Summary: Many comparisons have been made between the War on Terror, AKA “The Long War”, and Vietnam. Needless to say, our leaders prefer to think about happy counterinsurgencies, like the Philippines, Malaysia, and… the Philippines. Since fantasy is so much more appealing than reality (and makes for a better powerpoint slide), the Pentagon has learned a valuable lesson from the best long war fighters in the universe. The Eminians from Star Trek: A Taste of Armageddon. This builds upon the conclusion of the previous post, Killing the leaders of our enemy. Is this the fast track to victory – or disaster?
In A Taste of Armageddon, Captain Kirk and Company go to planet Eminar VII on a diplomatic mission. Though warned upon arrival of a devastating attack from the neighboring planet, Vendikar, they see no apparent evidence of this. No violence, no destruction, nothing. Seeing their confusion, the planet’s leader Anan 7 explains. They fight the war entirely with computers! A complex apparatus simulates every military confrontation and calculates the casualties. Afterwards, the citizens “killed” in the attack have 24 hours to report to the disintegration chambers.
It’s a perfect war. No destruction, no famine, no plagues. A clean, orderly game with clear rules and no consequences. Even the deaths are orderly; a tally of “casualties” quietly executed in a sealed room. In this way, war can be fought indefinitely — the Eminians and their enemies on Vendikar have been at it for 500 years!
The key tenet of the Long War is not its tactical doctrine. American troops have been fighting in virtually the same fashion since Vietnam. The leadership of the Long War sustains it by maintaining public support. No matter how noble the cause, public support is vital. Even in the Civil War to end slavery! Abraham Lincoln depended on the successive victories at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Atlanta to secure his reelection. Keeping the voters’s support remains equally important to this day.
However, battlefield conquests have a shelf life. The Confederate leadership understood that Northern voters would grow tired of extended warfare (though they failed to exploit this insight). Vicksburg proved to be useful to Lincoln because it was unique. There was only one Vicksburg. Imagine if there were ten Vicksburgs. Or a thousand Vicksburgs. Imagine if Federal forces “decisively” defeated Confederate troops every day, but the war showed no sign of coming to an end. This is the crisis American leaders face today.
“Shock and Awe” is a valid concept. But it loses effect over time. Like a drug, public tolerance of bloodshed builds with excessive use. Remember the first cruise missile attacks into Iraq? They were exciting. They made front page news. Now hundreds of thousands of tons of ordnance later, indirect fire strikes are boring. Killing insurgents is boring. Even killing enemy leaders is boring. We can only kill the third in command of Al Quaeda so many times before it loses excitement value. Body counts suffice to give the generals a never ending hard-on, but common citizens with an equal bloodlust are not sufficient in number for killing alone to keep the war afloat. Like any performance, the audience will grow bored with the black comedy of colonial warfare.
The key to the Long War is achieving the exact opposite — don’t engage the voters, disengage them. Make them forget the war is even happening. If they’re not thinking about it, they’re not demanding an end to it! Diring the past 40 years our presidents have developed three basic principles to achieve this end.
- Richard Nixon: Replace the draft with a volunteer military force.
- George W. Bush: Isolate the voters from the war.
- Barrack Obama: Innovate ways to fight the war from afar without incurring any casualties.
1. A small volunteer military force
Though President Johnson fully committed America to Vietnam, credit for the Long War’s true birth goes to Richard Nixon. Despite running on the peace platform, a third of American casualties in Vietnam occurred while Nixon was in office, and the war itself dragged on another five years. How did Nixon pull it off? An act of pure genius – he ended the draft! He realized the key to the Long War is to take the burden of the war off the shoulders of the voters. In the War on Terror, only volunteers fight for democracy/freedom/whatever. The rest of the population can go on with their daily lives without worrying about a two way (possibly one way) ticket to the Middle East.
