LESSONS LEARNED #25: “War is costly. Peace, too.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 5th, 2010

AT THE HEIGHT of the Roman Empire, the empire reached from North Africa to Britannia (England), from Hispania (Spain) to Mesopotamia (approximately modern day Iraq).  When Roman power ruled the civilized world, there was peace.  The Pax Romana (Roman Peace).  The Romans built empire through conquest.  And Rome grew rich with the spoils of conquest.  For awhile, peace was only those quiet intervals between growth and conquest.  But with secure borders, a uniform government, a rule of law, a stable currency, bustling trade & markets and a military to be the world’s policeman, peace broke out.  For some 200 years.

Life was good for the Roman citizen.  As well as for those living in the empire.  The Romans modernized the provinces they conquered.  Made life better.  Even for the conquered people.  Although there were those who hated being subjugated by a foreign power.

Reg: They bled us white, the bastards. They’ve taken everything we had. And not just from us! From our fathers, and from our father’s fathers.

Loretta: And from our father’s father’s fathers.

Reg: Yeah.

Loretta: And from our father’s father’s father’s fathers.

Reg: Yeah, all right Stan, don’t belabor the point. And what have they ever given us in return?

Revolutionary I: The aqueduct?

Reg: What?

Revolutionary I: The aqueduct.

Reg: Oh. Yeah, yeah, they did give us that, ah, that’s true, yeah.

Revolutionary II: And the sanitation.

Loretta: Oh, yeah, the sanitation, Reg. Remember what the city used to be like.

Reg: Yeah, all right, I’ll grant you the aqueduct and sanitation, the two things the Romans have done.

Matthias: And the roads.

Reg: Oh, yeah, obviously the roads. I mean the roads go without saying, don’t they? But apart from the sanitation, the aqueduct, and the roads…

Revolutionary III: Irrigation.

Revolutionary I: Medicine.

Revolutionary IV: Education.

Reg: Yeah, yeah, all right, fair enough.

Revolutionary V: And the wine.

All revolutionaries except Reg: Oh, yeah! Right!

Rogers: Yeah! Yeah, that’s something we’d really miss Reg, if the Romans left. Huh.

Revolutionary VI: Public bathes.

Loretta: And it’s safe to walk in the streets at night now, Reg.

Rogers: Yeah, they certainly know how to keep order. Let’s face it; they’re the only ones who could in a place like this.

All revolutionaries except Reg: Hahaha…all right…

Reg: All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?

Revolutionary I: Brought peace?

Reg: Oh, peace! Shut up!

(From Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, 1979.)

Maintaining a peaceful empire is costly.  As people got more accustomed to peace and plenty, they began to complain about taxes.  Citizens refused to volunteer to serve in the Roman Legions maintaining that peace.  Barbarians began to serve in the Legions.  Some rose to command them.  Some Roman commanders came from the very people they were fighting in the border regions.  Soon Rome would rely on mercenaries (hired soldiers) to defend their borders.  All of this cost the empire.  It had to pay more and more to maintain the loyalty of the military.  Ditto for the huge bureaucracy administrating the empire.  And they lost control.  Trouble on the borders and economic collapse ended the peace.  And, ultimately, the empire.  The civilized world broke down and collapsed.  And barbarian leaders on the borders, hungry for conquest, attacked.  Plunging the former Roman provinces into war and instability.

RISING FROM THE ashes of the Roman Empire were the seeds of new empires.  And the ground that proved most fertile was the northern limit of the old empire.  England.

England started to assert herself with the growth of her navy.  With her borders secured, a uniform government, a rule of law, a stable currency, bustling trade & markets and a military to be the world’s policeman, peace broke out.  Again.  For about a hundred years.  During the Industrial Revolution.  After the defeat of Napoleon. 

Imperial Britain stretched across the globe.  The sun never set on the British Empire.  And wherever she went, she brought the rule of law, modernity, a sound economy and political stability.  Her old colonial possessions went on to be some of the richest, most prosperous and peaceful nations in the world.  India.  Australia.  New Zealand.  South Africa.  Canada.  And, of course, the United States of America.  She achieved her century of peace (Pax Britannia) by a balance of power.  She maintained peace by intervening in disputes, often on the side of the weaker nation.  She prevented stronger, aggressive nations from threatening her weaker neighbors.   And she provided a safe environment for the weaker nation to live peacefully in the shadows of stronger, more aggressive neighbors.

