Shaykh Daoud’s Blog

Reflections on America’s Way of War: God’s instrument of justice?

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“In them is an arrogance which no submission or good behaviour can escape. Pillagers of the world, they have exhausted the land by their indiscriminate plunder, and now they ransack the sea. A rich enemy excites their cupidity; a poor one, their lust for power. East and West alike have failed to satisfy them. They are the only people on earth to whose covetousness both riches and poverty are equally tempting. To robbery, butchery, and rapine they give the lying name of ‘government’, and where they create a desolation they call it peace”.

No, this wasn’t actually written about the Americans, but it was supposed to have been said about their heroes the Romans.

According to Cornelius Tacitus, Agricola’s son-in-law and ADC, these famous words were said by the Caledonian general Calgachos just before the disastrous battle of Mons Graupius near the Moray Firth in 84 AD. The statement could, however, have been written about the American occupation of Iraq; especially the last sentence.

There was never any doubt that the Coalition would win; at any rate there shouldn’t have been. Just “doing the maths” should have shown people that there was no way militarily that the Iraqis could have successfully resisted the American assault. What their tactics should have been was what was bruited abroad, namely to lure the Coalition forces into the urban areas and fight them there where mounting casualty figures would have caused support for the war in the US to evaporate under recriminations about “another Vietnam”. But the Iraqi main forces dispersed, and the war turned into a fizzle.

War is a traumatic and destructive thing. It may be, as Clausewitz claimed, “policy carried on by other means”; but for this to be true, and for the matter not to degenerate into wanton and savage slaughter, it has to be conducted within rules by disciplined professionals who share a code and who have a mutual respect. Without this, warfare easily becomes barbarism, and the ‘enemy’, whether military or civilian, becomes dehumanised. As they are not ‘us’, then whatever’s done to ‘them’ is acceptable.

To motivate levies, conscripts, ‘citizen militias’, or sub-professional armies, democracies in particular resort to propaganda and information campaigns to whip up support and to ‘psych’ them up to the job in prospect. This exacerbates the dehumanising of the enemy, and facilitates his general destruction.

“War to the men of the Stone Age was not the business of a selected few, it was the occupation of every adult male, and it is still so, with the addition of numerous women. In savage warfare, the aim was to kill all enemy males and abduct the women and children. This has been improved upon by the invention of weapons which make discrimination between the victims impossible – slaughter is now on total lines”.

So wrote Major General J. F. C. “Boney” Fuller, the British 20th Century military philosopher.

Stephen Vincent Benét wrote in his poem John Brown’s Body, about the mid-19th Century American Civil War, “out of John Brown’s strong sinews the tall skyscrapers grow… the engine-handed Age, the genie we have raised to rule the earth”.

It is often said that generals fight the last war. When the real ‘last war’ actually happened somewhere else, and the last war the generals are fighting was not it, then catastrophe strikes.

It was observed about the wars between 1870 and 1920 (that is the Franco-Prussian War, the Russo-Turkish War, the Russo-Japanese War, the Balkan Wars, the South African Wars, and the First World War itself) that the generals were still fighting the Crimean War, and they missed the lessons they should have been learning from the American Civil War.

Among these were the destructive power of modern artillery, the increased fire-power of the infantry with better rifles (such as the Minié and the Martini-Henry) and the Gatling Gun, the use of barbed wire and trenches, the futility of frontal assaults in extended line, and the horrific nature of the casualties of modern warfare.

The First World War has become a by-word for all of these; but they should have been watching in the early 1860s at the Wilderness, Vicksburg, Appottomax, or Gettysburg.

But what commentators have also missed is that these oversights weren’t just limited to technology and tactics.

They have been misled by the fact that the Americans turned up (eventually) for World Wars One (in late 1917) and Two (in 1942) into thinking that they share the same military culture as ‘The West’.

This egregious mistake is compounded by their ethnic origins being predominantly western European and, in particular, British.

American military culture was formed in what Rudyard Kipling termed “the savage wars of peace”.

It began during the French Wars in north America in the 1760s onwards, when the French offered a bounty to their Huron allies payable on evidence being shown of dead British Americans – soldiers, sailors, men, women, or children, they weren’t fussy. Thus the barbaric practice of scalping began. It wasn’t a “native American” rite; it was introduced by the French.

