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Thursday, 11 August 2011

Musings on war

Counter Two thoughts have come to mind: first of all, the implications of the recent downing of a Chinook carrying members of Seal Team Six; secondly, the effect of misinformation on decision-making in the heat of the battle.

First of all, as most of my readers know by now, the Taliban managed to shoot down a troop transport helicopter carrying a unit of Seal Team Six into battle. Sending commandos in as infantry reinforcements seems to me an unwise decision (even Commander-in-Chief David recognised this in 2 Samuel 11:25): commandos do what they do best when they control every aspect of the battle. Sending troops into an already ongoing firefight means that most of their special training and tactics are of no particular use to them. Even if their chopper hadn't been shot down, it was still stupid to use crack troops as cannon fodder in an infantry battle. Nonetheless, these Seals were soldiers under command, and the motto, "Ours is not to wonder why, ours is but to do and die" fit them exactly. And so they died.

Often decisions are made in the heat of the battle that are regretted later. And often, they are based on information that turns out not to be true ( a good example of this is Hitler's reluctance to assign troops to repulse the Normandy invasion, upon his successful persuasion that the attack was only a feint). This is why the US war doctrine, at least in recent decades, has been to make nuclear weapons strictly strategic, rather than tactical. A tactical nuclear weapon could be fired by a commander on the ground in the heat of the battle; a strategic weapon, however, could only be fired on orders from the Commander in Chief himself.

But this only relocates the chance of deadly misinformation to a more reliable source. The President only gives the orders; he doesn't actually launch the missile. That job is done by the nuclear officers at the launch sites. Given that these men have moral codes of their own, what would it probably take to get them to actually pull the trigger? Probably news that an enemy had already launched a preemptive strike and that this launch would be in retaliation. It's a foregone conclusion, therefore, that any president ordering a first strike would lie and put out the word that the US was already under attack, in order to forestall any hesitancy on the part of the nuclear officers to instantly carry out his launch order.

The father of one of the SEALS killed in the above mentioned downing has filed suit in federal court over the government's attempts to shut him up when he "asked too many questions" about his son's death.

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