Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Beaten, but not defeated?

Some of my colleagues and I have been engaging in idle speculation about the impact that psychological defeat has on the growth of an insurgency in the aftermath of a conventional military defeat. Note that the flavor of insurgency we're talking about here is one that emerges in the aftermath of defeat and occupation by a foreign power - not insurgencies that grow to resist foreign occupation over generations (e.g. Tibet) or insurgencies that seek to impose regime change on a local government (e.g. the FARC.)

What role does the psychological impression of losing the war that a population experiences play in their later willingness to restart or continue hostilities - through participating in or supporting an insurgency, for example? That is, does a population that doesn't experience defeat "up close and personal" somehow retain more of a will to resist than one that does? For example, neither WWII nor the American Civil War saw the emergence of a significant insurgency (yes, I know about the Ku Klux Klan and I know that the US Army was dealing with isolated acts of resistance into the early 1950s, but neither period saw resistance coalesce into something that could have changed the outcome of the war.) Both of those wars ended with the population on the losing side experiencing total defeat and social collapse. The Iraq war ended with the decapitation and replacement of the existing regime, but without the population experiencing national defeat. Is that a factor in the current insurgency? If so, what does that say about current warfighting techniques - do they render the defeat of a nation's government too bloodless to pacify a population? Or would an Iraq insurgency have risen regardless, given early US mistakes in the aftermath of Saddam's defeat?


Anonymous nick said...

I bet, that if following the end of major hostilities, the colapse of the Bath Gov't, if we flooded the coutry with additional "peace keepng" troops, 100's of thousands of additional troops, and instituted a martial law scenario, and cracked down and any lawless ness, nipped it in the bud so to speak, stopped the looting, re-filled the jails Sadam emptied, made deals with all the Bathists willing to do so, I mean really take over the country, things would have been different. Just a thought.

2:29 PM  
Blogger Barb said...

I think there were some who were emboldened by the lack of suppression and control - and these may have been the core of the insurgency. But haven't we seen clearly that many (if not most) of the insurgents, even a couple of years ago, were coming in from neighboring countries? Plus, I think that we were trying not to be the invading force to 'win hearts and minds'. Either we miscalculated about the positive benefits of that viewpoint, or it only appealed to those who would never have joined insurgencies of any ilk.

I like Nick's thoughts on what Coulda Been, with the addition that we should have focused very hard on stopping the easy border movements in any direction. I have often wondered how many WMDs made it to Syria and elsewhere without controls, and we know many foreign fighters and weapons/ammo/etc. have come in over the years.

At the end of the day, though, if I had to flip a coin between 'winning the hearts and minds' and 'hard and fast control', I compare it to the biblical Spare the rod and Spoil the child. We could have been tougher, and that would have required many more troops. Did we have 'em to send??

7:29 PM  
Blogger Ymarsakar said...

As I saw it, the war was too short. In order to decisively engage and defeat the forces of the enemy, you had to prevent them from running away, going underground, and preparing to do such things in advance. The last part you couldn't do because the political decision to wait was already made. But the first two could be affected by military leaders.

Most armies that cannot stand toe to toe with a superior force, refuse to offer battle, and wisely so. For they are just buying time, whether to use that time to fortify up, to train, to acquire more logistics and supplies, or to obtain a more favorable ground on which to fight. The inferior force benefits from more time, and the superior attacking force is degraded logistically while time is a wasting.

Back in the olden days when they were defending dug in positions, they had lines of retreat all planned out, if the defending force was given sufficient time to prepare. Specific plans to be put into effect should a need arise to retreat, and retreat again after the first one. This prevents a mass rout in which nobody knows what anyone else is doing, which creates panic, and then mass surrender via defeat.

Saddam obviously emplaced a few contingencies. His plans didn't work of course... but it didn't need to, given that it gave Syria and Iran plenty of time to cook something else up for us to face.

That's one of the problems when you concentrate a force large and powerful enough to successfully strike at an enemy's stronghold point. If you keep it around for too long, the enemy basically mobilizes defenders to the point being attacked. The defenders are able to move pieces faster and with more efficiency, since in the olden siege days, it was 1 defender for every 10 attacker, the ratio required to overwhelm the defenders.