But the settlers and colonists had begun with a peculiar enthusiastic barbaric bigotry. Many of them were “Christian fundamentalists” for whom the native Americans (and the Catholic French and Spaniards) were heathens to be converted, enslaved, or slaughtered.

The American holiday of Thanksgiving actually commemorates the outcome of the Pequot War in Connecticut and Massachusetts Bay in 1637, when a significant portion of the Pequot population was massacred by the Puritan colonists and the survivors enslaved.

After the successful revolution against Britain in 1776, the US constitution was drawn up by the slave-owning Virginia gentry aided by these religious bigots from Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The “loyalists” – about a third of the population of New England – were driven out to Canada and many thousands died on the “March of Death” to New Brunswick.

Then began the conquest of the hinterland. In the hundred years after 1776, the Thirteen Colonies expanded their empire right across the sub-continent to the Pacific.

Some of this was done by purchase (such as Florida, Louisiana, California, and Alaska) but most of it was done by military conquest of the native nations, subterfuge, broken treaties, genocide, settlement, and enclosure. America’s rise to empire compares unfavourably with Russia’s expansion into Central Asia for barbarity.

The Civil War – also called variously the “War of the Northern Aggression” and the “War between the States” – came half-way through this process, and was fought at least with some attempt at the type of warfare conventional in Europe. But the post-war régime was brutal and repressive, and the whole experience distorted and deformed the evolution of American culture.

General Sherman’s “March through Georgia” has left scars that still haven’t healed.

General Fuller wrote, “on 21st December Savannah fell to Sherman’s pillaging horde, now followed by thousands of plundering negroes [sic]. The next day he presented it as a Christmas gift to President Lincoln. Then the Carolinas were devastated. In Georgia Sherman estimates the damage done at $100,000,000 [in 1864!] of which only $20,000,000 ‘inured to our advantage’; the remainder was ‘simple waste and destruction’… one of the strangest things about Sherman is, that on the plinth of his statue at Washington are inscribed the noble words he once uttered: ‘The legitimate object of war is a more perfect peace.’ Yet, apparently, he could not see that plunder and arson are not legitimate means to attain it”. This could have been written about the Americans in Iraq.

The wars against the native nations became ever more ruthless. Nothing was safe, not even the buffalo which were slaughtered wholesale to aid the laying of the railroads and to protect the farming settlements and cattle ranches that were spread across the Plains.

The “Frontier” had a formative effect on American culture; and the ‘wild west’ still has a romantic appeal constantly reinforced by Hollywood.

The decadence, lawlessness and degeneracy that typified it have made their cultural contribution, and in far too many arenas the constant American response is that of the settler lynch-mob, or the sheriff and his posse (which was often not much better and could be just as lawless) in origin.

As Admiral Boyce, Britain’s Chief of the Defence Staff, observed, the American armed forces are “like a high-tech wild-west posse”. They certainly leave real professionals aghast.

The developing American military culture was carried into the Spanish-American War of the late 1890s. Theodore Roosevelt of the ‘Rough Riders’, later to become President of the USA, was one of its chief protagonists.

It was in 1898 also, that my great-great-grandmother’s kinsman, William McKinley, discovered after a night in prayer that it was America’s “Manifest Destiny” to overthrow Aguinaldo’s Republic of the Philippines, annex the archipelago for America, and miraculously acquire a strategically vital coaling station in the middle of the Pacific before the Germans or Japanese got it. It cost many thousands of Philippino lives.

Using what Rev Peter Gordon Gowing described as “the steam gunboat, the Krag rifle, and the Gatling Gun” the Americans “pacified” the southern islands that had been fighting the Spaniards for 350 years.

Thus the Christian conquest of these largely Muslim islands was completed; even Luzon was predominantly Muslim when Manuel de Goiti and Fernan de Legazpi entered Manila Bay in the 1500s.

In battles in the Sulu islands in the early 1900s, the Americans slaughtered everyone – men, women, children, and even the domestic animals. They were keen on “force protection”, you see, even then: they were terrified of the mengamuk Moro armed with a bolo (a kind of machete) charging a Gatling Gun!

