, this is the era of squeamishness.

Now let me say, before people start writing in with horror stories from Nam or Africa, I’m not saying we’re nice. We’re no nicer than Foch or Kitchener or Ataturk or Chiang or Budyonnov or any of those early 20th-c. maneaters. … What we’re not usually ready to do is what made sacrificing soldiers’ lives worthwhile for attacking armies pre-1945: total, ruthless, unashamed wipe-out of any opposition once the territory was taken.

The best-known case in the Middle Eastern theatre, post-1945, was what the Israelis’ Phalangist allies did in Sabra and Shatilla outside Beirut in 1982. What you saw there was an attempt to do early-20th-century warfare in the wrong era. I repeat: what they did there, wiping out enemy civilians once they’d taken the territory, would have been standard policy for any European army pre-’45. But in 1982 it backfired completely and gave the IDF a bad name it’s never managed to lose.

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp interest these days:

These posts discuss the theory and practice of 4GW:

I have developed a simple typology to show the relationship of the many works on modern warfare, to show the relationships among the various theories about modern warfare.  This has evolved into a first cut at a solution to 4GW.  These are the first steps in a long series.

  1. A solution to 4GW — the introduction
  2. How to get the study of 4GW in gear
  3. Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — solutions to 4GW
  4. Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — 4GW analysts
  5. Visionaries point the way to success in the age of 4GW
  6. 4GW: A solution of the first kind – Robots!
  7. 4GW: A solution of the second kind
  8. 4GW: A solution of the third kind – Vandergriff is one of the few implementing real solutions.
  9. Theories about 4GW are not yet like the Laws of Thermodynamics

Also valuable is the The Counterinsurgency Library — a vast listing of online articles about COIN.

Posts about Israel:

  1. The Fate of Israel, 28 July 2006
  2. The War Nerd shows how simple 4GW theory can be, 22 January 2009
  3. Are Israel’s leaders insane?  Jeffrey Goldberg thinks so., 15 August 2010
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17 Comments leave one →
  1. 22 January 2009 12:41 pm

    Brilliant piece by the war nerd! Interesting that we could connect the success of campaigns to the level of media involvement. Israel did not allow a single embedded reporter this time (compared to the Leb campaign), all the info came through carefully controlled IDF PR. Though the amount of SMS messages and emails I received over the period asking for people to come out and protest really showed just how well organised the other side is. Regardless of who they claim to be representing watching the rallies soon uncovers their agenda.

    Looks like the major EU powers are trying to brush this under the carpet especially the bombing of the UN facility (http://euobserver.com/9/27454). For good reason of course, like getting trade restarted once again (http://euobserver.com/9/27359/?rk=1), slightly ironic that France held the presidency of the UNSC and was very vocal in calling for an end in hostilities. Disconnect in the discourse maybe?

    Like

  2. 22 January 2009 3:53 pm

    I personally heard Michael Oren say on CNN, that around 5000 rockets were fired into Israel, killing a total of only 11 Israelis. Hamas, with money probably from Iran, was firing Egyptian supplied rockets to disrupt the Eilat-Ashkelon oil pipeline in Israel, that reverses flow to bring the Caspian Oil to East Asia through the Ceyhan route.
    Israel was only interested in stopping those rocket attacks, and they’ve decided on a ceasefire once that was done. 4GW consists mostly of fights over oil resources and transportation infrastructure, fought through the mercenary “world burning terrorists”.

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  3. Rune Kramer permalink
    22 January 2009 4:23 pm

    When have war not been fought within in moral parameters. And the desire to curb the scale of violence in war is not exactly a new trend. Why else do we have the Geneva convention, a 19th Cen. idea. Shall we return to torturing PoWs for fun before we kill them? Reintroduce the age old custom of handing over the population of a conquered city to the amusement of the troops for a set time of period if it is taken by force (or in Soviet-occupied Germany for a couple of years)? And does such warfare solve the conflict?