Now a days, one insurgent was worth more than a company of regular conventional soldiers to Saddam. So the more time he had, the stronger his position got.

Surprise is a very effective force multiplier. And everybody kept talking about how we would attain "tactical surprise", even though it was without strategic surprise. As if that mattered, when tactically the Iraqis were already outmatched. Outmatching them 'more' is not going to lead them to come out and be defeated by you decisively. The strategic aspect of having the forces coming from the North, to seal off the border to Syria and other escape routes, were a lot more important than any "tactical surprise". Then again, strategy always was more important than tactics.

We also had the problem of no local support, no local leader like Karzai to show us the ropes, which we could support and which he could help us in turn. The US Army used neither Shia nor Kurdish local forces to do much of anything in terms of fighting alongside Americans. Now they are... but why didn't the Army do it in the first place? Because they had a bunch of shiny tanks they wanted to use. Using local forces is crude, rude, and inefficient. Not fancy, not the Army way.

The Taliban suffered a decisive defeat, since after all they actually tried to attack the US forces... because they thought they could beat the US forces given how few they were in number, and they sure weren't scared of the NOrthern Alliance.

They thought they would win... so they came out and got defeated decisively. And that decisive victory for our side pushed the Taliban out of the country, which made things a lot simpler than the spontaneous combustion that was the Sunni Triangle.

I like to call OIF 1 one of those "Short and Victorious Wars".

Even in Gulf War I, you could see the psychological difference, because of how many folks routed, ran, and surrendered. Really surrendered, because they were really defeated.

But in OIF, folks surrendered cause that was how they planned to do it... And when your enemy does what they plan and get away with it, it is hard to break their momentum. It is not a good idea to allow the enemy to focus their energies on thinking up ways to eviscerate you, it is far better to have them thinking about how to stay alive and how to run away faster.

If so, what does that say about current warfighting techniques - do they render the defeat of a nation's government too bloodless to pacify a population?

Current warfighting techniques are too parade shiny. And not shiny in a Firefly way either.

I don't think the bloodless aspect would be so bad, you don't really need hundreds of thousands of casualties moaning and screaming to get the point across. Rather, I think, fighting it out on a decisive battlefield, is necessary. Because it creates leaders, it purges the impurities and weaknesses out of the blade, and tempers it. Otherwise we're basically using a blade that's been put in lukewarm fires, as a weapon. It is not tempered, so it'll bust when we really need it.

Have the hellacious wars first, have the hard fought battles now, so we don't hit a snag in the world later on about the people doubting us or whatever.

If the initial victory is easy, that just means you left most of the enemy Army escape to fight another day. That's a bad thing usually.

Regular old skirmishes never really decided anything in the olden times, because the rest of the army was still out there, viable, lethal, and ready to pound someone into the ground. Decisive victories are necessary, but decisive victories require you to fight the enemy army all at once more or less, or put them into a situation in which they can't retreat successfully. Translated to modern times, decisive engagements usually means going through enemy ambushes, because that's the only way to engage the enemy where the enemy won't run away. By making the enemy think they have a tactical advantage, they will come out and fight... and die. Sort of like Tet. Insurgencies require the safety of their cadres, networks, and veteran troops. They cannot stand up against conventional forces toe to toe, so they should not. But when they do... major pain for them.

This was what I heard from the army and officers and volks during OIF 1 though. They said that we were taking surrenders and going easy on the enemy cause we didn't want them to "fight too hard"... Nice. We don't want them to fight too hard. Rather it is easier if we just let them slip away, to kill on another day with an IED... I got the sense that they sort of had the wrong priority going on there. They were promising that we would defeat the enemy by making them surrender, but that's a classical conventional way of thinking, not an insurgency in which surrender is just another deception ploy. Oh, we'll surrender, see we have the white flag and are unarmed! Please Walk into our ambush.

