Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Some Thoughts On Military History

I was thinking recently about how things have changed for nations over the course of military history, and what was required of them to fight and win wars.

In the days of ancient military history, wars often came down to a single climatic battle or a small series of such battles. While generals had their roles on the battlefield and in planning the fight, the winner was often determined by the training and courage of its soldiers. Casualties in those days were generally limited to the front lines. Once these lines were smashed the others would turn and run. The side that held out longer was usually the victor.

In the time of Rome war became one of campaigns. Multiple battles across wide territories decided the war. Generals and their strategies were the deciding factor. Consider the Punic Wars and Hannibal's march through Spain and across the Alps into Italy. Or his opponents brilliant strategy of avoiding combat until Hannibal's army died on the vine.

Then in the Feudal era war became a contest of money. Which king owned the most land, could raise the most levies, keep them in the field the longest or build the most castles. In the Industrial era war was won by production. Which side had the most railways. Could manufacturer the most rifles, ships, or planes. The American civil war, World War I and II were all ultimately decided by production, logistics and economic output.

These things of course all build upon the other. Factories won't run and goods won't flow without money. All the money and equipment in the world won't matter if you don't have capable commanders controlling them and good men using them.

But I think now, in the modern age, war is not decided by any of these things. War is now decided by people and their will to fight.

Take the United States for example. Right now the United States owns as many aircraft carriers as the rest of the world combined. They are economically and technologically the leading power on the planet. There is nothing, economically or military speaking, stopping them from conquering all of Central America and the Caribbean. Even if the other nations of the world streamed their combined navies against the United States, there would be no clear winner to that fight. The other nations could try and embargo the United States and move away from the dollar as the standard, but they'd be causing significant harm to their own economies in the process.

The only major roadblock to an American Empire, is the American people. They simply wouldn't allow it. Even given a call to action, a Pearl Harbor or 9/11, is no guarantee. How long until they decide that casualties are too high, that the cost isn't worth it? The Unites States has some 5,000 people on board a single aircraft carrier. If one were to be sunk with a total loss of personnel it would be equivalent to the casualties sustained during nine years of fighting in Iraq.

Compare that to the people of Iraq or Afghanistan who continue to fight long after their governments and military have surrendered, after their economic and industrial capabilities have been destroyed or removed. They fight against an economically, technologically, industrially and militarily superior foe out of sheer will. Whether or not they are "winning" that war is debatable, but it shows no matter what side you are considering, it all comes down to the people's will to fight or not.

The day in which a nation can rely on their propaganda, or a public determined to dig in and fight to the last breath is over. People no longer hold onto the purely racial or nationalistic motives to fight. A nation can't simply paint their adversary as being a rape thirsting barbarian without some kind of evidence to back it up. The inter connected nature of the world's communication simply won't allow for painting the enemy as some sick "other" that must be slain for the good of all mankind.

As the nation moves toward bigger, better and more sophisticated weaponry, toward making sure we can fight large conventional armies and insurgents alike, perhaps we should look toward our own people. What good are the world's best weapons, if no one is willing to use them?