combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 05 Number 02 Spring ©Apr 2007


"After making this voyage [to the world of reason and emancipation,] I know that one of these two worlds is simply better than the other. Not for its gaudy gadgetry, but for its fundamental values."
by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Infidel (2007)

I looked at my new toothbrush bemusedly. It was a marvel of commercial engineering, with a specially shaped head containing three different kinds of synthetic bristles, each color coded to designate its unique function, an elongated handle that curved, recurved, and flared at various points, constructed of miracle plastics, ostensibly to enhance the user's grasp, grooved and highlighted ... it was a spectacular specimen of contrived ingenuity! And its use compelled me to alter decades of kinesthetic ablutions!

Without being robotic or automated, it forced me to maneuver in strange and awkward ways in order to perform what had been a quick and simple routine of personal cleanliness since childhood. Its possession gave me the distinct feeling that I was no longer brushing my own teeth, but had become a subordinate subsystem in some designer's elaborate machinations. And, if this weren't bad enough, this new toothbrush wouldn't fit in my old toothbrush holder, nor even in my old shaving kit ... it demanded a special place of its own! And it was obvious to me that a demonic cabal of autocratic manufacturers had colluded in this imposed conspiracy of for your own good, as there were no longer any old fashioned toothbrushes on the market. Because I have no desire to make a project out of finding a normal toothbrush, I was compelled to adjust this new device to my outdated lifestyle ... by cutting its handle short, heating the plastic into a flatter cyma, and other re-engineering treatments that abrogate its other special features. Like most guys, I don't like to shop, and once I've found a product that suits my needs, I tend to buy a quantity sufficient to avoid frequent restocking ... and sometime in the last few years, while my store of boring old toothbrushes served their function ... initially on oral hygiene and later as small scrubbers on guns and boots ... until they were inevitably depleted, until, finally, the substitution plot was fully exposed.

KaBar fighting utility knife

They've also done it with disposable razors and pull-top cans ... the new and improved better mousetrap may be easier to set and more convenient to empty but it doesn't catch mice as well as the old one! ... and catching mice is the primary purpose of a mousetrap! All of these superficial and cosmetic improvements result in less choice, diminished quality, reduced quantity, shorter shelf life, and increased costs ... selling us less for more! Like our international rivals, these business nemeses seem to reckon that whenever they are powerful enough, they do not have to wage war, thus attaining victory without the endangerment of battle.

This complaint is seemingly trite and trivial ... just another old soldier's maunderings about unwanted modernization. It's just jealousy and resentment disguised as valid criticism. Except that rationalization is WRONG! The very same idiots who are displacing the tried and true with kitsch and tinsel in our marketplaces are selling technology to the military ... and as a result, the military is changing its modus operandi. Technology has always affected performance, from Hittite sandals and Mongol stirrups to English longbows and Pennsylvania rifles, until the other side achieves parity or superiority, and the rules change again. When the bureaucracy setout to improve the basic infantryman's assault rifle of the Korean War era, something functional was replaced by a wholly new development that required more than three hundred alterations over thirty years to finally obtain the promised weapon ... and now, in a new war zone with different requirements, the government is selectively exchanging the barrel to accommodate a more effective round that won't require the complete replacement of the standard firearm. Of course, this means that the old magazines (which never could be fully loaded!) will be further shorted, and resupply will be more complicated (disaster is awaiting an emergency that sends the wrong rounds to the wrong unit!), but at least this fiasco isn't as ridiculous as the mass substitution of sidearms that are slowly wending their way out of stock. This kind of improvement is not only expensive but counterproductive, and it happens all the time with little and big ticket items. Ontario pilot's survival knife

The politics of military procurement is way beyond my pay grade. I'll let some pundit rationalize the involutions of an anti-war senator fighting against base closings in his district, or the convolutions of some capitalistic congressman approving defense contracts in his district, since they eventually devolve to someone in uniform using what has been issued to accomplish the mission ... whether that's untactical Velcro closures, magnetic knives for ordnance disposal, unarmored vehicles, markers that tag us as targets for the enemy, or under-powered ammunition. Whatever the arms or matériel, the people in uniform will use it, and report its defects, in hopes that the next modification will fix what doesn't work properly in the field ... which is the only place that any of this stuff really matters.

model #18 Survival/Attack

It has been said that the only difference between men and boys is the cost and complexity of their toys, and in the period of gentlemen officers who purchased their commissions, what was a rich man's toy was often, in another guise, a poor man's necessity. Officers no longer buy their own weapons, neither do they outfit their units, and the reason is not just the enormous costs involved; but rather the necessity of standardization for resupply when the rate of firepower has multiplied so dramatically. There are still remnants of the formerly personalized military, with privately purchased autoloaders and handmade combat knives being most often displayed by senior NCOs and commanders. But experience shows that guts are better than toys, fancy or otherwise, and that a determined warrior will use anything at hand as an expedient weapon when circumstances require. It's always hard to avoid becoming a casualty when properly targeted, but it's fairly simple to defeat targeting effectiveness when its parameters are known. To be successful, a warrior must be skillful , but he must also be adroit by not fighting in a predictable manner, by never playing the game in accordance with the opponent's rules.