Sure, no quarter fights and wars of annihilation do engender increased resistance, but that's a good thing when you wish to decisively defeat the enemy. Especially when the only way to decisively defeat the enemy is to annihilate their forces in such a way that their pride has been destroyed. The South had a similar honor/pride system going on, and McClellan and his copperheads thought that the war was going to end because his Army was near Richmond, so if he just held off and got some kind of deal worked out, his political ambitions would go up. However, Lee rallied and pushed the Union army back, because McClellan wanted to take it 'easy' on his enemy cum political ally.

This has gone on long enough, so I'll just conclude it with reply.

What role does the psychological impression of losing the war that a population experiences play in their later willingness to restart or continue hostilities

People usually prefer the easy route, not the hard one. They are naturally shortsighted. Both allies, enemy, and civilians. Since the easy path is almost always the worse of any possible choice, the cure then must be to make the easy path harder, harder than the hard path. Taking pot shots at enemy soldiers is easy, surrendering and admitting defeat by throwing away your pride, a lot harder for human beings with honor complexes. So make the pot shots at enemy soldiers harder than it is to admit defeat. While at the same time working with local leaders to help them make the hard choices, while making the easy choices less palatable to his followers.

It took two nuclear devices to convince Emperor Hirohito that the was over, that any further fighting would be futile and provide them with nothing of worth.

Surrender was a hard concept for any of the Japanese to consider. But eventually, the concept of destroying his nation with further fighting, became too unbearable for Hirohito. He was not going to waste countless thousands and millions for a hopeless cause. The Japanese did after all say that death is ligher than a feather while duty is heavier than mountains.

Doing the right thing is hard. Because evil is always around the corner. When a man believes he can still win, he will fight and he will resist. But make him understand that he has no hope of saving himself... and something occurs. Something noble and majestic, in which a human being has disregarded his own survival in favor of the survival of those he loves, and then and only then will stable peace and goodness be produced. Assuming your opponent is America of course.

Sherman always had a nice turn of phrase when he wrote that letter to the Mayor of Atlanta. Total War has a very nice philosophical backdrop.

4:36 AM  
Blogger UnitedStatesAirForceAuxiliaryMember said...

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1:48 AM  
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8:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all I want to thank you for your military service!!! You are a great American!!!

I am a new soldier in the Army National Guard (Airborne 11 Bravo Hoo Ahh!!!) and am gearing up for my first deployment to Iraq at the end of this summer with the Washington National Guard. I have recently had a book published called “Homeless Across America.” It is my story of a trip I took last summer before going to boot camp at Fort Benning Georgia. I had actually lost my house as a result of a nasty divorce and I decided that with the time I had before leaving for my training I would drive a loop around the country and see what it was I, and you were fighting for. I can attest that after finishing my journey I was even more confident that I had made the right choice to join your ranks and as Toby says beside my brothers and my sisters proudly make a stand!!! If you feel so inclined please check out my blog at Again, thank you for your service and thank you for going before me. May God bless you and God Bless America!!!!!

10:07 PM  
Blogger Army Sergeant said...

Personally, I believe the reason the insurgency is continuing is our continued presence there. We did not fight this battle in traditional war-sense. We claimed to be fighting "on behalf of the people", which allowed said people to feel that they had the right to put us back in the box when they were done with us. Of course, that wasn't our true motivation, and so it didn't work quite that way, and thus builds the resentment.

In a traditional war, the roles of conqueror and conquered are very clear, as well as what is expected in the ensuing occupation. This war confuses all of those, and thus allows for a renewed and invigorated insurgency.

11:45 AM  
Blogger eddiearni said...

Historically, no one has been able to "take" Iraq. That area has too much geostrategic importance. The Ottoman Empire was able to hold it for a while, but they effectively controlled the surrounding area as well. It looks like the USA may be able to hold on with some massively fortified mega bases, but I have a hard time understanding how we might be able to actually control the area without the consent - and armies - of the surrounding countries, such as Syria, Lebanon, Iran, etc. It just ain't gonna happen. I'd love to see someone counter my logic here: in what sense is this war a possible success?

10:14 PM  
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8:46 AM  
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2:14 PM  

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