Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Instapundit links to Spengler and Simon discussing suicide bombers and selling women. They are all wrong about thier conclusion that radical Islam has already lost. Though I will give Glenn the benefit of the doubt, since his conclusion is only an implication through links, not a statement.

I am a former military medic. I was taught the cold art of triage. My job was not to save lives. My standing orders were “to keep as many men, at as many guns, for as long a time as is possible.” The distinction is important, so please bare with me.

Here is a scenario to describe how triage works.

A squad is hit by a mortar round and suffers casualties. One man has a dislocated shoulder, another has shrapnel wounds in his left thigh, a third has a large gash on his forehead and a fourth has a sucking chest wound. All four lives can be saved with quick medical treatment. If I was in the life-saving business, I would treat the most deadly injury first – the sucking chest wound. I would seal the wound and dress it and give the guy morphine and start an IV. I would then move to the leg and verify that it didn’t hit the femoral artery, put on a pressure dressing and give him a dose of morphine and immobilize the leg. The next patient would be the forehead gash and I would just give him a pressure dressing and clear his eyes. Finally, I would immobilize the dislocated shoulder and call it a day.

But, to follow orders, the flow would be very different. The shoulder would come first, because that guy could immediately pick up his gun and start shooting. Rather than immobilize it, I would reduce the shoulder and tell him to get back at it. The forehead is second, a pressure dressing and eye wash gets him shooting again. Third is the leg. He is third because it might be the femoral artery and he might be dead without knowing it. If it was the artery, I’d have to dig for it inside the wound, clamp it and then put on the pressure dressing – that takes time and likely won’t save him anyway. Luckily, in this scenario, it isn’t the artery, so he gets a pressure dressing and maybe a splint and he gets to fire from the prone position. As for the chest wound, if he isn’t dead yet, I’d first look around to make sure no one else could be patched up, then I’d deal with him – maybe. If we are advancing and I have to leave him behind, I’ll shoot him up with morphine and try to stop the suction and leave it at that. If we are retreating, I’ll just leave him – we can collect his body later. If we are in a holding position, I’ll treat him full throttle until something else comes up.

It all sounds rather cruel and calculated – and it is. As a medic under fire, I’m not in the business of saving lives – I’m in the business of making war. I explain all of this to make a simple point – just like medics, military generals don’t care about how many troops get killed in action because they want to preserve life, they care because they want to preserve war-fighting capabilities.

When a general orders a probing skirmish, he thinks that by sacrificing a squad or two to find the enemy’s weak point, he’ll preserve his war-fighting capabilities for subsequent battles by having fewer casualties in this battle. Here is the comparison:

I throw my army at the enemy and by chance hit a strong point of the enemy. I lose 50% of my troops, but win the battle. But, because of those heavy losses, I have to wait for reinforcements before the next battle.

Or, I send one percent of my troops at different points along the enemy lines and find the weak spot, exploit it and win the battle with 20% overall casualties. I can then chase the retreating enemy immediately, because I preserved my war-fighting power by sacrificing a few squads.

War is a very cold and calculating business. We don’t try to save lives; we try to preserve war-fighting capabilities. We go into battle assuming our purpose is clear and noble and then act to achieve that purpose. We know that people will die or be maimed, but we don’t try to minimize that for humanitarian reasons – war is not humane. We try to minimize casualties so we can continue to fight until the objective is achieved. Then, and only then, we’ll worry about the fall-out to all of those brave troops.

Why is all of this important? It explains homicide bombers. The enemy, in this case, Islamic militants, is probing us. They are looking to exploit a weak spot while suffering as small a loss as possible. If they confront the US head-on, militarily, they will lose and they know that for a fact. So, they recruit suicide bombers to probe for a weakness they can exploit – politics. Unfortunately, we don’t view terrorist attacks as what they are – probing attacks. We view them as a political tool that Islamic militants are using to challenge our politics. Terrorists are freedom fighters that are trying to preserve their rich culture and break the tyrannical grip of the United States and our evil corporate overlords. Sadly, too many Americans buy this vision. And, sadly, if we continue on this course, there are only two outcomes. Either we will all be enveloped in an Islamic Caliphate, or many, many Americans will die in a great cultural war.

Spengler and Simon are wrong because they don’t understand the cold calculus of war. Suicide bombers are not the desperate death throws of a defeated enemy. The enemy is using suicide bombers as a warm-up – and they are winning the battle with simple probing attacks precisely because people don’t understand.

free web counters