25 The Warrior Archetype

Episode Twenty-Five: The Western Way Of War

Today’s episode borrows heavily from Victor Davis Hanson’s book, The Western Way of War, whose thesis is that the way Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, and all great Western generals down to today chose to wage war was to seek a pitched, decisive infantry battle that, at one blow, would decide everything.

Where did this idea come from?

From the ancient Greeks.

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7 Comments

  1. Andrew+Lubin on November 9, 2020 at 7:55 am

    Maybe Mardonius had a point?

    In a conventional war, between 2 countries, the one suffering the higher body count and/or has the possibility of total destruction, is most likely to surrender. Japan and Germany are obvious examples..

    But unlike in Greek and Roman times, firepower has progressed to WW1 Verdun and Ypres to WW2’s 50 million dead. Is there honor in the Brits and French charging the Germans lines? Yes, the first and second time, but 600,000 dead later I say their sacrifice has been demeaned.

    So today we have a combination of overwhelming firepower – when needed – plus specialty weapons that can take out a bad guy at a mile. If a Marine sniper with a Barrett .50 cal can take out a Talib officer at a mile – why not? I applaud his skill in doing so, and hardly see it as a lack of courage. “Every Marine a rifleman” is as true at 1,600 yards as 300!

    But at the same time, warfare now includes cyber and social media. Is it cowardly? No it’s using existing technology to confront a superior opponent. A modern version of arrows versus swords, or my single-shot Martini-Henry vs my son’s AR. As I see it, our failing is due to our disinterest in countering it. Nothing precludes us in using the same strategies on them, in their sad countries.

    The Marine concept of the 4-block war is also effective in a non-conventional fight such as Afg: ‘Clear’ is killing the bad guys. ‘Hold’ is keeping them out. ‘Build’ is helping the locals with schools, jobs, some basic infrastructure, and ‘Transition’ is turning it over to a functioning local government. But despite it’s success, it’s time and effort intensive. No Zumwalts, no F-35’s, no cheering crowds waving American flags, so therefore not TV-worthy.

    We have the ability to fight on many fronts with a variety of weaponry; however we will not – perhaps that’s where the lack of honor should kick into the discussion.

  2. Steve Spitzer on November 9, 2020 at 9:04 am

    Steven, the pattern you have described in warfare clearly echoes and parallels so many shifts in cultural and social organization that have left their imprint on the Western and Eastern worlds, and indeed the relationship between the two over the centuries. This movement has been understood in different ways at different times, but it reminds us that modernity and post-modernity have left little untouched in the transformation of the world we knew into the world we currently live in. Warfare is no exception. The writings of Yeats (The Second Coming) and Marx (The Communist Manifesto) speak broadly to some of these movements as they noted the shift in the ways in which “All that is Solid has Melts into Air”. The displacement of more organized, centralized and top-down ways of understanding and attempting to solve problems by more fragmented, decentralized and just-in-time means are just some of the examples of the context within which organized conflict has evolved from pitched battles to guerrilla warfare. Thanks so much for picking up this thread and weaving such an interesting tapestry of the story of warfare and warriors over the ages.

  3. Brian Nelson on November 9, 2020 at 9:07 am

    Steve,
    It would be great to hear a podcast with you and VDH. The Classicist/Professor and the Dramatist. You two are likely the greatest advocates of classic Western thought and values in modern time.

    When I was in AF, I remember staring at the map of Afghanistan. I told my boss, “We will need 300,000-400,000 men for 30-40 years to win this fight. We need to educate 2 generations of women, and kill 100,000s more men to tame this place. Honor killing is not honorable. Pashtunwali is incongruent with the 21st Century. America will never stay here this long…”

    At the time, I think there were under 20,000 American troops. We’d build a school, and a female teacher would get her head cut off. It was so depressing. And…it seemed (from a lowly CPT-MAJ perspective), that we were fighting not to lose instead of fighting to win.

    One other thought I had during that time. MG Gavin was 36 years old on D-Day. All of our General Officers were in their 50s–and I think lost some of the audacity/boldness/comfort with risk that is needed to win wars.
    bsn

    • Andrew lubin on November 9, 2020 at 11:13 am

      Brian: you’re so correct; they were fighting not to lose. They wouldn’t patrol, were casualty- adverse, and creature-comfort and paperwork-happy. Other than 2009-2014 when the Marines controlled Helmand as RC-SW, its been that way from Nov 2001 thru today// Andrew

      • Brian Nelson on November 9, 2020 at 11:55 am

        Andrew,
        You should have seen the hoops we’d have to jump through to get my MI guys outside the wire. It was insane! My higher headquarters was a logistics brigade–their S3 couldn’t lead a group of fat women to a box of chicken–nor did he have ANY clue about the force multiplier & force protection intelligence provided. Quite certain that particular ass-hat made O6/O7…

        Doctrinally, MI is never held in reserve. It is what illuminates the battlefield. This fool would require so much damn paperwork, risk assessments, and high-fidelity orders that my young troops spent more time inside the wire fighting bueacracy instead of finding/fixing the enemy. 2 weeks after this guy refused another CONOP for my team to get outside the wire–there was a huge f-bomb bomb at the market. Something our guys would have uncovered within a day…

        Athletes get hurt more often when they think about an injury and pull up short more than when they are flat-out flying after the ball. The Soldiers & Marines wanted to fight. It was the Field Grade Bureaucrats and General Officer ‘Statesmen’ who were timid. Timidity loses. Always. And…it is just gross.
        bsn

        • Andrew+Lubin on November 9, 2020 at 12:32 pm

          B – you’d have enjoyed your time with me. I basically lived outside the wire, on little COP’s with 7-8 Marines and 7-8 ANA. We’d eat, live, patrol, and fight in some ugly conditions; I remember 1 patrol when it was 143’F – and we had the Bn Col and a 2-star Marine General out with us. The Marine EM’s would often harrangue the ANA that I, the old guy (59!), was kicking their ass, so I had to hustle up and harrangue them also. Hustle-up? I could barely stand up. Good times!!

  4. Marduk on November 10, 2020 at 5:55 am

    As an immigrant in the US I have a slightly different take. I agree with your point about asymmetric warfare vs. the rules of engagement US troops are required to follow. But its more complicated than that.

    The additional issue is that the US unlike any other country I can think of, seems to have a lot of citizens who actively don’t like their own country – its a baffling phenomenon for immigrants like me who came here because we think this is the best country in the world.

    Think about the opposition to any war, the seemingly large-scale problematization of US history which is popular with the media and higher-ed elite, and the systematic undermining of US interests globally by American citizens (and often politicians). A lot of this is coming from the Left side of the political spectrum as expected. The problem becomes that this undermining of the idea of the US plays into the hands of our geopolitical enemies who find plenty of allies on US soil.

    Just one example here: https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/10/23/ocasio-cortez-omar-pressley-and-tlaib-lead-call-un-probe-alleged-dhs-human-rights
    Its just fascinating to see Obama era policies (remember, he deported more undocumented immigrants than any other President) being blamed by the Left on Trump, and asking a UN human rights council made up (not making up) human rights stalwarts like Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

    Bottom line: the lack of honor on part of the enemy is made worse by the active hatred of the US I see within the country.

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