Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Total War and the Fortress State

As fighting continues to escallate in the Middle East, Belmont Club observes:
The other thing to note is that while Israel has been striking purely military targets in the sense that it is not aiming at civilians (though that has not spared it from international opprobrium), Hezbollah has been firing exclusively at civilians. Indeed, they can do nothing else because their weapons are presently so crude that they can only hit the vast sprawls of which modern urban life is made.
This tactic should be familiar to our ears, since the doctrine of 'Total War' was that which motivated the city-levelling bombing of World War II. The other motivation for city-wide bombing in WW2 was of course that then-current technology often only allowed precision of several hundred years to (in poor conditions) several miles in bombing precision, thus making city or at least neighborhood-sized targets the only viable ones.

Radical militias attacking Israel are in a similar situation, in that the rockers and artillery that they have are generally so out of date that their aim only allows random terror bombing -- though given their states goals of wiping Israel from the face of the earth, it's unlikely they would behave any differently no matter what technology they had available.

Over the weekend I finally had a chance to start reading Victor Davis Hanson's new book A War Like No Other, about the
Peloponnesian War, fought 2400 years ago betwee Athens and Sparta. That conflict continues to be studied to this day (Thucydides' History is required reading as the US Army War College) in part because it represented the first total war in history. Athens, which in the process of spreading democracy through the Hellenic world had also made itself the effective imperial power of Greece, exacting a huge annual tribute from it's many client states and beseiging and levelling any state the refused payment, had effectively made itself independant (at least for short periods) from its local agricultural resources. When the invading Spartans took the standard classical Greek tactic of ravaging the fields around the walled city and waiting for that provocation to cause the city to send its army out to defend the farmland, the Athenians simply sat inside the walls and ignored them, while sending naval expeditions out to raid the Peloponnesian coastlines.

The earlier approach to warfare in ancient Greece had always been one in which an enemy appeared, ravaged the farmland around the city, and the native army then came out to meet them in open battle on the plain. The battle generally lasted only one day, and the result determined the outcome of the campaign. By breaking this model and refusing to right in open battle, Athens essentially chose to fight a war in which the only way to defeat here was through destroying her entire empire -- which is what eventually happened over the next 27 years.

Hezbollah and Hammas are waging war against the state rather than an army for wholly different reasons. They know they can't survive open, direct battle against the IDF, and so they hide behind the civilian populations of neighboring Arab areas while attacking the civilian population of Israel, and hoping to eventually wear their enemy down -- a tactic which in addition to creating protracted suffering in the region stands no chance of succeeding in their stated aim of destorying Israel.

Classical hoplite warfare was essentially an agreed method of war whereby conflict was short and the suffering of war was primarily placed upon soldiers themselves clashing in direct battle. Modern assymetric total war is an attempt to protract a conflict while placing the majority of the suffering upon the civilians of both sides, as a way of conserving the military resources of a numerically small combatant force, and wearing down the opposing side through seemingly endless suffering.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

An extraordinary thing happened in Sumer this month. An army from Akkad faced a Sumerian army and did not defeat it -- did not render it incapable of continued resistance. That had always been the outcome in previous wars, but it did not happen this year. Should this outcome stand, it will represent a geopolitical earthquake in the region -- one that fundamentally shifts expectations and behaviors on all sides.

It is not that the Seleukeians defeated Ashurbanipal. They did not. By most measures, they got the worst of the battle. Nevertheless, they were left standing at the end of the battle. Their forces in the Ur Valley have been battered, though how severely is not yet clear. Their forces south of their river were badly hurt by Ashurbanipal's attack. Nevertheless, the correlation of forces was such that Ashurbanipal should have dealt the Seleukeians, at least in southern Sumer, a devastating blow, such that resistance would have crumbled. He did not strike such a blow -- so as the cease-fire took effect, Seleukeia continued to resist, continued to inflict casualties on Ashurbanipal's troops. The Seleukeians have not been rendered incapable of continued resistance, and that is unprecedented.

with homage to George Friedman