To be completely fair, the idea did not originate with Nixon. The late Roman Empire adopted a similar doctrine. Working with precedents established by the Marian Reforms centuries earlier, the Empire abandoned all pretense of a citizen army and instead relied on a small core of professional troops surrounded by masses of foreign auxillaries and mercenaries (If Nixon was emperor, he would have called it Gaulization). The average Roman “citizen” never saw the battlefield or held a weapon in his life, giving him all the more time to enjoy the bread and circuses. This trend reached an extreme in the last decades before the fall. Not a single Roman legionary participated in the Battle of Chalons in 451 A.D.
2. Isolate the voters from the war
The next point of course, is to isolate the voters from the war. Though they are no longer being drafted, there is still the danger of upsetting them with stories of American deaths and images of mangled soldiers. All those gruesome photographs from previous wars — like an apocalyptic scene of dead Marines piled up outside burning landing craft? No more! George Bush and the neocons ensured that no image of an upsetting nature made it to the front page. Bush even barred the photographing of fallen troops’ coffins!
We have been so successful at eradicating all traces of the war from our society, a stranger could probably walk coast to coast and not find out that we’re in a war at all! A typical fellow American you meet on the street will probably be able to tell you the score of the latest football game, but would he be able to tell you the current death toll in Afghanistan to the nearest thousand?
3. Fight the war from afar without friendly casualties
The latest innovation occurred in President Obama’s watch, though perhaps it is giving him far too much credit to say it was his idea. Our brilliant generals have detected a terrorist presence in Pakistan. We could send troops en masse like in Afghanistan. But why bother, when we can use unmanned aircraft? Why send a mob of soldiers and marines blundering around stepping on IEDs, shooting Taliban, people who look like Taliban, each other, and themselves… when one National guardsman at a computer in Arizona can accomplish the mission? Now we are literally following the Eminians’ example, now nobody on our end needs to be exposed to the horrors of war at all, computers and machines can fight the war for us!
“No nation ever profited from a long war.”
— The Art of War, Sun Tzu
This is perhaps one of the greatest achievements in military history. We have rendered Sun Tzu obsolete. Warfare in Sun Tzu’s day wreaked havoc on civilization, terrorizing the people, undoing centuries of social progress. Now we have completely eliminated this problem. No longer will war be a scourge on the American people. Now we can sit back and enjoy the football game, and let our masters worry about the nitty gritty affairs of the Long War against the enemies of America. Of course there is the issue of the price tags on our military adventures. But shortsighted overspending defines virtually every aspect of our culture. Why would our wars be any different? And how can the voter hold his rulers accountable for their spending when he cannot even manage his own financial affairs?
But of course, there is just one problem with all this. Anan 7 might not approve of our best efforts. Though we’ve tried so hard to mimic his war, we’ve failed. The huge difference between the Eminians’ war and ours, was that theirs was mutually fought, ours is not. Eminar and Vendikar both played the game, both agreeing it was in their best interest. Our enemies do not benefit from the game, their people are the ones dying, being disfigured, and reduced to poverty by our attacks. They see their family and friends blasted apart in unrelenting automated onslaught, completely unable to defend themselves, let alone retaliate effectively. For the most part, even their leaders do not benefit from the war. Our invasion has devastated the lucrative heroin industry. One can only imagine the havoc this must be causing.
How long before America’s enemies get tired of being target practice for fat guardsmen flying toy airplanes? Our greatest advantage, that our enemies lack the technology to play the game, is also our greatest weakness. If some of our involuntary opponents decide to retaliate, it won’t be a clean drone attack, or a “surgical strike” against an American politician. It’s going to be something cruel, dirty, and horrifying… just like a real war.
We started the War on Terror in response to an attack on American soil. To continue fighting it will result in a sequel. As horrible as that possibility is, sadly, it might be the only thing that will awaken the American people to the true nature of the Long War. With all this in mind, it is little wonder that General Petraeus desperately defends his pet project, after all he’s still got another 490 years to go to break the Galactic Long War Record.