WSJ: History Offers Some Lessons
walterlx at earthlink.net
Fri Mar 28 07:27:17 MST 2003
(The Wall Street Journal looks at some
past experiences and cannot be hopeful.
Washington's terror tactics are inspiring
resistance, not "shock and awe".
(They see the Hiroshima link, and it is
striking that they compare the US drive
to those of Hitler and Napoleon who
invaded Russia and were defeated.)
March 28, 2003 12:24 a.m. EST
U.S. Tactics May Seem Original,
But History Offers Some Lessons
Patton's Sweep Is Cause for Confidence;
While Bombings Didn't 'Awe' in Vietnam
By Carla Anne Robbins and Greg Jaffe in
Washington and Dan Morse with the 101st Airborne
WASHINGTON -- Gen. Tommy Franks, who is running the
war against Iraq, says it's being fought "unlike any other
in history." That may well be true of the overall war plan,
which calls for a lightning drive to the capital, heavy
reliance on precision bombing, a collapse of the Hussein
regime and a mop up of remaining Iraqi forces afterward.
But key elements of the campaign have echoes in other wars.
The lessons from past conflicts -- some heartening, some
sobering -- help illuminate the risks and opportunities the
U.S. military faces as it prepares for a crucial attack on
The U.S. Army's current sprint across miles of open terrain,
bypassing population centers, has several successful
antecedents in American military history, from Confederate
Gen. Stonewall Jackson's campaign through the Shenandoah
Valley in the Civil War to Gen. George Patton's dash across
France and Belgium in World War II. But another
characteristic of the current campaign -- moving out so
quickly that resupply lines are stretched tight -- has
brought trouble, and occasionally disaster, in other
campaigns. In World War II, Adolf Hitler sent three million
soldiers -- roughly 70% of his forces -- into Russia in a
"lightning war" that was shattered by crumbling logistics
and harassment of supply lines by small Russian units.
Even the high-tech "shock and awe" bombing campaign is
tethered to a controversial past. Military strategist Harlan
Ullman, who helped coin the shock-and-awe phrase in the
mid-1990s, traces the roots of the strategy, in part, to the
two nuclear bombs the U.S. dropped on Japan to hasten the
end of World War II.
Mr. Ullman says that the U.S. now possesses the capacity to
break an enemy's will to fight by massively attacking target
s from land, sea, air and even cyberspace. But so far, the
shock-and-awe aspect of the war against Iraq has been mostly
a large-scale bombing assault on Baghdad, he says. And the
lessons there -- from Germany in World War II and Vietnam
during the 1960s -- is that by itself, heavy bombing often
stiffens resistance, rather than breaking it.
Here's a look at how the main features of the week-old war
in Iraq stack up in the annals of recent military history:
Supplying the Troops
Long supply lines have often been a problem, even for
powerful armies. History's main cautionary tale may be
Hitler's drive into Russia. At the end of a severely
protracted supply line, German troops ran into trouble. They
battled their way into Stalingrad and then got pinned down
in a vicious, house-to-house battle lasting 66 days. In the
end, Hitler's forces found themselves surrounded and
starving in the dead of winter. In February 1943, an entire
German army group surrendered: 23 generals, 2,000 officers
and at least 130,000 troops. Historians consider the Battle
of Stalingrad the turning point of World War II.
The vulnerability of supply lines, and the strategy of
attacking them instead of an army's main force, have been
facets of warfare since at least the days of the Roman
Empire. Both Hannibal of Carthage and Julius Caesar of Rome
grappled with huge supply-line problems, and sought to
disrupt the lines of their opponents.
Some American generals have proved themselves more adept
at handling ambitious assaults with long and sometimes
even nonexistent supply lines. After occupying Atlanta in
September 1864, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman marched some
62,000 men to the seaport of Savannah, Ga. Enroute, Gen.
Sherman's troops were cut off from other Union forces and
lived off the land. Meanwhile, they burned crops, destroyed
railroads and factories and reached Savannah with 25,000
bales of captured cotton.
Key elements of the U.S. war plan in Iraq have
been tried in earlier wars, to mixed results.
. Bypassing population centers in a rush: Confederate Gen.
Stonewall Jackson did the same in his 1862 Civil War
campaign in the Shenandoah Valley, leading to early
. Long supply lines: They became a significant problem when
Germans invaded Russia in World War II.
. Guerrilla warfare: Iraqis may be borrowing tactics that
worked for fighters opposing Israel in Lebanon and the
Bank and Gaza Strip over the last 20 years.
. 'Shock and Awe': A much more extreme version -- atomic
bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 -- helped
bring World War II to a successful end for American
Now, as U.S. forces move toward Baghdad, which will be the
tip of perhaps a 250-mile-long supply line from the base of
operations in Kuwait, there are new fears that commanders
may have a hard time keeping the troops supplied with
ammunition, food and water. Yet some planners argue that, in
today's circumstances, the danger is minimal. "We have air
superiority; our aircraft are going to be able to fly over
supply lines," says retired Lt. Gen. William "Gus" Pagonis,
the chief of U.S. Army logistics during the 1991 Gulf War.
Although Iraqi irregular forces are able to harass the
supply lines, he argues, the main forces beginning to
encircle the Iraqi capital aren't at risk of running out of
gas, food or ammunition. That's because U.S. forces now
control at least three major airfields inside Iraq and can
airlift supplies to the outskirts of Baghdad on an urgent
basis, if necessary. Indeed, reports from Baghdad Thursday
indicated that the first resupply plane from Kuwait landed
at the Tallil airbase in southern Iraq, which was captured
by allied forces moving north and now can be used as a
The modern U.S. military resembles a modern corporation,
with extensive ability to perform just-in-time inventory
delivery. At the end of the first Gulf War, Gen. Pagonis
began using global-position-system technology to keep track
of the flow of goods to forces in the field. GPS, combined
with laptops and other new technology, has now made
relatively smooth a famously difficult process.
The guerrilla tactics Iraqi forces have employed -- hitting
behind forward lines and using fighters in civilian
clothes -- remind many Americans of the tactics the Viet
Cong used in the Vietnam War. But Iraqis may be following a
different precedent from closer to home: tactics used for
decades by the Palestinians and Lebanese in Israeli-occupied
territories. Those guerrilla campaigns have long occupied
prime time on Iraqi television and were glorified in
official propaganda and textbooks for millions of children.
In Lebanon during the 1980s and 1990s, the Hezbollah Shiite
guerrillas concentrated on the weakest point of the Israeli
military presence -- moving vehicles and convoys. They
planted bombs by the roadside, attacked these vehicles with
rocket-propelled grenades and made sure to record gruesome
pictures whenever they managed to kill Israeli soldiers or
take them prisoner. In one episode that demoralized many
Israelis and pushed Israel toward a unilateral withdrawal
from Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah guerrillas posed for
pictures while holding the severed head of an Israeli
Another practice of Iraqi guerrillas -- hiding among the
civilian population -- also seems to be borrowed from
Lebanese and Palestinian militants. Palestinian groups such
as Hamas and the al Aqsa Brigades have been firing into
Israeli cities and launching suicide missions from densely
populated towns and refugee camps. An attempt by Israel to
stamp out such groups with an assault on the Jenin refugee
camp last year led to heavy casualties both among the
civilians and the Israeli troops, prompting a world-wide
Coalition forces also accuse the Iraqi loyalists of killing
residents of the allied-controlled areas who agree to
cooperate with British and U.S. authorities. That's likely
to undermine both allied plans to get Iraqi oil workers back
to the oil fields and a project to use the Iraqi Trade
Ministry's distribution system to push through humanitarian
The first Palestinian intifadah in the 1980s offers a model
for these tactics. At that time, Yasser Arafat's Fatah
movement quickly took control of the Palestinian street by
forcing Palestinian police and local administration
officials to resign, and by killing anyone suspected of
collaborating with the occupation authorities
However, historian Stanley Karnow says the Vietnam
experience raises a tough question for Iraq's guerrilla
fighters: How many are willing to die for their cause?