The testing procedure for mil-spec items is often elaborate and extensive ... somewhat analogous to drug testing, in that new tactics often require new responses, which cannot endure the extended test regimen. This either results in improvised methods or inadequate tests, both of which result in combat deaths ... there is no perfect solution. And when a better solution finally arrives, the urgency is usually long passed ... in fact, in the modern era, the war itself may be over before the vaunted technology performs properly. But even when weapons and gear are thoroughly evaluated, there are still political pressures. A particular item will not even begin testing without considerable theoretical approval, and that approval entails mindsets on its function and application. Frequently, a tested item cannot be disapproved, but only criticized for modification and improvement. For example, the argument that an infantryman can carry more ammo of a smaller caliber is offset by the fact that it takes more rounds of that smaller caliber ammo to stop the enemy, so the old pre-Vietnam calibers are coming back into inventory, and effectiveness in one mode is being extended into other modes. When our enemies are able to mount an adequate attack with recycled surplus and improvised munitions, then we are not just wasteful, but are misusing our resources. It's hard to justify an expensive defensive device that is inconsistently functional against a cheap offensive device that is consistently functional ... that's poor economics and poor tactics, resulting in poor morale. The military-industrial expenditure, no matter how brilliant or brave, does not accomplish the mission.

model #17 Astro

If a nation has time to design and redesign its armaments, revamping older patterns with better materials, without being defeated by its technology errors, not being displaced by its procurement processes, then it might lurch and slouch its way to prominence. But technology does not win wars, contrary to some recent conflicts between first and third world countries. During the Second World War, the Axis had superior weapons and vehicles, but the Allies could lose more tanks and planes without becoming combat ineffective, and so they prevailed ... the fact that Scandinavians demoralized the Germans by attacking tanks with knives was only proof of a different military maxim. Sometimes productivity is better than innovation, and sometimes fortitude or endurance wins despite all the defects in arms and matériel. What is certain in warfare is that everyone makes mistakes, and nobody knows what will work best before it is tried. War is always a terrible risk.

Whenever technology is substituted for strategy then the tactics will change. There are too many examples of weapons being invented to put an end to all wars because their use would be too terrible for reasonable or civilized people to contemplate, but each has been used by ostensibly reasonable and civilized peoples ... until the tactics were changed, making them less effective. Hypotheses aside, carpet bombing does not demoralize an enemy, and the threat of nuclear holocaust is now considered a calculated risk. The Rules of Engagement are now a litany of military, diplomatic, legal, and social constraints, such that firing one's weapon, even in self-defense, is a highly regulated ordeal ... almost worse than the onus of death. The ownership of weapons too terrible to use condemns us to perpetual conflict, for without the power to conclude limited wars, we are only postponing the ineluctable ... one or another lilliputian will inevitably defeat the exhausted giant! If destruction and extermination are no longer adequate threats for controlling one's adversaries, then the opposition must be attacked in a different way, in a manner that truly threatens its purpose.

The Clausewitzian axiom of war being an extension of politics by other means has become a bromide, because not all military conflicts have a solution. Likewise, political or legal intransigence is equally insolvable ... quashing it only bides its recurrence. The bloody history of the Celts and Viets, the Koreans and Balkans is adequate proof of this proposition. Institutionalized inequity and mayhem is an evolving battle for savvy weapon-bearers who are cognizant of geopolitics. One cannot fight evil without rubbing against it, and nothing can be made clean without making something else dirty. The question is not whether a highly sophisticated, technologically superior society can defeat a ragtag militia with inferior resources ... helicopters impaled with crossbow arrows are an obsolete concept that reiterated the ancient proverb: where there's a will, there's a way. The real question for that techno-culture is how to assail a barbarous foe without becoming equally savage and degenerate?

The answer is beyond technology and doctrine, since they are mere adjuncts to a valid and effective strategy ... and repeating the mistakes of the past is not a valid strategy. Just as an operation identifies a military objective that impairs the enemy's effectiveness, so in a culture war, a cultural objective must be targeted so as to disable the enemy. Innovation has been one of America's greatest assets, and she is arguably the most culturally innovative society in history ... which is how her resources must be directed to preserve her integrity. We cannot allow our antagonists to define us, because their claims of moral equivalence are only a disarming tactic. It's not the gaudy gadgets of frivolous technology that appeal to the wretched of the earth ... it is American freedom that beckons to every oppressed region of the world. We can best triumph over bigotry and enmity by making them destroy themselves with their own hatred!

by Pavlovich Bakunin
... who served as an advisor to a Vietnamese Airborne-Ranger unit, is retired from the U.S. Army, and now writes freelance; his work has appeared previously in this magazine.

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C O M B A T, the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones