Over there, Over there
Send the word, send the word,
That the Yanks are coming,
The Yanks are coming,
The drums rum tumming everywhere
Say a prayer
Send the word,
Send the word to beware
We’ll be over, we’re coming over.
And we won’t be back till it’s over over there!
This refrain from the George Cohan song Over there had become the chant to victory of the US Armed Forces, as it saw their troops triumphant through World War I, and then again, in World War II.
Sixty years after World War II, the humiliating defeat in Vietnam followed by a similarly messy Iraq misadventure had demystified the legendary invincibility of the US soldier.
The United States started the Iraq War 30 years after they lost in Vietnam. After repeated attempts to cover-up what most other countries regarded as a big blunder, former US Secretary Jim Baker and his team had released the Iraq Study which in so many words validated the American defeat in the Iraq War – another US defeat and another added black mark on the combat record of the US soldier.
The Vietnam War defeat could have been avoided if President John F. Kennedy had listened to General Douglas MacArthur, America’s greatest war strategist. MacArthur knew the fighting capacity and limits of the American soldier, given the demands and challenge of a Vietnam War.
American Caesar, William Manchester’s celebrated book, describes MacArthur’s apprehension over fighting in jungle terrain and against fervently nationalistic guerillas. Because of this, MacArthur said that the odds are heavily stacked against an American military victory in Vietnam.
MacArthur had seen how the severe and punishing jungle environment of Bataan and New Guinea had demoralized and weakened his troops. Troop discipline and high morale provided the foundations of the military successes of the Ancient Roman Empire and the modern British Empire.
When MacArthur crafted his Envelopment Strategy for the retaking of the Pacific, he factored in the lessons learned on the critical role of having the right battle conditions in achieving victory. MacArthur’s Envelopment Strategy broke down the Pacific War into manageable phases of military targets to be secured. The objective was to weaken the enemy on a mass scale by depriving large concentrations of enemy troops of access to supply and communications.
MacArthur avoided costly battles of attrition. Compared to US Generals George Patton and Omar Bradley who fought in Europe, MacArthur won over the biggest territory during World War II while incurring the least number of casualties.
From MacArthur’s vantage point, we can glean that the American soldier is adapted to fighting in conventional warfare where superior American war materiel is a major advantage. But in guerilla warfare, where the advantages are removed, the American soldier’s prospect for success is poor.
Such was the case in Vietnam and as it is now in Iraq. Victory does not come with merely securing a large territory and establishing base camps. The US was able to secure and establish bases in South Vietnam and yet the US lost. Likewise, in the Iraq war in 2003, the US secured Iraq and established bases in a matter of weeks, yet the defeat is evident, merely awaiting the date when the US will pullout its troops from Iraq.
Guerilla warfare thrives on the element of surprise, making military bases or secured sites irrelevant. Guerilla warfare aims to debilitate the enemy’s numbers and equipment, bringing the battle to grounds and conditions that suit the guerilla – familiarity with the terrain, concealed force and the big advantage of having community support.
In Vietnam, the US soldier’s rigorous training did not prepare him against a fearless, wily and exceptionally ingenious adversary. Not only that, but the Vietnamese chose the battleground. Most of the time, the engagement was in the jungle or some rice paddy where an ambush is cleverly concealed.
In Iraq, the US soldier is up against an enemy who is not only fearless but is motivated by a strong religious belief that gives suicidal fighters a special honor. How can an American soldier, brought up to value and preserve human life in a first world country, fight an enemy who actually looks forward to meeting his Maker in Paradise by dying with his enemies?
In Iraq, as it was in Vietnam, the American soldier cannot tell who the enemy is. This creates psychological stress that drives soldiers to be overly nervous and paranoid, trigger-happy and perennially depressed. As the stress builds up on him, the more prone he is to commit abuses. The more he commits abuses, the more he alienates himself from the local population, the very people that would be the key support group to winning a war against an insurgency.
The infamous My Lai massacre, committed by US soldiers on unarmed Vietnamese civilians typifies an example of this syndrome.
The US soldiers and their families have a right to be angrier with the US policy makers who promoted the Iraq War than with the enemy who is fighting for his country. They should exact an accounting not just from President George W. Bush or his former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld or Vice President Dick Cheney – but all those who were involved in the planning, authorization and conduct of the Iraq War.
These policy makers start wars that are really subterfuge for the real objective. The US won’t admit it but the emergence of China as a new world power is what the Iraq War is all about. Iraq was never about Saddam Hussein or Al Qaeda. Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda were the pretext for the invasion of Iraq.
This early, the US is trying to control important elements that will decide the outcome of a future US-China War. The real objective was the oil of Iraq and the rest of the Middle East as it relates to the possible confrontation with China. While this kind of thinking and planning may be hard to fathom for a Filipino who is conditioned by third world realities to think from one meal to the next meal, superpowers can only remain superpowers by attempting to win wars long before the first shots are fired.
That recent China-Africa Summit had everything to do with Iraq. That was China’s countermove to protect its access to alternative sources of energy to fuel its rapid growth.