Ed Driscoll

Is 'Starship Troopers' the New 'The Art of War'?

“Wall Street raiders and business tycoons still cite Sun Tzu’s classic military treatise to explain preparation and tactical prowess. But if you really want an insight into 21st century warfare, you need to read Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. Here’s why,” Joe Pappalardo writes at Popular Mechanics, offering six reasons, beginning with the novel’s refutation of Edwin Starr’s funky but brain-dead shout of “War — UNGH!! — what is it good for?!”

“Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than any other factor, and contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst.”– Mr. Dubois, Johnnie’s history and moral philosophy teacher.

People have been conditioned to think that war is only wasteful and tragic. Often it is both, to be sure. But the “what is it good for? Absolutely nothing” line is entirely too simplistic. War is a tool that can be applied to many situations: to roll back aggression and deter aggressors, to end dictatorships, to stop genocide, or to protect the supply of commodities central to the nation’s interest. You don’t blame a screwdriver when someone uses it to break into a car — you blame the car thief. Likewise, war is an extension of governmental policy — the better the policy, the better the war’s outcome. Invading France to conquer it was a Nazi crime. Invading France to liberate it was an Allied triumph.

Despite our best wishes and peaceful intentions, someone else with a gun can shape the future. A coalition of the willing can build schools in Afghanistan, but a couple of jerks with rifles and a can of gasoline can reduce it to ashes. Sometimes, meeting violence with more effective violence is what it takes to give peace a chance. Consider the recent example of eliminating Columbian FARC rebels with precision airstrikes. This is a smart use of force — a way to use violence to set conditions of a diplomatic solution. Instead of starting a cycle of violence, a smart war can end one.

Sun Tzu says: “In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy’s country whole and intact. To shatter and destroy it is not so good.”

I’m not sure about that — hitting the CTL-ALT-DLT buttons on Germany and Japan worked out far better in the long run than attempting to leave the infrastructure of Iraq as intact as possible, as Mark Steyn wrote a decade ago, in an article that resonates remarkably on the weekend of the 70th anniversary of V-E day:

The Japs fought a filthy war, but a mere six decades later America, Britain and Japan sit side by side at G7 meetings. The US and Canada apologise unceasingly for the wartime internment of Japanese civilians, and a historically uncontroversial authentic vernacular expression such as “the Japs fought a filthy war” is now so distasteful that use of it inevitably attracts noisy complaints about offensively racist characterisations. The old militarist culture – of kamikaze fanatics, and occupation regimes that routinely tortured and beheaded and even ate their prisoners – is dead as dead can be.

Would that have happened without Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the earlier non-nuclear raids? In one night of “conventional” bombing – March 9th – 100,000 civilians died in Tokyo. Taking a surrender from the enemy is one thing; ensuring that he’s completely, totally, utterly beaten is another.

A peace without Hiroshima and Nagasaki would have been a different kind of peace; the surrender would have been, in every sense, more “conditional”. Japanese militarism would not have been so thoroughly vanquished, nor so obviously responsible for the nation’s humiliation and devastation, and, therefore, not so irredeemably consigned to history. A greater affection and respect for the old regime could well have persisted, and lingered to hobble the new modern, democratic Japan devised by the Americans.

Which brings us to our present troubles. Nobody’s suggesting nuking Mecca. Well, okay, the other day a Republican congressman, Tom Tancredo, did – or at any rate he raised the possibility that at some point we might well have to “bomb” Mecca. Even I, a fully paid-up armchair warmonger, baulked at that one, prompting some of my more robust correspondents to suggest I’d gone over to the side of the New York Times pantywaists.

But forget about bombing Mecca and consider the broader lesson of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: an enemy folds when he knows he’s finished. In Iraq, despite the swift fall of the Saddamites, it’s not entirely clear the enemy did know. Indeed, the western peaceniks’ pre-war “human shields” operation was completely superfluous mainly because the Anglo-American forces decided to treat not just Iraqi civilians and not just Iraqi conscripts but virtually everyone other than Saddam, Uday and Qusay as a de facto human shield. Washington made a conscious choice to give every Iraqi the benefit of the doubt, including the fake surrenderers who ambushed the US marines at Nasiriyah.

If you could get to a rooftop, you could fire rocket-propelled grenades at the Brits and Yanks with impunity, because, under the most onerous rules of engagement ever devised, they wouldn’t fire back just in case the building you were standing on hadn’t been completely evacuated. Michael Moore and George Galloway may have thought the neocons were itching to massacre hundreds of thousands, but the behaviour of the Baathists suggests they knew better: they assumed western decency and, having no regard either for our lives or for those of their own people, acted accordingly.

Was this a mistake? Several analysts weren’t happy about it at the time, simply because Washington and London were exposing their own troops to greater danger than necessary. But, with hindsight, it also helped set up a lot of the problems Iraq’s had to contend with since: not enough Baathists were killed in the initial invasion; too many bigshots survived to plot mischief and too many minnows were allowed to melt back into the general population to provide a delivery system for that mischief.

And in a basic psychological sense, excessive solicitude for the enemy won us not sympathy but contempt.

Just ask ISIS, and the savages who tried to kill Pam Geller and company last week.