For a hundred years Britannia kept the peace.  In large part due to her Royal Navy, the most powerful and potent navy at the time.  If you ate any imported food or used any imported goods, it was thanks to the Royal Navy that kept the world’s sea lanes safe.  But this peace came with a price.  The rise of nationalism, the quest of new empires to establish their own overseas colonies and a change in the balance of power in Europe with the rise of Germany added to that price.  And then a shot fired in Sarajevo by a Serbian terrorist ignited a tinderbox.  The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Gavrilo Princip started World War I.  The most bloody and expensive war at the time, it bankrupted Great Britain and ended her empire.  And left the world a less safe place. 

From the ashes of World War I rose new leaders with aspirations of world conquest.  Fascist Italy led by Benito Mussolini.  Nazi Germany led by Adolf Hitler.  Communist Russia led by Joseph Stalin.  Imperial Japan led by Hideki Tojo.  And the nation that led the victors in World War II would, by default, become the new world power.  The new world policeman.  The United States of America.

SO WHAT HAPPENED during the inter-war years that led to World War II?  War exhausted Britain and France.  Neither had the stomach for another war.  Britain continued to rely on the Royal Navy for protection (as an island nation, sea power is indispensable).  France built fixed fortifications (the Maginot Line).  Both were primarily defensive strategies. 

In America, General Billy Mitchell demonstrated the vulnerability of battleships to air power by sinking a battleship with an airplane (greatly flustering the naval high command).  Colonel George S. Patton developed an armored doctrine for an unenthused army and eventually transferred back to the horse cavalry.  Meanwhile, Imperial Japan was building aircraft carriers.  And Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Communist Russia developed air and armored doctrine while fighting in the Spanish Civil War.

Fascist Italy attacked Ethiopia in 1935 to rebuild the Roman Empire and make the Mediterranean Sea a Roman lake once again.  Nazi Germany launched World War II in 1939 by an armored assault on Poland with tactical air support.  Poland resisted with horse cavalry.  And lost.  Imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941 to destroy American naval power in the Pacific.  They did a lot of damage.  But the American carriers, their prime objective, were at sea.  They would eventually meet those carriers later at the Battle of Midway.  Where they would lose four of their best carriers and many of their best aviators.  This tipped the balance of power in the Pacific to the Americans.

America was ill-prepared for war.  But American industry, the Arsenal of Democracy, ramped up and built the planes, tanks, guns, rifles and ships that would win the war.   It would come with a heavy price tag.  Global wars typically do.  Had there been a balance of power that would have checked the territorial ambitions of the aggressor nations, it would have been a different story.  Of course, having the power is one thing.  How you use it is another. 

France had more tanks than Germany before the outbreak of hostilities.  But the Nazis quickly overran France.  Why?  Doctrine.  France’s doctrine was to hide behind the security of the Maginot Line.  It was a defensive-only strategy.  She developed no armored doctrine.  The lesson they learned from World War I was that armies killed themselves attacking fixed defenses.  Germany, too, learned that lesson.  So their doctrine called for going around fixed defenses with fast-moving armor spearheads with tactical air support (i.e., blitzkrieg).  Formidable though the Maginot Line was, it could not attack.  And if the Nazis didn’t attack it, it did nothing but concentrate men and firepower away from the battle.

WHEN WE PULLED out of South Vietnam, we agreed to use American air power if North Vietnam violated the terms of the treaty ending that war.  Watergate changed all of that.  Even though JFK got us into Vietnam, it became Nixon’s war.  And a vindictive Congress wouldn’t have anything more to do with it.  The North tested the American will.  Saw that there was none.   Attacked.  And overran South Vietnam.  The message was clear to tyrants.  America will quit in the long run.  Especially after a large loss of life.