Hawaii was acquired by deceit and a coup-de-main. There is little ethical or democratic about the expansion of the American Empire, and it didn’t just begin with George Bush Jr and his mainly Israeli neo-conservative advisers. It’s been happening since the end of the 17th Century; it’s just that the American people have only just noticed that they run one of the worst European sea-borne empires and they don’t like what they see!

Perhaps the country is gaining maturity after all.

The American military basked for a long time after the Civil War in a miasma of glory in the eyes of the civilians; after all, it was protecting them from all those savage Indians and Negroes. This wasn’t diminished by the Spanish-American War or the acquisition of the Philippines.

At the end of the First World War, with the American contingent commanded by General Pershing who had made his name slaughtering Moros, GIs returned home to ticker-tape welcomes and ecstatic street parties. This was repeated after the Second World War.

The American military got used to civilian adulation. They should have paid more attention to their British kinsmen who consider their own “civilians” (a derisive term bordering on abuse) to be an ungrateful lot and carry on their soldiering without too much emotional attachment to them.

So Vietnam came as a terrible shock to the US military psyche. They’d never been spat on in bus queues before, or thrown out of bars, or beaten up on their way home, or had their girlfriends dump them, or been unable to get a job.

The two traumas of ‘Nam went deep. There was the military one of thousands of body-bags coming home, and tens of thousands of badly injured “vets” – most of them, it should be pointed out, were from the minorities (blacks, poor whites, Hispanics, those who couldn’t evade the Draft by being Rhodes Scholars at Oxford or serving in the Texas Air National Guard, and so on). And the psychological one of not having the American People on their side.

So America seems to have decided that when it would go to war again it must take the People with them through propaganda and demonisation of the enemy (so they can have the ticker-tape parades when they come home), and it musn’t suffer “unacceptable casualties” (i.e. any) – hence the doctrine of “force protection” and the massive application of technology. The deaths of civilians and the destruction of property are euphemistic “collateral damage”. Or, as Donald Rumsfeld termed it, “compassionate bombing”.

But underlying all this, apparently undetected, is the culture that drives it. It has a long catalogue of names from The Wilderness, to Wounded Knee, through Bud Dajo, to My Lai, that typifies it. America is at present culturally injured in its approach to warfare. It occupies the same place that Europe did after the Thirty Years’ War of the 17th Century.

There is a chillingly topical ring to Fuller’s comments on Sherman and his policies, that sound remarkably like the modern America of George W. Bush in its war against Saddam Hussein, Iraq, and the wider Islamic world.

Sherman wrote, “‘If the people raise a howl against my barbarity and cruelty, I will answer that war is war… If they want peace they and their relatives must stop the war’. I knew, of course, that such a measure would be strongly criticized, but made up my mind to do it, with the absolute certainty of its justice, and that time would sanction its wisdom.”

Fuller commented, “Later when Sherman set out on his famous march through Georgia, he made this new concept of war his guiding principle, and waged war against the people of the South as fully as against its armed forces… Terror was the basic factor in Sherman’s policy, he openly says so… Sherman… believed that his army was ‘God’s instrument of justice'”. Sherman is the personification of the America Way of War even today, ask any passing Vietnamese.

In the sack of Béziers, during the Albigensian Crusade of 1209, some “friendlies” were caught up with the enemy. When the attackers asked for guidance they were told “kill them all; Christ will know his own.” An American marine in the attack on Nasiriyyah had written on his Bradley AFV “Kill them all”. Presumably he didn’t care whether Christ would know them or not.

This carelessness was demonstrated in Iraq in the capricious use of extremely destructive munitions such as JDAM and MOAB bombs, both of which are fuel-air explosive or thermobaric weapons designed to replicate the overpressure of a nuclear explosion without the radiation and electro-magnetic pulse. They will cause the catastrophic vaporisation of human soft tissue out to a mile from the point of detonation. They were intended to be used against Soviet armoured formations on the North German Plain, not against cities like Baghdad. Their use in such an environment is a War Crime.

Cluster munitions, as authorised by General Sharon for use against blocks of flats in south Beirut in 1982, were designed as runway denial weapons against tactical airbases in the same NGP conflict, not against civilian-intensive targets. Their use in such a way is also a War Crime.

