The Age of Terror: Tactics (revised)

The Japanese campaign had taken a turn for the worse, with entire Japanese squads resorting to suicidal runs (the banzai charge) abd pilots crashing bomb-filled planes into American ships (kamikaze). This was not far from the jihadist crashing his TNT-filled truck or car into an American convoy…

The Iwo Jima Experience

It was February 1945. The end of the war, some thought hopefully, was a matter of weeks. In Europe, the Allies had repulsed the last great German counteroffensive, and crossed the border into Germany itself. In the Pacific, bombers pounded Tokyo day and night, while the Japanese army was being expelled from the Philippines and the Marianas island chain. The Japanese government and morale had already collapsed. The war, the Allies thought, was virtually won.

On the road to victory was a tiny island just north of Guam and a few hundred miles from Tokyo. The commanders estimated that the battle might last for a week, maybe two. Flush from their victories in Saipan and the Philippines, they thought that the defenses would easily collapse with a concentrated bombardment from air and sea.

A month later, the Americans finally cleared the island, with more than 20,000 dead. The Japanese almost died to a man.

The battle of Iwo Jima, while it was not the first of its kind in America’s history, was a shocking experience not only to the soldiers in the island, but also to the military itself. Not only did the bombardment fail to soften the defense (shades of Omaha beach), but the Americans faced an enemy that would rather die than surrender.

In fact, the Japanese campaign had taken a turn for the psychological worse, with entire Japanese squads resorting to suicidal runs (the banzai charge) and pilots crashing bomb-filled planes into American ships (kamikaze). It did not make sense, tactically-speaking, and this seeming lack of reason magnified the terror of the act.

This would later transform into the jihadist crashing his TNT-filled truck or car into an American convoy. There were many evolutions, and an integration of many elements. The Second World War also began the model for American strategy.

Thus would begin the rivalry of the new schools of warfare: one born in the drawing boards of Washington, and the other drawn up from one of the caves in Afghanistan .

The Evolution of the American Blitzkrieg

The American tactic evolved slowly, and conventionally, from the small-scale strategic battles waged by George Washington to the sweeping, decisive expeditions in Mexico. With the Civil War the Americans first witnessed the brutal reality of war. The sometimes slogging, sometimes swift carnage of both sides must have sown the seeds for the general American repugnance to war, and the doctrine of rapid warfare.

Indeed, the horrors of a war on the home front also led to the eventual military policy of “no foreign army on American soil.” To that end the army was built, and the commanders became wary of politics around the borders. When the American pioneers expanded west of the mainland, they reached the Pacific, and the United States thus became bordered by two oceans. To protect these “expansive” borders, the Americans strengthened their navy, and they expanded the concept of “no foreign army on American soil” to encompass the entire American continent, first made into official policy by President Monroe. It started out as a passive strategy, but expanded militarily and territorially to intimidate the Europeans.

In the course of the application of the doctrine, they stumbled on sea-land combined operations. The war in Spain helped to give the United States international recognition as a power-broker and as a naval equal of the Great Powers. Then, their decade-long struggle against Philippine revolutionaries gave them a crash-course on counter-guerrilla warfare. The doctrine expanded even further when, during the First World War, the United States became directly involved in the European conflict.

The American military began to reach its apex in the Second World War. It faced two allies on different planes of the world: one in the Pacific, the other in Europe. On the Pacific, they employed the combination of air-land-sea operations to expel the Japanese in the islands. They mastered this with the one daring stroke of the Normandy landings in Europe. By late 1944, they were at war on two fronts and had gained superiority in the air. This was where the Americans had first-hand taste of air superiority, and they were soon putting to the air flying “carpet bombers”, capable of reducing a city like Dresden to rubble faster than the Nazis could have ever destroyed Rotterdam.

