Thursday, April 20, 2006

Fighting the War from Abroad

Regarding my earlier post on the Republican’s Tinkerbell strategy, Commenter Dan writes (in a comment I otherwise agreed with):
But I agree: The war going badly will speed the process and turn the public even more against the war, which in turn demoralizes the troops and encourages "the enemy" but what of it?

But I don’t think that’s quite right, and see that as part of the post-Vietnam spinning that the pro-war types put out there.  To me, if things are going badly in a war, the solders know about it far more quickly than we do.  And if things are going well in a war, the soldiers wouldn't be demoralized simply because the folks at home aren't happy with it.  They're there and we're here.  And the things that happen there have a lot more impact on the troops than anything that goes on here.  Of course, it’s unlikely that we’d be significantly unhappy with a successful war that the troops were really happy about; but that’s just more of what I’m saying.  

Equally, I think the enemy also has a better idea of how the war is going than anything we know.  They know when their bombs are getting us.  They can see how tense our soldiers are when they’re walking the streets or driving by in armored vehicles.  They see our guys making mistakes and shooting/jailing the wrong people.  They don’t need a CNN satellite feed to know what’s going on.  This stuff isn’t rocket science.  Nobody likes to see their buddies killed or have their arms blown off; and that’s all guerrilla warfare is about.  

The trick of guerrilla warfare is making the bombs and not getting caught.  But everyone knows that these tactics will eventually wear-out the opponent.  They aren’t being encouraged because we’re acknowledging that it’s working.  They’re encouraged when they see their tactics working.  They’re encouraged when they see fewer foot patrols, and see that we’re having trouble building schools and hospitals; because of their tactics.  They’re encouraged when they can keep getting more recruits to blow themselves up.  And they’re encouraged when we shoot, jail, or torture the wrong people, because they know that this will only bring more recruits to their cause.  Hell, they’re encouraged when we shoot, jail, and torture the right people; because those people are also likely to have family and friends who might be more convinced to join the insurgency because of that.  And that’s one of the problems with fighting an insurgency: They’re so easy to do and the enemy is likely to make the mistakes that keep making it easier.

But the idea that they’re getting this feedback directly from us at home is surely mistaken.  Sure, it’s likely to have some impact.  But not anything that a successful war would give us.  It’s much better for us to run a successful war that was unpopular in America than an unsuccessful war that was popular.  Because the unsuccessful war will eventually lose popularity, while the successful war is likely to gain it.  Propaganda is an important tool, but reality really is more important.  

And more likely, we’ll have an indecisive war that steadily loses popularity over time.  Because as I argued earlier, in war, the hometeam wins a draw; and the invading team needs outright victory.  And the longer that success is unknown, the worse it is for the invading team.  And if our success is dependent on the levels of support and propaganda, then we’re probably not winning.

So, no, I don’t agree that the troops are strongly affected by the attitudes of the folks at home.  But there is a group which is demoralized when the folks at home are unhappy with a war: Politicians and pundits who support the war.  That's the group that's really demoralized, and that's the group that can eventually pull the troops home early and "lose" the war.  But that's not likely to happen unless they really are losing the war.  And if the politicians can’t hold onto a successful war that’s unpopular, then we probably shouldn’t have been fighting it anyway.

Tied to Vietnam

And to tie this into Vietnam, soldiers were already demoralized and didn't want to be there before the protests really got big.  And anyone who forgets about what those protests were really about is a fooling themselves.  Sure, people were against the war.  But a big part of that was certainly the draft.  Had we waged that war with an all-volunteer army, it probably would have lasted longer.  

But it still would have been lost.  I’ve read enough about it to concur that it was a hopeless war.  I’m not even sure if that kind of war has ever been won.  And had the Germans or Japanese believed that we were going to conquer them and force them to be subservient to American interests (as the Vietnamese and Iraqi fighters believed), it is unlikely we would have won WWII (not to suggest that we would have lost land or anything).  I suppose prior colonization and subservience of Vietnamese and Iraqis by Europeans had something to do with our problems.  

