This story could almost serve as a textbook example of the consequences of American post-9/11 unipolar hubris. And it is strange writing this story at this time, perhaps almost ironic, for as I write it, one hundred years ago, at this approximate time, the Allies and Germany were locked in two of the bloodiest, and stupidest, battles of World War One: Verdun, and the Somme. The massive French, British, and German casualties and bloodletting accomplished next to nothing militarily, and the trench warfare deadlock of the Western front continued for two more bloody years. We'll get back to World War One in a moment, because it holds an ominous lesson for today's article, shared by Mr. V.T., and which appeared on Russia's Sputnik English language online magazine:
Losing Their Edge: US Army Studies Russian Military
The crux of the article, which cites U.S. Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, argues that while the USA was busily confronting the world powers of Afghanistan and Iraq and their sophisticated military machines, the Russians were quietly modernizing their military to the point that many of its most modern weapons technologies exceed America's (and therefore, by implication, its NATO allies') in conventional capabilities:
"It is clear that while our Army was engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq, Russia studied US capabilities and vulnerabilities and embarked on an ambitious, and largely successful, modernization effort," Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster told Politico.
A leading figure in the US Army, McMaster is currently overseeing a "high-level government panel" formed to decide how the Pentagon "should adapt to this Russian wake-up call."
Known as the Russia New Generation Warfare Study, the panel is concerned, in part, with Moscow’s success in Syria, and partly with imagined Russian aggressions in Eastern Europe.
"Russia possesses a variety of rocket, missile and cannon artillery systems that outrange and are more lethal than US Army artillery systems and munitions," he said.
To be sure, the Russian intervention in Syria was quick, efficient, and a patent demonstration that in spite of the fond hopes and wishes of the unipolarist neocons, Russia's military is still quite effective, and quite capable.
So where does World War One fit in?
At the end of this article, I was stunned when I read the following:
While Moscow appears to have US military strategists in a panic, General Donn Starry stressed that victory lies in soldiers’ attitudes, not necessarily technical superiority.
"It is strikingly evident," he said, according to Politico, "that battles are yet won by the courage of soldiers, the character of leaders, and the combat experience of well-trained units."
Notwithstanding those noble sentiments,, the US Army probably won’t be shutting down its study any time soon.
Reading this was like having been transported back one hundred and two or more years, through some sort of military history wormhole, to the period when France, so confident in its "soldiers' attitudes" and "the courage of its soldiers, the character of (its) leaders" and the good training of its units, actually wrote military treastises about this mystical doctrine of elan vital and the need for the offensive: in the face of new technologies like the machine gun, it was the French army' elan that would carry it triumphantly from Alsace-Lorraine into Baden, Bayern, and thence, on to Berlin. I am reminded too of Conrad von Hoetzendorff, the Austro-Hungarian chief of staff, who espoused similar ideas: training, elan, morale, "spirit", and the "eternal offensive" would overcome any enemy and technology, and carry the Kaiserliche und Koenigliche Armee to victory. The effects of these ideas, as we now know with the bloody hindsight of World War One, proved nearly disastrous both for France and Austria-Hungary in 1914, as niether country had adequately prepared with the new technologies - heavy artillery - nor trained in a manner appropriate to their use. Infantry tactics remained almost unbelievably locked into an essentially Napoleonic framework: waves and waves of infantry ranks charging entrenched Russians, Serbs, or Germans, and... well, you can imagine the rest. It wasn't French elan, nor its confidence in the rightness of its cause and democratic institutions - a confidence eerily reminiscent of contemporary American attitudes, at least, at the "elite" level - that saved France; it was Marechal Joffre's recognition that the doctrine, and plan, had failed, and it took some brilliant maneuvering on his part, and some blunders on German Colonel General von Bulow's part, that brought about the "Miracle of the Marne" in 1914.
So with respect to General Starry, elan vital is not to be counted upon, especially in an era when US foreign policy and political institutions are under such cynical scrutiny by the general population, and when the people comprising your army are already demoralized from decades of unwon wars, bombed out countries, huge and debilitating expenditures to support the same, and expensive weapons systems that underperform. (F-35 anyone?) I would wager that Sputnik's assessment that the U.S. Army won't be shutting down its study any time soon is quite true. And I would also wager that the study might, indeed, be calling into question the whole military-industrial complex establishment and doctrine since Vietnam, and possibly even Korea. After all, the US military has not participated in winning a war since World War Two. Unlike Marechal Joffre, we appear not to have learned any lessons.
See you on the flip side...