George Will

Asked what we have learned in today's war so far, retired Marine Gen. Paul Van Riper tersely replies, ``Not patience.'' He recalls that after the Second World War, the arrival of nuclear weapons coincided with, and may have largely caused, a decline of interest in military history. Indeed, in 1946 a leading strategic thinker, Bernard Brodie, wrote: ``Thus far the chief purpose of our military establishment has been to win wars. From now on its chief purpose must be to avert them. It can have almost no other useful purpose.''

Ignorance of military history gives rise of facile talk about ``battle management,'' which Van Riper says is ``like putting your canoe in a mountain stream and saying, `I'm not just going to manage my canoe, I'm going to manage the stream.''' And he notes that if it comes to urban warfare in Baghdad, the U.S. military has an institutional memory of fighting in Manila and Seoul. And it has consulted with the Israelis on how they subdued Jenin.

Today the fog of Washington thickens the fog of war. The second-guessing of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld--for the ``rolling start" of the war before all the forces reached the region, and for the composition of the forces--justifies a permutation of Clausewitz's axiom that war is the continuation of politics by other means.

Today's debate is a continuation of the Pentagon politics agitated by Rumsfeld's plans for moving the military beyond Cold War mass to an increased emphasis on mobility, information and special operations. So as the pursuit of parochial agendas influences the confused assessments of battlefield confusion, remember this:

In one of history's consequential battles, that of Agincourt in 1415, the English force exploited what we now call a high-tech ``revolution in military affairs'' (archers with their longbows). Near the end of Shakespeare's ``Henry V" (Act 4, Scene 7), just as the battle has ended, King Henry receives a herald, Montjoy, from the enemy, the French.

Henry: I tell thee truly, herald,
I know not if the day be ours or no,
For yet many of your horsemen peer
And gallop o'er the field.
Montjoy: The day is yours.

The battle had a ``killing zone'' only about 200 yards wide and had lasted only about two hours. But such was the confusion that usually attends combat, not even the commander of the victorious forces knew immediately who had won.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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