Rules of war, and the violations therein

Bill Whittle writes a poignant explanation of the challenge facing a 2GW military that finds itself in a 4GW war:

War is hell, and soldiers have to live there. It is an unbearable burden; unbearable in the sense that not a single man and woman who has been fully exposed to war has ever come back home. Someone else comes back home. Sometimes, it is a better person. Sometimes a worse one. But they are different, all changed in the horror and crucible of war.

And so from the beginning of war, there exists between soldiers a bond that cannot be described. There is the obvious connection of a soldier to his comrades, but there is too a strong sense of respect and kinship with the soldier on the other side of No Man’s Land, shivering in cold wet places just the same, under orders and doing his job, too — just wanting to get the thing over with and go home.

Surrender is a mercy in such a place. The idea that certain death may be avoided, that one might be willing to simply give up fighting and still survive, is mercy of the deepest blue. Surrendering enemy soldiers are often greeted with a warmth and understanding that friendly civilians do not receive, for they have shared in the misery and hardship of war in ways that we comfortable and safe civilians can never know.

Surrender, in war, is perhaps the ultimate of Sanctuaries. It is a way out when hope and rescue have fled the field. Honorable surrender has never been treated with shame by any American unit I have ever heard of.

And so, when groups of un-uniformed enemy soldiers waving white flags suddenly drop and open fire on unsuspecting, generous and honorable Americans, then the masters of these men have made a terrible bargain. They have destroyed the Sanctuary of Surrender, and eliminated for their own men a deep and abiding refuge in the nightmare of the battlefield.

They have done this to their own men. Not us. We have known of the brutality of the Iraqi army regarding prisoners from at least as far back as those taken and beaten during the first Gulf War, and as far as improvements over the intervening years, we might perhaps call Jessica Lynch to tell us of any newfound magnanimity on the part of the Ba’athists.

False surrender as a weapon of ambush is an abomination. When it is repeated, it is obvious that is not an aberration; it is policy. It is, like the abandonment of the uniform, a tactic to gain a short-term advantage that leads to long-term hardship and misery for their own troops. It is a Devil’s bargain, and they have had the Devil to pay for it — as have we.

They violate the Sanctuary of the Uniform. They violate the Sanctuary of Surrender. And the most reprehensible of all is the violation of the Sanctuary of Mercy.

What Whittle fails to understand is that the Eastern enemy the Western militaries are engaging have NEVER respected the rules of Westphalian war. As William S. Lind notes, uniforms are an aspect of 1GW order.

As long as Western armies insist on attempting to fight a 4GW war with 2GW tactics, they are going to be at a significant disadvantage, and one that likely outweights their various advantages. When the rules change, the players have to change with the rules.

Note that few, if any, Western armies have ever succeeded in causing an Eastern foe to modify its non-Westphalian tactics in imitation of the Western army.

However, Whittle needs to be corrected about this historically erroneous statement: “Honorable surrender has never been treated with shame by any American unit I have ever heard of.”

One incident of which I am aware is when the 45th Division of the US Army killed between 30 and 50 prisoners of war after the liberation of Dachau. It appears they mistook Hungarian Waffen-SS troops who had retreated to the camp with the SS-Totenkopf guards, not that killing the camp guards would have been acceptable under the principle of Sanctuary anyway.

The incident was buried by Gen. George Patton.