Other ‘retreats’ would reinforce this perception.  Especially in the Arab world.  The withdrawal from Lebanon after the bombing of the Marines’ barracks.  The withdrawal from Somalia after the Somalis dragged dead American troops through the streets of Mogadishu.  The Arab world even saw the victory in Desert Storm as a retreat.  The anti-American Arab world said that our invasion was about oil.  That what we really wanted was to topple Saddam Hussein and take his oil.  It was just another Christian Crusade into holy Islamic lands.  When we didn’t do that, the Arab world saw it as another American retreat.  That America didn’t have the will to endure a bloody battle to conquer Iraq. 

So some in the Arab world would test America.  Al Qaeda.  Headed by Osama bin Laden.  They started small and became more daring.  World Trade Center bombing.  Tanzanian Embassy bombing.  Kenyan Embassy bombing.  Khobar Towers bombing.  The USS Cole attack.  And they paid little for these attacks.  America didn’t fight back.  But their luck ran out on September 11, 2001.  Because America finally fought back.

PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER one, Osama bin Laden, belonged to the conservative Sunni sect of Islam called Wahhabi.  They have a large following in Saudi Arabia.  The Wahhabi have a delicate relationship with the Saudi Royal family.  They disapprove of the Western displays of wealth in the House of Saud. 

Al-Qaeda was a shadowy enemy.  We confronted them in the mountains of Afghanistan where the Taliban gave them a safe sanctuary.  We attacked.  Knocked the Taliban from power.  Drove al-Qaeda underground.  But we could not stop their funding.

Wahhabi money from Saudi Arabia financed 9/11.  And the money continued to flow.  The Saudis would not intervene on behalf of America.  They feared any crackdown on the Wahhabi could unleash a civil war.  So America needed leverage to get Saudi cooperation.  And they found it in an old nemesis, Saddam Hussein. 

A Sunni minority ruled Iraq.  The Saudis did not like Saddam Hussein.  However, they liked the balance of power he offered to Iran.  Iran was Shiite.  As much as the Saudis did not like Saddam, they disliked Shiite Iran more.  This was the American lever.

After some diplomatic gymnastics, the invasion of Iraq was set.  The Saudis thought we were bluffing.  They didn’t believe we would invade Iraq.  Never in a million years.  If we didn’t do it in Desert Storm when we had the force in place to do it and didn’t, there was no way the Americans would amass another coalition and redeploy forces to the region again.  Especially because America doesn’t like long, drawn out, bloody wars.  Which an invasion of Iraq would surely be.

They asked us to remove our forces from the Saudi bases.  We did.  Now they were getting nervous.  That was the political game.  Make some noise to show the Arab world you weren’t an American toady.  But, secretly, you want those American forces to remain.  That American presence did provide security.  And stability.  After the invasion of Kuwait, it sure looked like Saudi Arabia would be next.  It was only that large American force in the desert that changed that inevitability. 

The Americans invaded.  And conquered.  Now the Saudis had a vested interest in helping the Americans.  They needed them to be successful in Iraq.  To contain Iran.  The lever worked.  The Saudis stemmed the flow of Wahhabi money to al-Qaeda.  The invasion of Iraq proved to be one of the most effective battles in the war on terrorism.  

HISTORY HAS SHOWN that a balance of power can lead to peace.  It has also shown that a superpower can enforce a larger peace.  But it also has shown that there is good and bad when it comes to power.  The Romans could be cruel, but so were most in that time.  The road to empire, after all, started out simply as a quest to provide a buffer between Rome and the hostile barbarians on her borders.  Rome, then, expanded in pursuit of peace.  (Initially, at least.)  And then used her power to maintain peace.

Many view Great Britain as the successor to the Roman Empire.  And many view America as the successor to the British Empire.  These powers share many things (rule of law, an advanced civilization, political stability, etc.).  Perhaps the greatest, though, is a powerful military.  And how it was/is used.  As a powerful deterrent to an aggressor nation.  To protect trade routes.  To maintain peace.  Malign these empires/nations all you will, but the greatest periods of world peace were due to their military power.  And their will to use that military power.  Expensive as that was.  Is.

