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The mutable nature of war.

As a graduate of the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, I eagerly read Col Phillip Meilinger's latest article "The Mutable Nature of War" (Winter 2010). However, in this piece, he erects and fells straw men that fail to support his thesis of mutable war. He asserts that "the role and duty of military planners from all services should involve doing everything in their power to plan operations that limit the exposure of American forces to danger" (emphasis in original, p. 28). Unfortunately, this puts the cart before the horse. The role and duty of military planners from all services should involve doing everything in their power to plan operations that efficiently accomplish the mission. Later, he compounds the error vis-a-vis grand strategy: "In facing any crisis, our leaders should take as their entering premise the goal of attaining such [bloodless] results" (emphasis in original, p. 28). Nonsense. This mirrors an enduring airpower fallacy which holds that airpower adds dignity to what would otherwise be an ugly brawl. I am an airpower enthusiast, but those who fancy that any technology will make war less awful are pursuing a chimera.

In facing any crisis, our leaders should take as their entering premise the goal of attaining the political objective: a better state of peace (obviously, not my original thought). Trying to get there on the cheap will always cost more over the long haul. Therefore, our leaders must soberly estimate (and frequently update) the value of the political objective in light of the probable cost in lives and treasure to the very citizens they purport to serve. In doing so, they will achieve--over the course of numerous battles and campaigns--what the author advocates: "limit[ing] the exposure of American forces to danger."

Col David Gurney, USMC, Retired

Miami, Florida

It strikes me that Colonel Meilinger and many of the people he quotes are confusing method and nature. War and violence are inseparable. More precisely, war is inseparable from the willingness to employ--and, when necessary, absorb--violence, both organized and applied to achieve some end. The fact that some operations do not involve physical combat or that technological advances make it possible to inflict more damage and casualties on an adversary than we absorb is neither new nor changes the nature of war. Colonel Meilinger's own examples highlight this fact.

Blockades and sanctions may not involve sustained combat, but their effectiveness often involves willingness to employ violence to enforce or breach them. Much naval history has been made by clashes between blockade runners and blockading warships--participants would disagree that those actions were not violent and bloody on their own scale. The Berlin airlift--arguably one of history's more effective air campaigns--succeeded because the Allies were willing to risk combat to breach the blockade, whereas the Soviet Union was not willing to do the same to enforce it. The US blockade of Cuba in 1962 succeeded on the same principle. That neither actually came to violence does not change the fact that willingness to employ it--"to put our own skin on the line," in Gen James Mattis's words--was immutably part of both.

Cyberwar--or, more appropriately, cyber-combat--also doesn't negate the violent nature of war. Although hacking into computer infrastructure can certainly cause short-term havoc with communications, transportation, power, and economic information, similar disruption due to natural disaster, accident, and criminal activity indicates that such action is unlikely, by itself, to bend a country to another's will. Just as electronic warfare evolved during the latter part of the twentieth century to negate or enhance combat operations, so were the Russians' network attacks on Georgian information systems designed for the same purpose--to render their opponent more vulnerable to combat action. Chinese writings on the subject follow the same theme.

Last, equating our ability to employ violence without absorbing an equal amount as a change in the nature of war is a bit startling. Minimizing unnecessary casualties or damage is not a new principle in war. Certainly the image of Predator crews launching air strikes from half a world away is less gritty than that of an infantry platoon in a firefight. Physical stress and suffering are often less a factor for an aircrew member than an infantryman, but that does not negate the fact that both are involved in applying--and, at times, receiving--violence. The same dichotomy has applied since the sling allowed one man to kill another at greater than arm's reach. War is the application of, or willingness to apply, organized violence to achieve a specific end. Good leadership in war involves controlling the level and application of violence while minimizing exposure to the same. Both principles have survived the test of time.

Col Jamie Sculerati, USAF

MacDill AFB, Florida
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Title Annotation:Ricochets & Replies
Author:Gurney, David; Sculerati, Jamie
Publication:Air & Space Power Journal
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Mar 22, 2011
Words:785
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