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Friday, September 28, 2007

We had to Destroy It in Order to Save It

This is Steven Petrick Posting.

One of the things that makes discussing military operations with people who have, themselves, never served is the built in bias that is presented in modern entertainment and even in the media.

An example is the famous statement from Vietnam where an officer said "We had to destroy the village in order to save it."

This is often taken and presented bluntly as the stupidity of military men. How can you have saved the village if you destroyed it?

Perhaps it might be better understood in a larger context.

"We had to destroy France in order to save it."

What does that mean?

It means that French Railroads were being used by the Germans to move troops and equipment, so we shot up French Trains and bombed French Rail Centers.

It means that French Roads were being used to move troops and supplies, so we destroyed bridges and bombed road tunnels.

It means that French Canals were being used, so we bombed locks and shot up canal boats.

And that was just transportation infrastructure.

We also bombed French Communications nodes, French factories (being used to make material for the Axis), and blew the daylights out of more than one French town, farm, and even city because the Germans were using it as a fortification.

We did this, despite the fact that we killed French Citizens in so doing. Not because we wanted to, but because we could not free France unless we defeated the Axis, and we could not defeat the Axis if we did not "destroy France".

In both cases (the Village, and France), it could be rebuilt after the enemy was defeated. But allowing the enemy (whether Axis soldiers or Viet Minh insurgents) to occupy a position and use the local citizens as shields is a losing proposition. There is not enough military force to garrison every village and town in enough strength to prevent all of them from being occupied at one time or another.

All you can do is, when the enemy shows up, destroy him. You can help the villagers (the country in the case of France) rebuild afterwards, and be a little more secure because that enemy force is destroyed. But not destroying the enemy, allowing the enemy to hide behind civilians, is an operation doomed to failure.

Whether it was in France in World War II, or Vicksburg in the American Civil War, or a Hamlet in Vietnam, or, yes, even Baghdad today.

Wars are won not by allowing the enemy to hold what he seizes out of fear of harming civilians, they are won by destroying the enemy wherever and whenever he is found.