Tuesday - May 31, 2011

It's a New Kind of War, There are No Front Lines.  Another Myth

Operation new market, iraq2005It's a popular thing to say, and has been said for generations, that the latest military adventure is new and unlike past wars in that "there are no front lines." Where do such silly ideas come from?  

What is a front line, anyway?  It's the forward part of where the military units are located and behind which they shoot from. In any battle, you have to be careful which way you're shooting because you don't want to shoot the wrong people. You have limits to the right, limits to the left, and limits to the front and rear. This is a design feature and not to be avoided or else you're just a rabble, not an army.

If you examine the map of Haditha, Iraq shown here, you will see the rudimentary scheme of maneuver in Operation New Market in May of 2005 by 3d Battalion, 25th Marines. You can see that Companies K/2, K/25 and L/25 had very distinct directions that they were to move in. Company A of the 1st Tank Battalion guarded the north and south of the city while sections of Weapons Company 3/25 screened to the east and west, much as calvary units would have screened in days long gone.

This "cordon and knock" operation is little different than any attempt to take an unfortified city in the past couple of hundred years, at least. I'll bet that when the gates of Troy were breached, the Greeks had similar control measures for how they swept through the city.

That the battles in Iraq and Afghanistan are small in scale does not mean there are no front lines. It just means there are small front lines.

Perhaps the confusion comes from the fact that, though we are at war, it is not a very active war. Our enemy is militarily incompetent and vastly outclassed. There is no question of our ability to prevail in any use of military force. The enemy is reduced to operating a counter-insurgency and terrorism. Is there a "front line" in terrorism?  In counter-insurgency? Well, not when they're not using military force. But once they start shooting and fighting, then there are front lines – just really small ones, at the squad and platoon scale, usually.

Why do people say "there are no front lines?" What purpose does that serve? I think people tend to think that the current war, whatever the current war might be at the time, is the greatest conflict ever. If we can't say that the size of the battle is greatest, then we say the nature of the battle is new and different. Thucydides knew "that it is human nature, while a war is in progress, to regard it as the greatest in history."

One of the resultant claims that has been growing has been the idea that modern wars are different, with no front lines, therefore we can have women in ground combat units. Some say that since some women are killed or wounded in the war, that they should be assigned to ground combat units. This is clearly odd logic, because women have been getting killed and raped in wars in all wars in history and prehistory. Being a victim of war does not mean that one is cut out to be an aggressor in war.

A fellow Marine reservist, Maj Jane Blair, whom I don't know, has put forward the idea that there are five myths about women in the military. Her objections don't carry water and are not worth discussing in too much detail. I was simply fascinated by the claim repeated by everyone everywhere that this war is a "different kind of war" without front lines.

When we're fighting there are front lines. After the fighting is over and we're holding the land, there are no lines. But there is also no fighting.

So, Maj Blair seems to think that we should allow women in combat, but only when there are no front lines because there is no combat.

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