    If we are to return to a more brutal type of warfare, nukes suddenly starts to look good for all small nations. The only way to keep the bullies at bay and give some protection to ones population is “MAD”. And the best way to avenge an atrocity is also nukes. If you only have one shot at making the butchers pay make it big.

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  4. 22 January 2009 4:33 pm

    A great challenge we are not meeting. All the little dots have to join up before the esteemed leaders go for the big one. Did anyone predict Great Britain would commit suicide before 1914? Did its leaders have an inkling? The Israelis in the end probably will commit genocide unless the dynamics change or have it committed on them. That is the logic of the situation created. They can strike out for a different course — annexation which will be condemned. Two state solution is just words for people who do not have to live with these folks. Amazing no that Iraq was not even an issue in the campaign and if O. does not withdraw few will really care. And where is going to withdraw to? Kuwait and AfghanistaN. And this is policy? Is good? What?

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  5. Duncan Kinder permalink
    22 January 2009 4:40 pm

    The War Nerd’s article suggests that if only people could get over their touch feeliness or if only the media would avert its eyes, then the military could get back to the manly pre-1945 business of kicking butt – in order to make an omelet you have to break a few eggs, etc.. Apparently it’s fluoride in the water or something that has since defanged us. ( Perhaps this is what FM was getting at with his post about hormone imbalances???)

    Nevertheless, stern measures sometimes backfired even for manly pre-1945 armies. For example, the Duke of Alba instituted stern measures in subduing the Netherlands revolt, only to make them even more ungovernable.
    .
    .
    Fabius Maximus replies: Great point! We talk about the moral “high ground” being decisive today, and often forget its importance in past wars. Our conduct of the Revolutionary War won powerful support in London (e.g., John Adams successful defense of the redcoats after the Boston Massacre); the South’s use of slaves was more important to many in the UK than their commercial dependence on the South’s cotton.

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  6. alex permalink
    22 January 2009 5:06 pm

    The last time I checked – Hamas offered to Israel 10 year truce in case if Israel returns to pre-67 borders. Say, Israel except it and in 10 years Hamas sure will start attacking Israeli populated centers with MRL the same way they do it today with Katusha rockets then what Israel to do?

    That 4GW theory is so smooth, that it makes you wondering – why really Israel doesn’t get it! However if you try to apply it to reality of Israel then there is not much left.

    P.S. This is not the first theory that will break its teeth on Jews.

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  7. 22 January 2009 5:21 pm

    “For most other places, where the news cameras are willing to go, this is the era of squeamishness.”

    Yada yada. The significant news cameras, together with their writers, editors and agenda, operate from behind strong protections. They then “report” to that part of the world which dwells behind that same shield. The question is, what will squeamishness be worth when the Kalashnikovs are being carried up their own driveways? And your own driveway?

    That won’t ever happen? Why not?

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  8. dosco permalink
    22 January 2009 5:34 pm

    I guess I’ll pile on to what was already said … the fact that the media is around amounts to 1/5th of nothing. The people living in the combat zones know what’s happening, and who is doing what to whom. They are the deciders of “who are the good guys” in terms of “moral high ground” … not the media.

    Like

  9. seneca permalink
    22 January 2009 8:18 pm

    I’m not sure we’re getting what the war nerd really said. Was he really wishing we could go back to the good ol’ days of massive destruction of enemy populations? Was he talking about moral squeamiishness as a bad thing? I thought he meant, and FM supported this, that the moral high ground, winning hearts and minds, is important in 4GW war. After all, that’s why we failed in Vietnam and Iraq, and are failing in AFghanistan.

    And that’s why people can plausibly argue that Israel’s recent war failed, and its whole project of creating an all-Jewish state our of Arab lands will eventually fail too.

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  10. 22 January 2009 10:08 pm

    Interesting post, as a WWII buff, I must say I have a lot to say about current war and it’s stragery.