So, yes, wars are costly.  Peace, too.  Sometimes, though, we must fight wars.  But we can avoid a lot of them.  By a peace-time military force that acts as a deterrent.  Because there are bad guys out there.  Who only respect one thing.  And it isn’t diplomacy.  Often the only thing preventing them from waging a cruel war of conquest is a potent military and a willing leader to use it.  If a tyrant knows he will face a military consequence for acting, he may not act.  When he knows that consequence will be devastating, he will not act.  But if he knows a nation hasn’t the military power or the will to use military power, he will act.  Just as Hitler did.  As Mussolini did.  As Tojo did.  And as Osama bin Laden did.

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LESSONS LEARNED #15: “Most people would rather hear a pleasant lie than an unpleasant truth.” -Old Pithy.

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 27th, 2010

NO ONE LIKES bad news.  That’s why when someone says, “I’ve got good news and bad news, which do you want to hear first?” most people want to hear the bad news first.  Get the sting over.  Then hear the good news to help get over the sting of the bad.

People are so adverse to bad news they’ll even look for ways to ignore it as long as they can.  They’ll believe lies if the lies keep their pleasant little world pleasant.  Almost to any cost.  In 1944, the Germans were beaten.  There was a chance some soldiers would be home before Christmas.  So when some scattered reports came of movements on the German front towards the Eifel Region just east of the Ardennes, SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) discounted them.  Explained them away as nothing.  Because the Germans didn’t launch winter offensives.

Until 1944, that is.  The Schnee Eifel battle, at the beginning of the center prong of a 3-prong attack, was the greatest American defeat in 1944/1945 Europe.  But this was only one of many battles known as the Battle of the Bulge.  This German winter offensive through the Ardennes was the biggest American battle of World War II.  And bloodiest.  In all, the Germans killed about 20,000 American soldiers.  Some after they surrendered.  Kampfgruppe Peiper spearheaded the Sixth SS Panzer Division.  Joachim Peiper would eventually lead this force through the Baugnez crossroads near Malmedy.  And into infamy.  The Malmedy Massacre wasn’t the only war crime, though.  There were others.

In the movie Patton, General Patton predicted this German offensive.  And there was some truth in that.  Third Army DID predict this.  But it was his chief of intelligence, Colonel Oscar Koch, who figured this out.  Patton’s battlefield successes were the result of strong intelligence.  And Colonel Koch gave him some of the best intelligence available on the Western Front.  In November 1944, he gathered the intelligence, analyzed it and predicted a time and place.  Of course, SHAEF discounted his findings.  They were sure the Germans were beaten.  Besides, the Germans didn’t launch winter offensives.

THE BATTLE OF the Bulge was only a small part of World War II, the biggest and meanest war in the history of mankind.  Nations mobilized their military, economic, industrial, and scientific forces to wage total war.  Civilians died, too.  En masse.  Whether by bombing of enemy cities or by organized genocide in occupied lands, civilians felt the horrors of war as they never had before.

So how did such a horrific war come to be?  It’s complicated.  Did it have to be as bad as it was?  No.  At least, France could have stopped Hitler earlier.  Before his military buildup.  But to understand this story, you have to go back in time. 

THE GREAT WAR, World War I, was the culmination of a series of disputes over European power and control of the Balkans.

The Crimean War of 1853–1856, the Austro-Sardinian War of 1859 and the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 stirred the pot up in the Balkans.  The Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 established a new unified Germany as the dominant power of Europe as Great Britain and France were in decline (and ceded the Loraine-Alsace region from France to Germany).  And the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878 exploited the Balkan tempest.

Weaker nations formed treaties with stronger nations.  Entangling treaties.  Imperial interests in the Balkans of both the great and not so great powers further fermented the Balkan tempest.  Minority rule of the majority led to nationalist rebellion.  To quench this rebellion, the Austro-Hungarian Empire annexed Serbia.

This is a very cursory history but you get the picture.  There was a lot of anger.  And a lot of wrongs to right.  And territory to regain.  Or to simply gain.  And then on Sunday, the 28th of June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria visited Sarajevo.  There a Yugoslav nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, assassinated him.  And then all of those entangling treaties kicked in and a world was at war.

