This was written by an academic advisor at the Air Force Academy and of
the utmost importance! And, to be sure, to all citizens of this world. A
history of this new warfare will be written and people will learn from
it and apply the lessons learned again and again. Methods of this war
will be used not only by terrorists but also by lesser criminals, as
usual. This is most definitely not only America's war.
From: Dr. Tony Kern, Lt Col, USAF (Ret)
Recently, I was asked to look at the recent events through the lens of
military history. I have joined the cast of thousands who have written
an "open letter to Americans."
Dear friends and fellow Americans 14 September, 2001
Like everyone else in this great country, I am reeling from last week's
attack on our sovereignty. But unlike some, I am not reeling from
surprise. As a career soldier and a student and teacher of military
history, I have a different perspective and I think you should hear it.
This war will be won or lost by the American citizens, not diplomats,
politicians or soldiers.
Let me briefly explain.
In spite of what the media, and even our own government is telling us,
this act was not committed by a group of mentally deranged fanatics. To
dismiss them as such would be among the gravest of mistakes. This attack
was committed by a ferocious, intelligent and dedicated adversary. Don't
take this the wrong way. I don't admire these men and I deplore their
tactics, but I respect their capabilities. The many parallels that have
been made with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor are apropos. Not only
because it was a brilliant sneak attack against a complacent America,
but also because we may well be pulling our new adversaries out of caves
30 years after we think this war is over, just like my father's
generation had to do with the formidable Japanese in the years following
These men hate the United States with all of their being, and we must
not underestimate the power of their moral commitment. Napoleon, perhaps
the world's greatest combination of soldier and statesman, stated "the
moral is to the physical as three is to one." Patton thought the
Frenchman underestimated its importance and said moral conviction was
five times more important in battle than physical strength. Our enemies
are willing - better said anxious -- to give their lives for their
How committed are we America? And for how long?
In addition to demonstrating great moral conviction, the recent attack
demonstrated a mastery of some of the basic fundamentals of warfare
taught to most military officers worldwide, namely simplicity, security
and surprise. When I first heard rumors that some of these men may have
been trained at our own Air War College, it made perfect sense to me.
This was not a random act of violence, and we can expect the same sort
of military competence to be displayed in the battle to come.
This war will escalate, with a good portion of it happening right here
in the good ol' U.S. of A. These men will not go easily into the night.
They do not fear us. We must not fear them. In spite of our
overwhelming conventional strength as the world's only "superpower" (a
truly silly term), we are the underdog in this fight. As you listen to
the carefully scripted rhetoric designed to prepare us for the march for
war, please realize that America is not equipped or seriously trained
for the battle ahead. To be certain, our soldiers are much better than
the enemy, and we have some excellent "counter-terrorist" organizations,
but they are mostly trained for hostage rescues, airfield seizures, or
the occasional "body snatch," (which may come in handy). We will be
fighting a war of annihilation, because if their early efforts are any
indication, our enemy is ready and willing to die to the last man.
Eradicating the enemy will be costly and time consuming. They have
already deployed their forces in as many as 20 countries, and are likely
living the lives of everyday citizens. Simply put, our soldiers will be
tasked with a search and destroy mission on multiple foreign landscapes,
and the public must be patient and supportive until the strategy and
tactics can be worked out.
For the most part, our military is still in the process of redefining
itself and presided over by men and women who grew up with - and were
promoted because they excelled in - Cold War doctrine, strategy and
tactics. This will not be linear warfare, there will be no clear
"centers of gravity" to strike with high technology weapons. Our vast
technological edge will certainly be helpful, but it will not be
decisive. Perhaps the perfect metaphor for the coming battle was
introduced by the terrorists themselves aboard the hijacked aircraft --
this will be a knife fight, and it will be won or lost by the ingenuity
and will of citizens and soldiers, not by software or smart bombs. We
must also be patient with our military leaders.
Unlike Americans who are eager to put this messy time behind us, our
adversaries have time on their side, and they will use it. They plan to
fight a battle of attrition, hoping to drag the battle out until the
American public loses its will to fight. This might be difficult to
believe in this euphoric time of flag waving and patriotism, but it is
generally acknowledged that America lacks the stomach for a long fight.
We need only look as far back as Vietnam, when North Vietnamese General
Vo Nguyen Giap (also a military history teacher) defeated the United
States of America without ever winning a major tactical battle.
American soldiers who marched to war cheered on by flag waving Americans
in 1965 were reviled and spat upon less than three years later when they
returned. Although we hope that Usama Bin Laden is no Giap, he is
certain to understand and employ the concept. We can expect not only
large doses of pain like the recent attacks, but! also less audacious
"sand in the gears" tactics, ranging from livestock infestations to
attacks at water supplies and power distribution facilities.
These attacks are designed to hit us in our "comfort zone" forcing the
average American to "pay more and play less" and eventually eroding our
resolve. But it can only work if we let it. It is clear to me that the
will of the American citizenry - you and I - is the center of gravity
the enemy has targeted. It will be the fulcrum upon which victory or
defeat will turn. He believes us to be soft, impatient, and
self-centered. He may be right, but if so, we must change. The Prussian
general Carl von Clausewitz, (the most often quoted and least read
military theorist in history), says that there is a "remarkable trinity
of war" that is composed of the (1) will of the people, (2) the
political leadership of the government, and (3) the chance and
probability that plays out on the field of battle, in that order. Every
American citizen was in the crosshairs of last Tuesday's attack, not
just those that were unfortunate enough to be in the World Trade Center
or Pentagon. The will of the American people will decide this war. If we
are to win, it will be because we have what it takes to persevere
through a few more hits, learn from our mistakes, improvise, and adapt.
If we can do that, we will eventually prevail.
Everyone I've talked to In the past few days has shared a common
frustration, saying in one form or another "I just wish I could do
something!" You are already doing it. Just keep faith in America, and
continue to support your President and military, and the outcome is
If we fail to do so, the outcome is equally certain.
God Bless America
Dr. Tony Kern, Lt Col, USAF (Ret)
Former Director of Military History, USAF Academy
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This archive was generated by hypermail 2.0.0 : Wed Sep 26 2001 - 03:30:51 PDT