In his interviews with North Vietnamese and Viet Cong
commanders after the war, he says, they told him they
would have been willing to sustain unlimited numbers of
casualties, and fight for five or 10 years more -- anything
so as not to be defeated by the Americans. If Iraqis loyal
to Saddam Hussein are willing to die en masse, as the
Vietnamese were, then the U.S. is in trouble, he thinks.
But the tactic won't be so successful if they aren't.
The U.S. tactic of skipping ahead of enemy concentrations on
the way to an ultimate target was used successfully in World
War II, when Gen. Douglas MacArthur island-hopped toward
Japan and simply avoided enemy strongholds. The MacArthur
strategy of "leapfrogging" saved thousands of American lives
by bypassing Japanese-held islands where there were heavy
forces dug in for battle and then invading more lightly
defended islands in their rear. Gen. MacArthur then
constructed airfields to launch attacks that cut off
Japanese supply lines. "Our strong points were gradually
starved out," one former Japanese intelligence officer was
quoted as saying in William Manchester's book "American
In the European theater in World War II, Gen. Patton's Third
Army swept across France and Belgium, consuming 350,000
gallons of fuel a day and leaving German troops in his wake.
Gen. Patton kept going, sometimes ordering his men to
"divert" supplies intended for other army units. At other
times, the Americans ran on captured German fuel. Gen.
Patton relied on U.S. airpower, then unchallenged by
Germany's ravaged forces, to protect his flanks, in the same
way that Gen. Franks today depends on U.S. warplanes to try
to take care of Iraqi attacks behind the front lines.
In November 1944, with three days notice, Gen. Patton
scrapped his battle plan, turned his units abruptly to the
north and helped defeat Germany's last major armored attack
of the war in the Battle of the Bulge. Sometimes he directed
the traffic himself, standing in the muddy rutted road,
wearing a parka with a .45 pistol strapped on his belt.
"Drive like hell," he would tell his men.
Other precedents aren't so encouraging. Russian troops left
in the wake of Hitler's quick drive toward Moscow helped
turn the German offensive into a disaster for the Nazis.
In 1870, the Prussian army lay siege to Paris, the capital
of France, conquered it and ended the Franco-Prussian war.
But the idea of focusing on an enemy capital as the ultimate
target, while leaving the rest of the country unconquered,
also has created problems. That, some historians feel, was a
big mistake of Union commanders in the early days of the
Civil War, when they focused on taking the Confederate
capital of Richmond. When Ulysses S. Grant took over the
Union army in March 1864, he shifted the focus to taking out
enemy soldiers rather than the enemy's capital, and the
North's fortunes turned.
The U.S. assault on Baghdad also has a harrowing precedent.
In 1916, during World War I, British Major Gen. Sir Charles
Vere Ferrers Townshend led a force of thousands up the
Euphrates River for what was supposed to be a quick assault
on Baghdad. Employing what he called the "principle of
economy of force," he figured his troops would blow past the
Arab and Turkish forces in what was then known as
Mesopotamia. But the British underestimated their enemy and
were forced by heavy resistance to dig in at the city of Al
"Reinforcement will be pushed up to you with every possible
speed," Gen. Townshend was promised by his commanding
officer, but the relief never arrived. The British were
surrounded, besieged and defeated.
About a year later, a different British and colonial Indian
army, four times the size of Gen. Townshend's, resumed the
Mesopotamia campaign and finally conquered Baghdad.
-- John J. Fialka, Leila Abboud and Jacob Schlesinger
contributed to this article.
Write to Carla Anne Robbins at carla.robbins at wsj.com1 and
Greg Jaffe at greg.jaffe at wsj.com2 and Dan Morse at
dan.morse at wsj.com
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