FROM KAREN ON SEPT:26/2001
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
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 long?
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
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 facilities. 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
(3) the chance and probability that
plays out on the field of battle, in
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
God Bless America
Dr. Tony Kern, Lt Col, USAF (Ret)
Former Director of Military History,