Thursday, May 26, 2005

Practical Wisdom

I'm becoming a fan of Mudville's series of letters from Vietnam veteran and author John Harriman, addressed openly to the U.S. soldiers now serving in Iraq. Here's an insightful excerpt from the latest:

The RPG was the tank killer in Vietnam and lives on today in terrorist armies in Iraq because of its lethality and portability. One terrorist can knock out a Humvee--or even a tank--with one well-placed shot, which is a very high payoff in the cost/benefit formula of terrorist warfare where the enemy is even willing to strap explosives to his own body.

In Vietnam against the RPG we evolved, too. We countered our lack of armor by hanging water cans, C-ration boxes, sections of track and clothing containers on the outside of our turrets. The extra few inches of standoff made the explosive much less lethal to tanks. Every armored personnel carrier in our unit used strips of scrap metal runway material or chain link fencing to do the same thing. The troops took to lining the floors of the carriers with layers of sandbags to reduce the effect of landmines. You talk about an excuse for outrage in the press. If it was there, I never heard it.

In any event, when he could, the enemy escalated to arming dud American bombs and using them as landmines, which defeated the sanbags. He also began shooting tanks in the engine compartment, where the fuel tanks were. In the M-48A2C, the fuel was gasoline, not diesel, and if ever there was a reason for outrage that was it. So we got the M-48A3, a diesel tank much less prone to burning.

And so on. And so on. And so on. (And aren't we a deadly and devious species?)

Look I don't want to debate here whether we should be fighting in Iraq at all. And I don't know the details of the cited incident about the Marine officer. But I do know this: If we ever decided in 1941 that we could not commit to a war until we had absolute certainty of victory against every kind of threat, including evolving enemy tactics without suffering casualties--and a five-year plan for postwar reconstruction besides, everybody in North America would be speaking Japanese today. Or German. The men who died in World War II for lack of preparation or equipment would populate several western U.S. states.

I wish that every American vehicle in Iraq was armored to the nines. And at times, I wish that Mark Shields was secretary of Defense. If both those things happened, all our men and women would be safe. Right?

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