IT WAS THE bloodiest and costliest war to date.  No one thought it would be, though.  You see, they learned a lot from the Prussians during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871.  Which was swift and conclusive.  Unfortunately, they learned little from the American Civil War (1861-1865).  For 4 bloody years the Americans demonstrated warfare where technology was ahead of military tactics.  And World War I was to look more like the American Civil War than the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871.  Long.  And bloody.  A war of attrition where you don’t necessarily win a decisive battle.  The other side just runs out of soldiers to kill.

World War I (1914 to 1918) saw horrific killing fields.  Artillery bombardments that would last for days.  Attacks through barbed wire into raking machine-gun fire.  Poison gas.  The death toll was staggering.  Great Britain and her Imperial forces lost over a million killed, over 2 million maimed and wounded.  France lost slightly more killed and almost twice in maimed and wounded.  Civilians were not untouched by war, either.  Blockade starved civilian populations.

The War devastated and impoverished these two countries.  They won the war, but only barely.  The entry of America was just too much.  More soldiers and material.  The killing could go on indefinitely.  So all sides sued for peace.  With the Americans on the Allied side, though, they were in a position to dictate the terms of the peace.  And boy did they.

THE TREATY OF VERSAILLES was punitive.  In the run up to war, there were really no innocents.  But to the victors go the spoils.  Official blame for the war fell on Germany.  She lost territory (France got back the Loraine-Alsace region) and all her colonies.  And she had to pay reparations.  The Germans were pissed. 

The Allies hoped to mitigate their war losses by German tribute.  But it was too much.  Even a member of the British delegation at Versailles, economist John Maynard Keynes, thought so.  In an effort to restore Great Britain and France as the dominant European powers, the allies probably went too far.  The economic burdens on Germany were too great.  Then hyper-inflation met Great Depression.  Angry socialists, communists and nationalists tore the nation asunder.  Until a uniter came along.  Adolf Hitler.

HITLER ROSE TO power legally.  Then he consolidated his power ruthlessly.  He renounced the Versailles Treaty.  And did a lot of things that showed his ultimate intentions.  Including writing a book years earlier about his ultimate intentions.  Mein Kampf.  Which was pretty detailed.  To anyone who read it. 

One of his first provocative acts was to place a negligible military force into the Rhineland in 1936.  The German High Command was a little skittish about this idea for they did not believe they had sufficient strength to successfully fight off a French response.  The French had superior numbers in military power.  But they were financially weak.  They had poured a fortune into the line of fortresses known as the Maginot Line.  They could not afford all out war with Germany, too, and they thought a military conflict in the Rhineland may lead to that.  And after going through the horrors of the Great War, they had no desire to do it again.  Whether it was a question of could or would is still debated.  But had they, one wonders how such action would have altered the course of history.

Hitler continued in a string of actions, explaining away each as harmless with no higher purpose.  Great Britain and France were growing uneasy but accepted his statements.  They wanted to believe.  They would do just about anything to avoid a return to war.  Even give away another sovereign nation’s land.

THE SUDETENLAND WAS an area along the Czechoslovakia side of their border with Germany with German inhabitants.  Hitler wanted to reincorporate them into the German state.  He promised this would be his last territorial acquisition.  And, at Munich in September of 1938, Great Britain and France took him at his word.  With Czechoslovakia not even present at this conference, they concluded the pact that ceded the Sudetenland to Germany.  All’s well that ends well.

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned to London with a copy of the Munich Pact.  He would give a speech declaring they got “peace for our time.”  But they didn’t.  Hitler soon took the rest of Czechoslovakia.  With his two flanks protected, Hitler invaded Poland in 1939 and launched the world into war.  Again.  Only this time, it would be worse.

IT IS HARD to blame France and Great Britain’s reluctance to return to war with Germany after the devastation of World War I.  And those who do usually do so with the advantage of hindsight.  However, we know what the costs added up to in stopping Adolf Hitler in 1945.  And few would say that all out war with Germany in 1936 would have cost more.

Here’s the ugly truth.  The truth can be ugly.  And we hide from it at our own peril.

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