Friday, May 11, 2018

Understanding is Over-Rated

I just finished reading a book about the battle for Hue in 1968. It was okay. While it reinforces my preference not to rush into city fights, what bothered me was just one sentence that said America lost in Vietnam because we didn't understand our enemies or the place. I think that conventional wisdom is nonsense.

One, America won the war on the battlefield by the time our troops left. It was costly and divisive at home, but we did win. South Vietnam was conquered not by insurgents but by a North Vietnamese conventional invasion that exploited the American Congress' cut off of American military aid below levels needed to sustain the South Vietnamese armed forces.

But more to my point, what's with the notion that you have to understand the enemy culture to win?

Did America understand North African culture to (basically) win the Tripolitan War?

Did America understand Mexican culture to win the Mexican War?

Did America understand Spanish culture to win the Spanish-American War?

I could go on all the way to the 21st century, but let me just ask, did we understand Japanese culture to win the Pacific campaign in World War II?

I honestly don't think we had a clue about any of that. Heck, I don't think the Union had any more clue about the Confederate culture in our own Civil War than the Confederates had about Union culture.

And one could go on around the world with other countries, not just America, having no clue about enemies they defeated, conquered, and/or colonized.

You win a war by defeating the enemy's ability to resist. And while understanding the culture can provide advantages or allow you to avoid disadvantage (this is helpful, but is it really about understanding the culture?), the basic issue is defeating the enemy combat capability.