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Artillery Always Wins

A principal of military science says that artillery trumps fortifications. Ancient peoples built crude wooden palisades to defend themselves against the spear and ax wielding invaders. Those defensive structures would fall to siege engines. Moving forward, masonry fortifications were constructed, only to crumble when confronted by catapults. Medieval castle builders would strengthen those walls, which would then be destroyed by trebuchets and early forms of cannon. That sequence of events gave rise to the Trace Italian, the complex star shaped fort, elaborately built with sloping walls to deflect cannon balls and deep ditches to repel storming parties. The Trace Italian was as elaborate a defensive structure as man has designed, but it too was rendered useless in short order by advanced tactics, howitzers and mortars. Artillery always wins.

This principle can be applied to empires, in the sense that empires die when they shift into a defensive posture. Ancient Rome doomed itself to extinction the day its leaders decided to draw a defensive line across the Danube and the Rhine.

The Boer War marked a similar zenith for the British Empire, which would remain in stasis for a few years after the South African conflict, before starting the slow process of contraction and disintegration after surviving the horrors of World War I, a retreat that accelerated after World War II. As Churchill predicted, most of those lands that had enjoyed the benevolent protection of the United Kingdom, like Rhodesia, India and Pakistan, soon fell into a state that closely resembled both tyranny and anarchy.

The American Empire has been a unique creation. The American empire is not based on control, but was rather built upon a principle: that liberty and self-determination would make a better world for all. Japan, Germany, Eastern Europe, South Korea and a host of other nations have reaped the benefits of this unique, altruistic philosophy. The American Empire – if “empire” is an accurate term – took root after World War I and grew spectacularly after World War II.

Perhaps historians will look back a thousand years from now and opine that Viet Nam was the beginning of the end of our marvelous, if disjointed, and usually dysfunctional empire. Before Viet Nam, America did not apologize for trying to protect liberty. After Viet Nam, defending freedom somehow became equated with oppression, in many quarters anyway.

George W. Bush’s actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, like his father’s defense of Kuwait, effectively reversed a decade of defensive, fortress mentality with regards to terrorists and the states that oppose them.

Barack H. Obama’s promise to retreat from Iraq and Afghanistan has, thankfully, not yet been kept. But, as his reaction to the Christmas bomber has demonstrated, his mentality remains entirely of the bunker variety. Hunker down. Step up security procedures. Make the walls a little thicker.

It won’t work – not without an offensive. It never has. You can’t fortify America and hope to stop the latest version of Sponge Bob Plastique Pants (love that line of JohnFN’s) forever. Artillery always wins. We are at war with an idea and to win that war we must do the only thing that has ever well and truly won a war: apply strength such that the idea – if not destroyed – withers into ineffectiveness. Patton, Monty and Zhukov so smashed Hitler’s minions that National Socialism has been reduced to a joke today, with a few, forlorn followers who are an annoyance, not a threat. The same may be said of Japanese Imperialism. Macarthur, Nimitz and Little Boy (and let us not forget Fat Man) made the Japanese people realize that maybe ruling the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere wasn’t really their destiny after all.

Obama refuses to acknowledge the war against the idea, preferring to paint every incident as one involving some isolated, delusional, disaffected soul who has more in common with the neighborhood burglar than a soldier in the Waffen SS. But you know, when you assemble enough deluded, disaffected souls who buy their tighty-whities at “Suicide Bombers R Us”, you end up with something that closely resembles an army – an army of self-directed artillery shells.

So build the walls as high as you like Mr. President. Until we truly deal with the evil philosophies of Islamafacism and jihadism, the artillery of our enemies will continue to batter them.

And – eventually – artillery always wins.

23 comments to Artillery Always Wins

  • Dang, am I the only one on vacation lately? More great stuff from the land of Threedonia, Mr. Richard, and let’s hope more on the other side of the aisle read the many forwards from our neck of the woods, nape of the neck…

  • Great way to look at the bleak situation.

  • Stephanie

    Not so bleak. Lets not call retreat because we have an idiot in the White House. The Roman Empire fell for many reasons. I am not sure that holding the line at the Danube and the Rhine was even a reason. It grew too big to hold. To few real Romans and too many foriegners who wanted Roman citizenship for its perqs. When the nation state held more days for games and holidays than they worked, when the Silver mines ran out and when Rome, the city began losing its population that all could be considered reason for the end of Rome. Also the loss of Roman identity. To be Roman MEANT something. It still means something to Americans to be American. The only thing we have right now is an over class of a few piss ants who want to create I think a global world government. And that has even failed. Don’t count us out. We got problems but nothing is insurmountable.

  • Rufus

    Rich, well stated. Two comments:

  • How many isolated incidents before Obama starts to notice a pattern?

  • Rufus

    I. The same is true for economic policy. Carter had us in malaise. Part of the brilliance of Reagan was he reminded us that we are Americans, and can do anything. He ran up deficits, yes, but he borrowed money to stimulate private industry, which took off and was soon giving back more tax revenue than Carter’s higher tax rates. When the Federal government takes a defensive, reactionary fiscal pose prosperity weakens. President Obama is trying to rope our economy in and control it; lock it safely within the walls of state. It will be a disaster.

  • Stephanie

    Oh he knows whats going on he is just too stupid to understand his best bet to get reelected is to act like an American. Eventually even a gigantic asspain like Clinton figured it out.

  • Rufus

    B. Your theory also holds up in more micro examples. For awhile, in the late 70’s, it was the habit of some College basketball coaches to sit on a lead. You see this in many sports. Invariably, when a coach tells his team to sit on a lead the opponent gains ground. If you got ahead by running and gunning, and you tell those runners and gunners to stop running and gunning you throw them off their game. The world does not stand still. There are always more aggressive economies, more desperate cultures. If we try to sit on our lead we will get surpassed.

  • Rufus

    B. (cont.) Look at Carter and Reagan vis a vis Soviet policy. Carter tried to retrench, negotiate down, walk away from our strengths, Reagan raised the bar; “I’ll see your warheads and raise you a missile defense shield.”
    Look who was more effective.

  • JohnFN

    Patton believed in this to his core. Many cite “never dig in” as some sort of personal mantra, affectations of a sort of his personality, and displayed as such in the film and otherwise. What it was in reality was brilliance – military strategy built upon an extensive knowledge and background in military history.

    • Stephanie

      Vorwarts! Immer vorwarts! Ricthofen’s motto.

    • Rufus

      JohnFN, aside from what Rich points out, it works on a micro level; battle by battle, game by game. When you have two opponents who are equally knowledgable it can be very effective to keep one’s opponent off “their” game; assymetrical warfare. You keep them on the defensive. You make them react, and take away their time to prepare to be proactive.

      I’ve always wanted to see a major college basketball team play a game taking as many 3 point shots as possible. If your average is better than 2/3 of your field goal percentage for the day it’s a winning strategy, but, even more importantly, it’s much harder to predict the rebound on a missed three. The defense has a big advantage on rebounding in basketball because they can sit under the net, but three point shots have so much momentum they often go far beyond the zone under the net. Very difficult for the defense to predict where a missed three will go.

      • Or think of chess hustlers in New York. Some very good players don’t stand a chance against them because of the constant unpredictable moves and “foolish” sacrifices they make.

  • Stephanie

    We are in Cali. yeah its good here, but wont you let Mike reply? :(

  • Vincent Wong

    Excellent essay and a good antidote to what I just read before this: Cato Institute’s Nuclear Proliferation Update. Those guys should just stick to economics.

    http://www.cato.org/pubs/npu/npu_december2009.pdf

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