The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

How to Win Wars

Posted on | December 29, 2014 | 258 Comments

Once, during Stonewall Jackson’s famous 1862 campaign in the Shenandoah Valley, some Union cavalry charged the rear guard of Jackson’s column and were nearly annihilated by a deadly volley of infantry fire. The officer who reported this action to Jackson was Col. John Mercer Patton (an ancestor of the famed WWII General George S. Patton). In conveying his report to Jackson, the colonel expressed “regret” at the enemy’s heavy losses. After he had finished hearing Patton’s report, Jackson asked him: “Colonel, why do you say you saw those Federal soldiers fall with regret?”

The colonel said he admired the courage and vigor the foe had shown, and felt a natural sympathy for such brave soldiers.

“No, shoot them all,” Jackson replied. “I do not wish them to be brave.”

That story, from R.L. Dabney’s famous biography of Jackson, came to mind today when I saw a story in the New York Times:

Maj. Gen. Michael K. Nagata, commander of American Special Operations forces in the Middle East, sought help this summer in solving an urgent problem for the American military: What makes the Islamic State so dangerous?
Trying to decipher this complex enemy — a hybrid terrorist organization and a conventional army — is such a conundrum that General Nagata assembled an unofficial brain trust outside the traditional realms of expertise within the Pentagon, State Department and intelligence agencies, in search of fresh ideas and inspiration. . . .
“We do not understand the movement, and until we do, we are not going to defeat it,” he said, according to the confidential minutes of a conference call he held with the experts. “We have not defeated the idea. We do not even understand the idea.” . . .
This month, Lisa Monaco, Mr. Obama’s counterterrorism and homeland security adviser, said the increasing effort by the Islamic State to branch out to countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon and Libya “is a huge area of concern.” About 1,000 foreign fighters flock to Iraq and Syria every month, American intelligence officials say, most to join arms with ISIS. . . .

Good! Let every jihadi son of a bitch on the planet join ISIS, so that we can give every one of them a one-way ticket to Hell.

It has never been the case that the United States lacked the weaponry or manpower necessary to destroy our enemies. The problem in regard to Islamic terrorism has been (a) locating the enemy, and (b) maintaining the political will to keep fighting the enemy until he is defeated. Whatever the number of bloodthirsty fanatics in the Islamic world, the number is not infinite. If we kill every one of them we find, eventually the enemy will run out of volunteers for martyrdom.

Do these generals not study our own history? The Union was in peril of losing the Civil War until Lincoln put U.S. Grant in charge, because Grant understood war in the same simple terms as Stonewall Jackson and every other great commander in history. There is no such thing as an enemy who cannot be defeated, if you have able leadership, adequate resources and a determination to keep fighting until the enemy is destroyed.

All of us remember that chart from our grade-school history book, where the resources of the Union and Confederacy were compared — population, industrial capacity, railroad mileage, etc. Yet none of the North’s advantages seemed to make much difference for the first couple of years of the war, as the South won a stunning series of victories in the Virginia theater that seemed to offset the Union’s victories in the West. Even after Grant took Vicksburg and the South suffered a bloody defeat at Gettysburg, Robert E. Lee was still able to detach one of his army corps, sending Longstreet to reinforce Bragg in Georgia to defeat Rosencrans at Chickamauga in September 1863.

Despite the North’s advantages, after more than two years of war it was still by no means certain that the South could be defeated, until Lincoln made the decision to put Grant in overall command — and that made all the difference in the world.  Grant appointed W.T. Sherman to take over in the West, where Confederate Gen. Joseph Johnston’s army in North Georgia defended the key city of Atlanta, while Grant himself went East to supervise the campaign against Lee’s army in Virginia. Grant and Sherman met at a hotel in Cincinatti to coordinate their strategy in March 1864, and Sherman later summarized the result of that meeting simply: “We finally settled on a plan. He was to go for Lee, and I was to go for Joe Johnston. That was his plan.”

Very simple, and yet from the moment that meeting ended, only 13 months elapsed before Lee surrendered at Appomattox.

Here we are, 150 years later, and our generals believe that the key to defeating ISIS is to “understand the idea” behind ISIS?

Let me suggest instead that we make ISIS understand our idea: We’re going to start killing those sons of bitches, and we will keep killing them until there aren’t any more sons of bitches left to kill.

Problem solved.



258 Responses to “How to Win Wars”

  1. robertstacymccain
    December 30th, 2014 @ 6:06 pm

    “It is not so easy to keep killing until they are all dead.”

    Yet U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam was made necessary by U.S. political affairs, particularly the pro-Communist campus protest movement which flew Vietcong flags and chanted slogans like, “Ho! Ho! Ho Chi Minh! NLF is gonna win!”