And without a doubt, the draft was far more demoralizing to the troops than anything the protesters did.  As was watching buddies die and be maimed for a war that they didn’t understand.  After all, the real reason that war continued for so long was as a face-saving measure by our politicians.  It was a cock-up from the start, but they knew that a loss would severely damage our country…which was why we shouldn’t have been in there in the first place.  Same with Iraq.  If you don’t need to be there and can’t afford a loss, you probably shouldn’t do it.  

In both wars, the pro-war crowd showed the world how limited America’s military might really was; thus making it harder for them to wage war in the future.  But these aren’t the anomalous occurrences the pro-war crowd believes them to be; nor were these wars victims of troop-demoralizing propaganda at home.  These are natural occurrences which were entirely predictable.  And the reason why propaganda is considered to be such a big factor isn’t because it was so effective; but because we lost.  And these people would much rather blame propaganda than the limitations of their own simplistic theories.

Propaganda v. Reality

Am I suggesting that propaganda doesn’t play a part of warfare?  Of course not.  But as the Republicans are learning more everyday (or as they should be learning) propaganda can only take you so far, but eventually reality will have to match.  And if it doesn’t, then the propaganda can backfire and anger people even more when they finally see the reality.  But that really only goes as far as whether we go to war and if we stay there.  But it won’t have a significant impact on how that war is actually conducted and can’t overcome the troops’ own experiences.

Again, a successful war will not be undermined by negative feelings at home.  It might change how the government treats the war and whether we continue with it; but it won’t demoralize the troops as much as the war itself.  Propaganda can help a war, but it can't win it.  That needs to be done in the real world.  And if you’re not winning the war and you don’t need to win the war, you probably won’t.


Dan said...

heh. Yeah, I wasn't totally satisfied with that comment myself, but I was trying to convey that your earlier analysis had missed some things (namely that the bad coverage or lack of support can be part of a feedback loop into soldier morale, that the right wingers are not inventing this phenomena, but that they are acting like it is the cause, rather than a symptom of a war gone wrong).

You more than fully covered it now. I particularly liked the point about it being the pundits and fighting keyboardists whose morale is most affected by the negative coverage.

Larry said...

"And had the Germans or Japanese believed that we were going to conquer them and force them to be subservient to American interests (as the Vietnamese and Iraqi fighters believed), it is unlikely we would have won WWII."

The Japanese and Germans knew they were going to be conquered, but their military had been destroyed in battle, their populations demoralized, and no friendly neighbors.

Completely different situation in Iraq. There is no possibility of winning there.

Bush has dropped an enormous turd that we will be stepping in for years. It's an object lesson in the amount of damage that can be done when a stupid person makes crucial decisions.

Doctor Biobrain said...

The Japanese and Germans knew they were going to be conquered,

Sorry, I knew I'd get in trouble for saying it like that. I just meant that if they thought we were going to be jerks about it and do bad things to them; and not simply that we'd send troops into their country. After all, I've heard of no incidents of a German or Japanese insurgency, and that wouldn't have required a military or friendly nations; at least not in the short-term.

I really wonder if they would have put up with the Soviets, had they known how the whole East Germany/Berlin Wall thing was going to work out.

Larry said...

There were no incidents in Japan. In fact, American soldiers were forbidden from carrying loaded weapons in-country. And the peole were literally starving by war end.

The Germans were well aware what awaited them from the Soviets, and fought them bloody every step of the way until Berlin fell. 1.5 million German soldiers who survived the slaughter on the Eastern Front were deported and died in Soviet POW camps after 1945.

No men + a totally cowed/raped female citizenry + the certain brutal Russian response = no possible sustained insugency.

Both Germany and Japan had homogeneous societies. When their armies were beaten, it was over.