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Looking at our recent wars with 20/20 hindsight and a willingness to reject the way it was always done

Posted by John Reed on

After graduating from West Point, I did a tour in Vietnam. We lost. It was the first time America ever lost a war. 

Could we have won? Yeah. Our invasion of Cambodia, which happened while I was there and involved my battalion, was extremely effective. I never heard another shot fired for the rest of my tour after it. Before, I heard incoming and outgoing fire regularly. We also should have invaded North Vietnam. The Russians and Chinese admitted after the Cold War that they were bluffing about our invading Vietnam starting World War III.

World War I

What about World War I? We should not have gotten involved at all. The reasons were the sinking of the Lusitania and the German offer of Mexico getting back the SouthWest U.S. if they joined the Germans in war against America. The Lusitania was illegally carrying arms and ammo in violation of neutrality. It was a legitimate target, not a reason to go to war. The offer to Mexico was a joke. Futhermore, the Allies in Europe did not need us. They would have eventually won without us.

World War II

World War II? No choice. The Axis declared war on us.

Should we have fought the war in the Pacific differently? Hell. yes. No amphibious invasions, though. Just wipe the ocean clean of Japanese subs and ships, which we did.

To get the stepping-stone island airstrips we needed to get close enough to attack the home island, Just encircle them one at a time just out of range of their guns and starve them to death by preventing resupply. Would that take too long? No. It would have taken less time. Amphibious invasions took all sorts of planning and gathering of men, ships, supplies, etc. Starving just meant shooting down planes and sinking supply ships and subs.

Fresh water

Many of the airstrip islands had no fresh water. If the Japanese had desalination equipment, we could have destroyed it by bombs or naval bombardment. You die of thirst after about 3 days of no water—probably faster in South Pacific heat. Vietnam had South Pacific heat—worst I ever experienced. I doubt any World War II in the Pacific invasion was ever set up in three weeks let alone three days.

At the end of the war, Japanese were on the home islands were weeks away from mass starvation when they surrendered. You can only go about three weeks without food.

So all the casualties we suffered in the Pacific War were unnecessary? Most. We still needed to shoot down the enemy planes, sink their ships and subs, and dodge their kamikazies. Those battles would have incurred some losses. The invasion of the Philippines was especially egregious. Thousands died for nothing but MacArthur’s “I shall return” ego.

The Japanese military strategy in World War II was utterly moronic. Had we done it the way I’m saying, casualties on both sides would have been minimal other than starved or suicide-committing soldiers on the islands we selected as stepping stones. All we needed to do was naval and air blockade the home Islands and starve them into surrender.

World War II in Europe

What about World War II in Europe? Did we need to attack North Africa? Nah. Leave the Germans there until the end of the war, just as we should have left millions of Japanese on the islands we did not need in the Pacific.

How about Italy? No way. Very tough terrain. No strategic value. Italy, like North Africa, was the European equivalent of the islands we did not need in the Pacific.

The Battle of the Atlantic (getting rid of German submarines) and the Battle of Britain (ending German blitz air attacks) were necessary, but the British with our help generally got it done themselves. We were more necessary in the anti-sub warfare than in the blitz.

What about D-Day? Postpone it six months or a year. Cut back on materiel aid to the Soviet Union a little so the Russians and the Germans slug it out for a longer period of time with little movement but lots of expenditure of lives and resources like oil. We tied up just as many Germans by being in England as we did invading Normandy. No need to kill them sooner.

During the postponement, we should have perfected the preparatory naval bombing and air corps pre-invasion bombardment. Both were disasters on D-Day. We could also have utterly eliminated the German Navy and Air Force in the West during that time. We also could have done additional intelligence gathering to pick the weakest spots to land. We could have eventually reduced the German bunkers to rubble from the air had we kept it up and experimented with better bombs. The location of the invasion—between Calais and Cherbourg, was probably the best place still, but maybe on a broader front with the second wave going into the beach where the first had been most successful—Gold, not Omaha.

Skip the paratroopers and rangers altogether. Neither was viable or successful in that invasion. Rangers succeeded at Cabantuan in the Philippines, but that was a rare success. (I was an airborne ranger when I was in the Army.) Also, refraining from invading the Philippines to begin with would have obviated the need to raid Cabanatuan which was an American POW camp.

Korea? Vietnam?

Korean War? MacArthur was right. No land wars in Asia. Nuke ’em.

VIetnam? Already discussed. 

Iraq? Afghanistan?

Iraq? Just kill all their military from the air. Afghanistan? Totally non-strategic worthless piece of crap. Ignore it.

Iran? Read my forthcoming novel The Unelected President.

Harvard Business School and football coaching, not West Point

Did I learn to analyze like this at West Point? Nah. Harvard Business School, and by being a football coach for 16 seasons. West Point is a “World War II in Europe” reenactor school. Artillery barrage, then charge at the enemy shooting a rifle. 18th century bullshit.

It’s like the finesse-versus-brute-force debate in football coaching. I wrote eight books on football coaching. When finesse works, you use finesse. It has fewer injuries. Same applies in warfare. Using finesse—water deprivation—in the Pacific in World War II would not only have saved American lives, it would have saved Japanese lives.

Too much of warfare is proving-your-manhood charges and not enough getting the job done as quickly and at the lowest cost possible. The Department of Defense should grow up.

