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Surprise Attack: the Victim's Perspective.

Surprise Attack: The Victim's Perspective. Ephraim Kam. Harvard University Press, 25. Surprise attack is probably not high on your list of worries. Among a great many other factors, argues the Israeli National Defense College's Ephraim Kam, that's one of the things that makes it so probable. In fact, the United States seems particularly susceptible. Two of our last three wars began with an enemy surprise attack-the December 7, 1941 Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor that brought us into World War II, the June 27, 1950 North Korean invasion of South Korea that began the Korean War, and, finally, the North Vietnamese/Viet Cong 1968 Tet Offensive that unnerved our then commander-in-chief.

But surely, you may say, in this age of technical intelligence, of electronic surveillance, of spy satellites alerting us to the enemy's every move, surprise attack is a thing of the past. You'd be in good company with such beliefs. "It is very rare," wrote the preeminent military theorist Carl von Clausewitz in 1832, "that one state surprises another." In his classic 1938 work, Surprise, German General

Waldemar Erfurth noted that

strategic surprise in the 20th century [is] the most difficult military undertaking."

While acknowledging surprise as one of the nine classic principles of war, the Army's May 1986 Field Manual 100-5: Operations states, "strategic surprise is difficult to achieve. Rapid advances in strategic surveillance technology make it increasingly more difficult to mask the large-scale marshalling or movement of manpower and equipment."

Far from being obsolete, it is Kam's conclusion that "improvements in communications, transportation, and weapons systems, including the use of tanks and air power; new bureaucratic structures and advanced procedures for systematic problem solving" have resulted in an "increase in opportunities for strategic surprise."

The numbers appear to bear him out. Of the wealth of examples available since 1939 alone, Kam bases his analysis on 11 major surprise attacks-three German invasions (Denmark and Norway in April 1940; France, the Netherlands, and Belgium in May 1940; and Russia in June

1941), two Japanese invasions (Pearl Harbor in December 1941; Malaya and Singapore from December 1941 to February 1942), two attacks in Korea (the North Korean invasion in June 1950; the Chinese intervention in October 1950), the Chinese attack on India in October 1962, two Israeli attacks (Sinai in October 1956; Egypt in June 1967), and the Egyptian- Syrian attack on Israel in October 1973.

"The striking thing about a surprise attack," Kam observes, "is that in retrospect one can never quite understand how it could have happened." But it looks simple only in hindsight. Using psychological analysis as well as communications theory, Kam examines these surprise attacks at four levels. First and most important is that of the individual analyst (Kam's "central assumption is that mistakes made at this level determine the failure to anticipate war"). Second is that of the small group of analysts and third is the larger group of the intelligence community and the military organization. Finally, there are the decision makers and their relationship with the intelligence community. His analysis is not easy going. But the rewards are more than worth the effort. Not only does Kam offer insights into the human mind, explanations of small- and large-group dynamics, and a better understanding of the decision-making process all useful beyond the narrow question of predicting surprise attacks), he also provides a convincing argument that surprise attacks are indeed almost inevitable'"

Kam highlights three reasons why-the quality of information available for judging and predicting enemy behavior, the persistence of conception even in the face of contradictory evidence, and the inherent interdependency of the many aspects of surprise attack that "makes it very difficult, perhaps even impossible, to locate the weak link in the chain and prevent future surprise attacks." As he says, "this study concludes on a pessimistic note." But that pessimistic note can be valuable if it shocks us out of our false sense of complacency that somehow America is immune from surprise attack. We haven't been. We're not now.
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Author:Summers, Harry G., Jr.
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 1, 1989
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