    First: Wars where never fought with so much real time feedback. Most of the WWII was fought with a huge delay and there was no way to influence by the otherside. Imaganing WWII fought today? Think about hitler as a modern day media superstar. It would have had far reaching impact.
    Two: The use of force assumes your enemy will give up and you could destory his safe bases or cities. Not anymore with conflict in the mideast you have a wide ranging support of non combat countries helping to support a insurrection.
    Third a insurrection is different from a war. Isreal is still fighting a insurrection war as it should be.
    Fourth as for destroying the civilians not working look at the conflicts in congo and sudan. Both are being fought that way right now, we just dont care in the west as much. Ditto many other low level conflicts.

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  11. 22 January 2009 11:37 pm

    The piece by the “War Nerd” is based on confused premises.

    a) The same types of wars are found pre and post-1945. For the Russian civil war, check the Angolan civil war. For the Greek-Turkish war, check the war between Ethiopia and Somalia in the 1970s. For the colonial wars in Kenya and Algeria, check the ones in the Philippines and in German South-West Africa during the early 1900s. For a bloody conflict between two large powers, with systematic destruction of cities, wholesale slaughter of civilians, check the Korean war (2.5 million fatalities).

    b) Gaining the moral high ground by refraining from cruelty was essential long before the advent of satellite TV and any talk about “4G” wars. A comment by a reader is instructive:
    “In the Thirty Years’ War[...], the Hapsburgs’ forces did a Carthage on the city of Magdeburg in Germany. Bad idea. For the rest of the war, any time the Protestants won a battle, Catholics had a real hard time surrendering…the cry “Give them Magdeburg quarter!” would go up, and the slaughter would begin.”

    c) The rules obviously changed after 1945. China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, UK, and USA have become rightfully squeamish about going into a nasty brawl against each other.

    d) Israeli goals in Gaza varied from “destroying Hamas” through “stopping rocket launches” to “saving Gilat Shalil”, with “prop up Kadima in the next elections” being paramount. The Israelis were definitely not squeamish; their rampage did not make any sense.

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  12. 23 January 2009 9:17 am

    You can’t do that now, except once in a while, in remote places like Sudan or Congo where none of the locals have friends in the media. For most other places, where the news cameras are willing to go, this is the era of squeamishness.

    Where are the cameras in Sri Lanka, as dozens, maybe hundreds, of ‘civilians’ are killed by gov’t troops fighting the rebel Tamil Tigers (early suicide bombers)?
    Russia in Chechnya? Mugabe’s supporters in Zimbabwe?

    Pro-American, pro-capitalist countries can’t do it, because the anti-American, anti-capitalist media / intelligentsia / elites create a media storm against it. Based on reasonably good moral values, but hypocritically applied only against the civilized, in blithe condecension “we don’t want to stoop to their level”.

    But when a justice warrior is fighting against a killer who hides behind children, the lawman’s choices are: allow the killer to go free, or, fight and risk killing the child shield. If the killer goes free, he’ll attempt to kill (and hide behind kids) again.
    If the lawman fights and kills the killer w/o killing the child, it’s not a media story.
    If, and only if, the lawman fights and the child dies, does it become a story — with the media promoting those voices of analysis who condemn the lawman.

    This is a media / elite led path towards lawlessness.
    Which the media have a financial interest in promoting. ‘If it bleeds, it leads’ — more chaos, more headlines, more newspaper sales. … Of course, their main motivation is hatred of capitalism. (See Nozick on Intellectuals against Capitalism). And Roy, too, seems to be anti-capitalist — which pushes a selective squeamishness that seems to be a desire for Western Civilization to lose.

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  13. dosco permalink
    23 January 2009 3:55 pm

    [i]Pro-American, pro-capitalist countries can’t do it, because the anti-American, anti-capitalist media / intelligentsia / elites create a media storm against it. Based on reasonably good moral values, but hypocritically applied only against the civilized, in blithe condecension “we don’t want to stoop to their level”.