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  • RE: Jennifer – the Battle for Guadalcanal occurred between 1942 and 1943, so it was one of the first “land-based” American battles in the Pacific Theater. Guadalcanal actually translates to “Starvation Island” in one of the native Asiatic tongues. There was evidence that early on in the game that the Japanese forces were eating flesh off of their dead compatriots. I believe James Jones mentioned this discovery in “The Thin Red Line.” If the Japanese were already resorting to cannibalism in 1942, I posit that America’s following Caesar’s Gaullic strategy of circumvallation, albeit using ships and naval aviation in lieu of trenches, walls, and siege towers, would have brought the Japanese to their knees at a lesser loss of life than that experienced by the 1st Marine Division and, subsequently, the 25th Infantry Division. The Japanese engendered American capitulation at Bataan in that fashion – they weakened our troops through lack of food and water and by dysentery brought on by infected ticks released into the jungle.

    As for “feeling locked into a strategy” that isn’t working – that sounds an awful lot to me like “feeling locked into a relationship” that isn’t working. If it isn’t working, and you’re miserable, and thousands of people are dying unnecessarily (in complete violation of strategies which DO work, such as those proven by Sun Tzu thousands of years ago), CHANGE THE STRATEGY. Taking the same action over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. Not an excuse for staying with a partner who beats the crap out of you, and CERTAINLY not an excuse to continue wasting lives and materiel.

    Jeff on
  • Re Jeff: I read the Art of War. I do not remember uch about it. My favorite author on war is Jomini. But my approach to thinking about war is more Harvard Business School and football coaching.
    What is the weak link in Iran militarily? They get their power from money that they get from oil and gas that run through pipes laid on the ground out in the open. What does it take to stop the oil and gas from flowing? a thermite grenade on each pipe. Carly and Rubio and the other military geniuses in DC was more boots on the ground. Military policy demagoguery. The marine mindset is that hitting the beach is the only form of military force. It reminds me of the debate of finesse versus physicality in football. Finesse is considered less manly. What the hell does manliness have to do with war? The object of war is to win with the lowest possible cost in blood and treasure. Looking at, say, Tarawa, you would think the object of war is to win but with the maximum cost in blood and treasure.
    Harvard Business School has been described by the author of the Gospel According to Harvard Business School as a course in advanced common sense. Just so.
    The basic principle of football offense is strength against weakness. The basic principle of football defense is strength against strength. I leaned none of this at West Point or in the Army. The military today are a bunch of World War II reenactors. The politicians today are a bunch of war movie watchers who think military strategy is a matter of spending amounts.

    John T. Reed on
  • Jack’s strategies almost exactly mimic those espoused by Sun Tzu and von Clausewitz and followed by Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, and hundreds of other historical success stories. They are also strategies which have been taught to Cadets at West Point, Annapolis, VMI, the Citadel, etc. for hundreds of years. Yet those individuals refuse to recognize their validity or implement them whatsoever at all when they finally find it their turn to “shine” in the arena of waging war. Their narcissistic, idiotic inability to follow tried-and-true roadmaps to success cost our country billions of dollars and millions of wasted American lives.

    If you haven’t read it already, read “The Art of War.” It is like a kindergarten-simple manual for waging warfare that ACTUALLY WORKED. If, at the conclusion of reading same, you say, "yeah, but . . . " you are no better than the morons who have populated American Flag ranks since the beginning.

    Frederick the Great said something to the effect that only after having gained extensive experience in the matter in question is a leader exempt from research and soliciting guidance on the best way to proceed. Sun Tzu won wars at very little loss of life to his own forces. So did Julius Caesar. You, humble reader, have never waged or won a war in your lifetime. Neither have your Generals. Neither had the Admirals and Generals in WWII. For you to arrogantly figure that you know more than the folks who have already proven themselves experts is the height of idiocy.

    Jeff on
  • “Starvation is probably faster than amphibious assault by a long shot. If they have no fresh water, they die three days after they run out. Food takes three weeks.”

    I recognize that; I’m just thinking that after two and a half years spent island-hopping before getting to the point where starvation was even an option, the US may have been (or at least felt) locked into the current strategy, or at any rate no longer recognized that there was another option. There’s also the consideration that if they sat back, the Soviets would eventually invade (which they did, and if the war had continued I wonder what the chances were of them getting to Tokyo before the British and US, given that they steamrolled Manchuria). That last is a political, not military, calculation though.

    I wonder if there has been any comparison between the experiences of Scandinavia and the Netherlands vs. that of Japanese-held areas that were cut off from supplies near the end of the war

    Jennifer on
  • Regarding Jennifer’s getting it over faster to save the concentration camp survivors. No. First, Starvation is probably faster than amphibious assault by a long shot. If they have no fresh water, they die three days after they run out. Food takes three weeks. But the preparation for D-Day took years.
    Second, FDR knew about the concentration camps but kept it a secret because he did not want Americans to think they were being drafted and fighting on behalf of European Jews. I would say that even today, bad treatment of other people in other continents is not grounds for American military action. There is no such requirement in the Constitution, wars are extremely expensive in terms of blood and treasure, and there is a bottomless pit of need for such liberation. Our efforts to liberate Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan have been, to say the least, unrequited.
    The regions in question need to deal with these things, if they choose. We are the policeman of the world in an number of respects for good reasons, but we cannot be the liberator of all oppressed people in the world all the time. Here is a map of the unfree places in the world and they typically all are killing their own people to one extent or another and to one degree or another. Roughly speaking, we would currently need to liberate almost all of Asia and Africa. No thank you.

    John T. Reed on

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