    In other words, treason at home led to U.S. defeat, and not anything Giap’s army did.

  2. Quartermaster
    December 30th, 2014 @ 6:34 pm

    You miss the point. The primary reason for the success of Patton and LeMay was their intelligence and flexibility. Neither lost their nerve in bad situations. In fighting 4GW, you must be flexible and willing to work with the resources you have on hand. The forces we have are adequate for the job, they simply have to be properly applied. Neither of those men would have any trouble make the necessary adjustments to succeed.

  3. samhall
    December 30th, 2014 @ 7:15 pm

    All the general has to do is to read the Qur’an.

  4. neshobanakni
    December 30th, 2014 @ 8:46 pm

    A foreign troll. “No really, the war against communism lost “you” Vietnam and Korea.” Not us – you.

  5. MichaelAdams
    December 30th, 2014 @ 9:00 pm

    I have heard quite a few WWII-era Japanese who would disagree with you.

  6. Matt_SE
    December 30th, 2014 @ 9:03 pm

    And thus do the progressives win.

  7. Donald Sensing
    December 30th, 2014 @ 9:05 pm

    all true, and also exactly the point Giap was making.

  8. Matt_SE
    December 30th, 2014 @ 9:06 pm

    If the enemy is hidden, then the way to win is by utter annihilation. Every living thing within an area.
    But the American public (or at least half of them) have no stomach for this because they don’t understand the nature of warfare. They think victory can be gained with ridiculous rules of engagement in place.
    How is even 4GW supposed to be conducted against us if we turn the battlefield into a wasteland?

  9. Fail Burton
    December 30th, 2014 @ 9:25 pm

    You’d kill 5 million to get at 10,000?

  10. Fail Burton
    December 30th, 2014 @ 9:37 pm

    I agree; even the Romans understood this. In the present day West Bank for example there was only a nominal presence of actual Roman citizens. Rome ruled by keeping an aristocracy/bureaucracy intact that would work with them while always keeping the threat of violent force in play, but using it as little as possible.

    The East India Company had a majority indigenous army. The same worked in Japan. We leveled two cities but even with that the occupation would never have occurred without engaging a local bureaucracy the Japanese people were willing to listen to whose decisions they would accept. We occupied Japan with minimal trouble and a minimal force.

    This is what should’ve happened in Iraq. Chop off the head with force and appoint new leaders we can work with who would in turn deal with their own populace in a way that populace would accept.
    It didn’t have to be a Jeffersonian democracy but merely some representative parliament system that would make unilateral saber-rattling in the region by a single dictator difficult. We ended up trying to use a tactical military solution to a political problem. That is self-evident because we had already won the tactical confrontation.

  11. Fail Burton
    December 30th, 2014 @ 9:40 pm

    There were no Islamists in Iraq in the first place. Now there are. That’s what happens when you disenfranchise people. The most radical among them suddenly seem not so crazy.

  12. Fail Burton
    December 30th, 2014 @ 9:43 pm

    Yes we tactically smeared them, but with an empty political goal in the first place, there was only one ending in store. At some point a country has to rule itself, and that means the strong. We cannot permanently be that strong.

  13. theoldsargesays
    December 30th, 2014 @ 11:49 pm

    Read your history.
    Here- Victory in Tripoli by Joshua E. London pages 23-24.

    “Take, for example, the 1786 meeting in London of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja, the Tripolitan ambassador to Britain. As American ambassadors to France and Britain respectively, Jefferson and Adams met with Ambassador Adja to negotiate a peace treaty and protect the United States from the threat of Barbary piracy.

    These future United States presidents questioned the ambassador as to why his government was so hostile to the new American republic even though America had done nothing to provoke any such animosity. Ambassador Adja answered them, as they reported to the Continental Congress, “that it was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as Prisoners, and that every Musselman who should be slain in Battle was sure to go to Paradise.”

  14. theoldsargesays
    December 31st, 2014 @ 12:01 am

    I gave him proof of your statement above but doubt it will make a dent in his ideology.
    Next hell be giving us “Hands up, Don’t Shoot” because……Conservatives!!!!!

  15. theoldsargesays
    December 31st, 2014 @ 12:23 am

    Actually yes. Islamists hate Western culture because of things like Hooters, Rap Music, the way women dress in public, lack of subjugation of women……
    They do not want their societies fouled by the decadence that has affected the West .
    While on some of their points I can see their point, our love of personal liberties prevents (in most cases) the stifling of these things, while in their societies they will get a person stoned or caned or worse.

  16. theoldsargesays
    December 31st, 2014 @ 12:31 am

    The French hate McDonald’s?
    But what about their Royale with cheese?