    But when a justice warrior is fighting against a killer who hides behind children, the lawman’s choices are: allow the killer to go free, or, fight and risk killing the child shield. If the killer goes free, he’ll attempt to kill (and hide behind kids) again.
    If the lawman fights and kills the killer w/o killing the child, it’s not a media story.
    If, and only if, the lawman fights and the child dies, does it become a story — with the media promoting those voices of analysis who condemn the lawman.[/i]

    Tom, you either like repeating conservative sound bites from Fox News, or you don’t get 4GW.

    Which is it?

    Like

  14. Drunkio Sakebito permalink
    23 January 2009 5:28 pm

    @EC I’m sorry, but as an amateur war nerd, Israel’s ‘rampage’ makes perfect sense. In a sense.

    * Their main patron [the US] is going thru a regime change. Really. During the transition, perfect time to ‘get some licks in’ before the new regime settles in. The battles were supposed to end with the inauguration. And mostly have, on schedule.

    * As the main polity in Gaza is Hamas, there are no ‘hearts and minds’ to win. This is a medieval siege with 20th century hardware. The bombing of the UN facility was simply cutting the food supply. When they start loading dead livestock into the trebuchets is anyones’ guess. Maybe not this time.

    * We’re definitely in the ‘naughties’ of our epoch. Just like the 1890s – 1900s, all this talk of ‘morals on the battlefield’ et al.. in a time of uncertainty where the players *seemed* to be set.. before… the whole WW I thing blew up and buckets of blood. The bad world economies will make this transition all the easier. So will another 9-11 type event, I hate to say. We’re all so pliant these days.

    Israel can’t ‘wipe’em out’.. but the spooky relative silence from Egypt is almost like implied consent. Egypt doesn’t want any of those ‘troublemakers’ from the north any more than China wants those ‘troublemakers’ from North Korea.

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  15. OxEMoron permalink
    23 January 2009 6:42 pm

    I think of 4GW in context of the American Indian Wars … if there had been ‘simultaneous’ real time press I don’t believe we could have exterminated their food supply (Bison) and poxed them with infected blankets

    or have broken treaty after treaty and expected them to adhere to their side of the deal

    today it seems groups like Hamas lose the battles, but (at least partially) win the war on via the main stream media

    the Apache & Comanche needed CNN

    Like

  16. 25 January 2009 3:07 am

    dosco, in Slovakia we get BBC, CNN, Euronews, and TA3 (in Slovak). I don’t watch Fox. But I guess ad hominem suffices for argument for you.

    I fear Tel Aviv getting nuked. I think most resolutions are better. What do you see? fear?

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  17. OldSkpetic permalink
    27 January 2009 8:48 am

    Boyd’s rececipe was: “moral, mental and physical” in that order. You can win the last 2 and still lose the strategic goal because you have lost the ‘moral’ component.

    I take the “if only the media wasn’t there’ arguments with a pinch of salt. Iraq 1920 or the Soviets in Afghanistan were totally out of the media glare and fought with total ruthlessness (poison gas in Iraq and we all know what the Soviets were like).

    They still lost.

    But the War Nerd hits it on the head often, and is correct far more times than most ‘experts’, and is interesting and amusing to read. Which is a difficult act to pull off.

    Boyd ‘moral’ point was not just about international public opinion, it was as much about your side knowing you are right and you will fight to the bitter end and never give up, while for much of the other side it is just a job. If you are being defensive it is easy, you are protecting your family, friends, society, way of life, etc. If you are attacking, it is hard to keep killing children over and over again.

    In the end all conflict is about the will to fight on, if you have lost the moral fight you will often end up giving up, even if you continually win the mental and physical fights. Eventually you come (quite rightly actually) to the point of saying “what am I doing this for, what do I gain”?

    Another reason to pick your fights, very, very, carefully. Some idiot in the elite may point to a place on a map and order an attack, but what happens when the troops give it up?

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