September 24, 2001 at 11:20 pm
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Hello all,
Here’s an interesting perspective for ya.
I haven’t heard much else (worth repeating), but will keep forwarding
anything else that is.
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.” Please share it if you feel so moved.
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 WW II.
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 cause. How committed are we America? And for how
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
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
certain. 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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