Americans take a lot of pride in our Revolutionary War success. Granted, it was over 2 centuries ago, but our school kids still learn about how the Redcoats were defeated because the colonists used unconventional war tactics. Bill Cosby has an old and wonderful routine likening the war to a football game. Before the game, the referee tosses the coin, which the colonists win. As a result the British have to wear bright colors and stand in straight lines while the colonists get to scatter in the woods and hide behind trees and rocks.
Now many historians have noted that the war was hardly that simple, and they are right. Nonetheless, this was a turning point in the history of warfare. It was an end to the old medieval European rules of engagement. It was the beginning of what we’ve called “modern warfare” which is far bloodier, has fewer rules, and results in more civilian casualties. It is focused more on winning that on playing the game.
Okay, so that’s a nice trip back to grade school. So what? Well, the “what” is that we seem to feel that this historical lesson cannot possibly apply to us now. But consider for a moment that the difficulty we are having getting our heads around terrorism and how to combat it is pretty darned similar to the trouble the British had trying to figure out how to cope with single soldiers hiding behind rocks. The colonists were as much “the terrorists” back then as the enemy we face now. We complain that the terrorists have no honor. They don’t fight openly, but rather from the shadows. They attack the innocent. They employ unconventional tactics. All claims that the British might have made of us back then. Hmmmm…
So why did the British lose the American colonies? Several reasons. Homefield advantage. People defending their own turf tend to be extra motivated. Arrogance. “We are the greatest army on the face of the Earth. Who shall stand against us? A bunch of disorganized farmers?” Uh-huh. They failed to adapt to the tactics of the enemy. They wanted the Americans to fight on their terms, and kept fighting the war the old way regardless of the outcome. They focused on their victories in battle and failed to realize that battle results do not necessarily add up to accomplished goals. And finally, the British lost interest at home. King George (hmmm…) was butt deep in domestic problems and other brewing threats to the empire and ultimately couldn’t afford to put enough attention and resources on the Americans to suppress the revolution.
Curiously, we find ourselves in Iraq in a situation disturbingly similar to the American Revolution, only now we’re playing the role of the British (ironically, so are the British). Are we smart enough to acknowledge this? Probably not. The self-righteous arrogance of the majority of the population (the ones who gave King George his “mandate”) will never willingly back away from the crusade.
So, we are saddled with the arrogance. We can’t change the homefield advantage. We can’t ignore all the other global and domestic problems which threaten us. That pretty much leaves the tactics vector as the one we can do something about.
So recognizing that, why do we drop leaflet bombs on Fallujah for two days warning them to get out before we attack. We steadily build up forces around the outskirts of the city, without attempting to seal it off. Then we roll in and are surprised to find all the insurgent leaders have left the city? Duh. We are proceeding from the apparent assumption that the insurgents want to battle our army. They don’t. They wish to blend in with the civilian population and pick us off a few at a time from behind rocks and sand dunes. We are playing the game like we are opposing someone who wants to win. We are not. We are opposing someone who wants to not lose. Strategically, that’s a very different thing.
Perhaps if we sent bright red tail coats to the infantry, then someone might get a clue. Hmmmm…