By the beginning of the Second World War, the Americans had taken their military doctrine to a global level. They used the combined sea-land strategy in Korea, and intrigued with allied countries (proxies) to prod and “contain” their equal, the Soviet Union. In numbers, the Soviets had them outnumbered, and the Americans were thus forced more and more to rely on their air force. In the course of the rivalry the Soviets competed for control of the air, “burning the midnight oil” to develop faster and more agile MiGs. But the Americans humiliated them over the skies of Vietnam and Korea, achieving complete air mastery. The Soviets would not dare hit the Americans conventionally, however large their numbers. They resorted to another school of warfare entirely.

The Evolution of the New Guerrilla Warfare

Though as early as Roman times the Spanish were already using it (and the word ‘guerrilla’ itself was born from Spain’s later struggle against Napoleon), guerrilla warfare was perfected into a science during the Cold War. The Chinese leader Mao Ze Dong used it during the country’s chaotic Warlord Era, when he was fighting rival Chinese factions, and later when he fought the Kuomintang. He bided his time, turning his guerrillas against both the KMT and the then-invading Japanese forces. At length, the KMT broke down militarily, and international sympathy slowly went to Mao. The Chinese military doctrine, however, transformed back into the conventional once they had attained superiority in numbers.

The next to utilize it to a successful conclusion was Fidel Castro. Bruised over his “Beer Hall Putsch” in a Cuban military barracks, he turned his attention to fighting in the jungle. He capitalized on the inability of the Cuban government to pinpoint his location or gain mastery of the terrain, even with the use of napalm (eerily reminiscent of the Vietnam escalation). Che Guevarra, flush from this victory in Cuba, attempted to apply these same guerrilla doctrines to the other Latin American insurgencies. It was, however, in Vietnam that Russia’s rival first came to grips with asymmetrical warfare. Prohibited from moving to North Vietnam, forced to a defensive stance, America was forced to wage a counterinsurgency strategy in a full-blown war. It was here that their military was defeated, not through battles, as even during the bloody Tet invasion they prevailed, but through the lack of support of the home front.

In another part of the world, the Palestinians unwittingly introduced the second element into asymmetrical warfare’s evolution. Following the final, decisive defeat by Israel of the Arab nations aligned against her in the Yom Kippur War, the Palestinians began to realize that they were the only ones left that could fight the Israelis. They engaged in creative, deadly attacks aimed at the Israeli and Western morale, such as hijacking, and they soon took it to another level. It started out with bombings, but calculated attacks had too many variables. Then came the introduction of the suicide bomber. It had the psychological effect of shock, while at the same time a level of control of the variables (that the population was concentrated enough to inflict heavy casualties).

The Extinction of Conventional Warfare

The military campaign in Vietnam was a hard lesson for American generals. Not only did they have to keep morale among the troops, they had to win the heart of the home front as well. The Americans then put the final piece into their New Blitzkrieg: the surgical air strike. Their doctrine was no longer intended to give them the edge in conventional warfare; they wanted the war itself rendered obsolete. They applied this in the Persian Gulf War of 1990, decimating entire Iraqi divisions with precise air attacks. The world was given notice: conventional warfare was no longer possible.

Meanwhile, the last great conventional guerrilla campaign ended in 1989 when Russian troops and tanks left Afghanistan. For the first time, a superpower was defeated not only by local insurgents, but by an international coalition of fighters. The final piece of the New Guerrilla Warfare was thus jihadist in color: the enemy against a united front. With America’s exclamation point in their blitzkrieg in Iraq, the militants resorted to asymmetrical warfare. The superpower was once defeated in Vietnam; indeed, the Palestinians, in their intifada, brought the powerful Israel to the negotiating board. Surely, the same thing could happen to America again.

The next decade then saw the two schools almost coming to grips, but never coming close to a real engagement. Their rivalry finally gave birth to the Vertical War of the Air Blitz against the Terror Guerrilla. The battleground would cover the world; and the vista of two towers, sending gray smoke amidst blue skies, would herald its eruption.