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Eat Your 'Hart' Out

The Bushies would do well to take a serious refresher course on military history.
 
 
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Does anybody in War Town -- politicians, pundits, policymakers -- actually read military history? Seriously.

I'm not talking about the obscure texts that burnin'-the-midnight-oil, archive-diving, basement dwellers like me read. But, let's take, say, THE classic book on military strategy by B.H. Liddell Hart.

That magnificent work of scholarship exposes stay-the-course war talk for what it is: the shouting of empty slogans, amplified through the megaphone of "talk" radio, the blogosphere, think tanks and other war-worshipping echo-chambers dominating the political mindscape.

Before the Bush hawks get their feathers up over my lack of war experience, let me put it in these blunt terms: Eat your Hart out. There are two kinds of practical experience -- direct and indirect. As Hart illuminates, "of the two, indirect practical experience may be the more valuable because (it is) infinitely wider... Especially (when it comes to) a soldier's career, the scope and possibilities of direct experience are extremely limited."

Compared to the medical profession, for example, doctors have way more hands-on practice in their craft then do soldiers "yet the great advances in medicine and surgery have been due more to the scientific thinker and research worker than to the practitioner." (Liberals, leftists, and/or anti-war activists should also take heed and shelve the absurd "chicken-hawk" slur, ASAP).

Then, there's this war-cheerleading tactic in which some past battle is held up as an example of why stay-the-course is the key to victory. Courage. Resolve. Rah, rah, rah! Nonsense! And I that's straight from the Hart.

"The method in recent generations has been to select one or two campaigns, and to study them exhaustively as a means of professional training and as the foundation of military theory." But that "carries the danger that our outlook will be narrow and the lessons fallacious."

The generalist has a wider perspective "and can take in the general lie of the land" as opposed to "the miner (who) knows only his own seam."

And what did Hart find in his magisterial survey of war history -- from the wars of ancient Greece to the bloody conflicts of the last century?

"During this survey one impression became increasingly strong -- that, throughout the ages, effective results in war have rarely been attained unless the approach has had...indirectness. In strategy, the longest way round is often the shortest way home."

So, the next time some "macho," in-your-face "realist" starts shaking his war pom-poms, blathering on about the "suicide" of "cut 'n run," tell him to eat his Hart out.

In fact, a "direct (strategic) approach...along the line of natural expectation for the opponent, tends to produce negative results." You think bin Laden didn't have the "natural expectation" that the Sept. 11 attacks would lure big bad Bush and his tough-talkin' advisers to do the predictable shock-and-awe thing?

The gloves need to come off in the war on terror. We need to go all out. Clausewitz, the Powell doctrine, yadda, yadda, yadda?

Shut your mouth and eat your Hart out. "Strategy not only stops on the frontier, but has for its purpose the reduction of fighting to the slenderest possible proportions." That, of course, lays waste to the opinion of "those who conceive the destruction of the enemy's armed force as the only sound aim in war, who hold that the only goal of strategy is battle, and who are obsessed with the Clausewitzian saying that 'blood is the price of victory'."

After Iraq, we should go after Iran and then North Korea and... The Hart beat goes on: "Self-exhaustion in war has killed more States than any foreign assailant." If they use a gun, we need to use a bazooka. If they send one of ours to the hospital, we send one of theirs to the morgue, etc.

Sean Connery, eat your Hart out. "The more brutal your methods, the more bitter you will make your opponents, with the natural result of hardening the resistance you are trying to overcome."

Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff reporter and a syndicated columnist.