Man v. technology: Seeking the ultimate balance
During the 1950s and early 60s, our strategic nuclear forces, both Air Force and Navy, received the lion’s share of the defense budget. But our ground forces were so starved for money I recall how we second lieutenants took some of our princely $222.22 monthly pay to buy bathroom tissue for the troop barracks. One night, just to finish a maneuver, we took our vehicles off-post to buy gas at a civilian gas station. We put them back in their maneuver positions before dawn. Our commanding officer, Major General “Light Switch Louis” Truman, spent much of his day looking for porch lights left needlessly on.
Grasping for relevance and funding, the U.S. Army Infantry School came up with the slogan: “Man: The Ultimate Weapon.” The rationale being each soldier had a built-in, on-board computer, albeit about 17 years in the making.
Ironically, the countervailing argument to the Army’s assertion that Man is the ultimate weapon was the Army’s own efforts to remove Man from the battlefield. “Send a bullet, not a man,” our instructors preached. Clearly, we needed to find some kind of balance.
The most obvious example of striking the right balance between high-tech “shock and awe” and low-tech Green Berets, Navy SEALs and the CIA working in concert was the rapid defeat of the Taliban in 2002. First, a bit of background:
During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, President Reagan ordered the CIA to insert (covertly) some “retired,” or, perhaps, “on-loan” military special operators into Afghanistan to assist the local tribes and warlords against the Red Army. Warm friendships were formed with many of the tribal warriors who had stopped fighting each other (for a change) in a common effort to eject the brutal Soviets. (Contrast that with Iraq where Muslims from all over have come to fight each other on behalf of their Shia or Sunni sponsors such as Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia.)
Even though Osama bin Laden had our friend, Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance, murdered two days before 9/11, our Special Operations teams were able to go back in and stand the Northern Alliance back up. The enduring image of that success is the Special Operator astride a borrowed Afghan pony as he uses a hand-held radio to direct Air Force and Navy ordnance onto Taliban positions. Talk about shock and awe. The Taliban villains were shocked and the warriors of the Northern Alliance were awed.
That fighting continues today in Afghanistan is no surprise. Tribal warfare was especially fierce after the Soviets left. The appeal of the Taliban regime was order, albeit of the most dictatorial kind.
If the NATO forces in Afghanistan are perceived as the sheriff come to town to see that folks fight fair but not to be an occupying force, then the tribes may not want a second helping of Taliban.
Meanwhile the suicide bombers in Iraq and Israel are making the case that Man is the ultimate weapon. Thus, it may also be true that technology will never be the best defense against Man. If that is so, the need is for boots on the ground.
But how many Coalition boots are needed versus how many Nationalist Iraq boots are needed to bring stability to that multi-ethnic, multi-religion land? That Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia are fighting a proxy war for control of the Middle East right in the middle of Coalition forces is an enormous complication.
But we have soldiered through difficult problems before. We can do it again. Or, we could follow the lead of the Democrats in Congress, set a surrender date, retreat to Fortress America, and wait for those ultimate weapons to come across our borders.
If the various Islamic factions in Iraq suddenly stopped fighting each other, will they go back to tending their flocks or shops? For those who think that, I have the ultimate scam. It’s this bridge connecting Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today, William Hamilton, is a Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and a former research fellow at the U.S. Military History Institute of the U.S. Army War College. Writing as William Penn, he, and his wife, are the co-authors of The Grand Conspiracy and The Panama Conspiracy – two thrillers about terrorism directed against the United States.
©2007. William Hamilton.