Depleted Uranium penetrators were intended to be fired at the latest generations of Soviet Main Battle Tanks that, it was thought, were defended by a skin of ‘active armour’.

None of this weaponry should have appeared in Iraq, at least only if the much-vaunted Republican Guard had cared to turn up for the war – which it didn’t.

The Americans are obsessed with technology at the expense of soldiering, and they’d rather inflict casualties on enemy civilians than suffer them themselves (i.e. force protection). This is the antithesis of the soldier’s code, which derives ultimately from the futuwwah of the Muslims at the time of the real (not Bush’s) Crusades.

And even in this use of technology there is a breath-taking unprofessionalism. I remember my grandfather had “friendly fire” stories from the First World War. My father was attached at Anzio to the same US 5 Corps that has been laying waste to Iraq, having previously been with 1 (BR) Army and the Americans in Algeria and Tunisia; and my mother’s brother served with 8 (Indian) Infantry Division at Monte Cassino having previously been at a field general hospital at Salerno. They had “friendly fire” stories. I had an Australian friend who’d been in Vietnam in the late 60s; he had “friendly fire” stories. Occasional incidents are unavoidable in war, but there is a capricious regularity about these events when people have Americans in support.

The same Australian had a very low opinion of the US soldiers and marines he’d come in contact with. I wrote down one remark he made. “They’re just a load of p****s from Central Casting dressed up as soldiers. They’re f*****g dangerous. It’s safer to be the enemy when they’re around.”

The most professional and experienced armed forces in the world at the moment are the British. And in the conduct of “fighting in built-up areas” (FIBUA), with 35 years’ constant exposure to it in Northern Ireland, they are the world’s experts. So to whom did the Americans turn for their preparatory training for this Iraq War? The Israelis of all people! The Israeli ‘Defence’ Forces rate among the most incompetent, ill-disciplined, armed militias of the world, and their conduct of FIBUA is there for all to see at Rafah or Jenin.

Compare the difference between the British advance on Basra, and the way they dealt with the city after its fall, and the Americans’ approach to Nasiriyyah, Najaf, and Karbala.

And then there was Fallujah. Americans in a lorry panicked and opened fire on an agitated but hitherto peaceful crowd with a ’50 caliber’ (whose bullets are half an inch in diameter) machine gun and a semi-automatic rifle. This is force protection, you see. Just like outside Nasiriyyah when they panicked and shot up a car full of refugees from two M-1 Bradley AFVs firing into the vehicle with 30mm cannon shells. But it’s all right, because you see they are “rag heads” (or is it “gooks”? It’s difficult to keep up with American “nigger” words that they need to dehumanise the enemy).

Jefferson Davis – the Confederate President – called Sherman ‘the Attila of the American Continent’. In that case, George W. Bush Jr is the Hulagu Khan or the Timur-i Lenk; although, as those two had done their fair share of fighting, and the arch chickenhawk ran away from it, I suppose that’s unfair to the two Mongols.

One of Sherman’s aides-de-camp, Major George W. Nichols, said glowingly of the American hero, “he is a Democrat in the best sense of the word. There is nothing European about him. He is a striking type of our institutions”. Paul Wolfowitz or Donald Rumsfeld couldn’t have put it better.

So there you have it. A “democrat in the best sense of the word” has to be like General Sherman, so I suppose General Sharon is a paragon of democracy, a veritable Pericles, and the wannabe democrats of the Middle East just have to lay waste a Georgia of their own to qualify.

This refusal to acknowledge any limits on your conduct is expressible in a Quranic word taghout. Perhaps Americans should wake up to the implications before it’s too late?

This article was commissioned for the Q-News International Special Edition in April 2003 at the time of the American Invasion of Iraq. For some journalistically inexplicable reason the whole issue was spiked when it was actually at the printers.

Written by David Rosser Owen

February 17, 2009 at 9:57 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Is one of the problems in Iraq and Afghanistan that US troops have been deployed for too long (because conscription would be political suicide), leading to the inevitable thousand-yard stare and the atrocities that go with it?

    George Carty

    February 21, 2009 at 1:39 pm

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