  17. theoldsargesays
    December 31st, 2014 @ 12:47 am

    Sounds like prime targeting opportunities for our Warthogs.

  18. theoldsargesays
    December 31st, 2014 @ 1:05 am

    Jeez Louise!
    You’re right man, the Army is so screwed.

  19. Rich_Rostrom
    December 31st, 2014 @ 4:10 am

    This is stupid. There are tens of millions of potential jihadis. Maybe a hundred thousand are actually in arms at any time. Killing a quarter of those may look impressive, but it makes a very tiny dent in the overall problem. We killed a huge number of Communist troops in Vietnam, but we didn’t win that war because we didn’t understand what the battlespace was or how the Communist leaders thought.

    General Nagata understands something RSM doesn’t. Unlike the Civil War, the enemy in this war doesn’t fight the way we do, isn’t organized the way we are, and doesn’t see the world in the same terms we do.

    By comparison, the Civil War was easy. The Confederates had an army led by ex-U.S. Army officers, a government almost exactly like the United States, and really had only one significant disagreement with the Yankees about anything. (But that one disagreement seemed a matter of life and death to them.) The terms of the war were implicitly agreed to by both sides before it even started.

    The enemy in this war attacks civilian targets by preference, has no fixed organization to be destroyed, and has a radically different value system. Note that many jihadist attacks are by individuals or small groups with no direct contacts with other violent jihadis.

    Trying to suppress this menace by conventional military force is like trying to eliminate weeds from a lawn with a power mower.

  20. Fail Burton
    December 31st, 2014 @ 4:45 am

    The problem is that potential is in widely separated areas and ranges from outfight violence to hate speech. Sure, somehow unite them and the numbers look impressive, but they are not united and will not be.

    Generally speaking Islamic gov’ts range from benevolent supremacy like Egypt, Turkey and Malaysia to outright hostility like Iran. Others have pent up problem groups like Afghanistan, the Sudan, Pakistan and Yemen. Few if any of the almost 50 Muslim majority nations have an across the board tolerance for non-Muslims. That gives a clear insight into what will occur when Muslims are imported into a non-Muslim majority: the more there are the more trouble they’ll cause. Whatever the flavor, Islam is a supremacist ideology that does not play well with others.

  21. Matt_SE
    December 31st, 2014 @ 4:47 am

    If that’s what it takes to win, then yes.
    I figure that war makes bastards of us all to begin with: there is no moral war…or, at least not any time recently.
    If we’re going to be bastards, we might as well get the win.

    PS. As horrible as that sounds, that’s exactly why Assad will win in Syria: because he’s willing to do what’s necessary. Even killing large numbers of civilians to get the jihadis.
    In his case, the Alawites (his people) think they’ll be wiped out if they lose to the Sunni jihadis. I agree: they will be.
    This isn’t a game for him, he thinks he’s fighting for existence, so he’ll do whatever is required.

  22. Fail Burton
    December 31st, 2014 @ 4:50 am

    You are assuming a thing not in evidence: that they would succeed in any type of warfare. They were trained in mass concentration warfare and there is no assumption their personalities would’ve easily fit in with the frustrations of a hit and run enemy. That requires more political savvy than tactical, since it is guerilla against gov’t rather than open warfare between two gov’ts. Patton was a man who pretty clearly lacked restraint in politics.

  23. Quartermaster
    December 31st, 2014 @ 7:14 am

    I’m assuming nothing. I am going on what I know about the men and their personalities. Both would have been frustrated by the micro-managers we have had as Presidents since. LeMay turned out to be right in Vietnam, and was canned for it by McNamara, who was proven to be an idiot in comparison.

  24. Quartermaster
    December 31st, 2014 @ 7:24 am

    It’s one thing to kill civilians incidental to destroying a military target. It’s quite another to intentionally target civilians. Lee’s move to Gettysburg was a good one. Had he listened to Longstreet and slid to the east to threaten Baltimore, Philadelphia and DC, and dug into receive Meade, the outcome could have been quite different.

    Sherman and Sheridan won the war, but they created hatreds that haunt the country to this day.

  25. Quartermaster
    December 31st, 2014 @ 7:27 am

    Fail, you miss the point. The Moros were the same sort of bunch as ISIS.

  26. Quartermaster
    December 31st, 2014 @ 7:27 am

    Not as good as a turn bolt Mauser, however.

  27. Quartermaster
    December 31st, 2014 @ 7:28 am

    That requires warriors.

  28. buddy larsen
    December 31st, 2014 @ 7:29 am

    hey, trang –long time no see –what’s going on, i’m still trying to figure that out, same as always, alas! How you? Eldest daughter and hub and kids are over your way for a post-Christmas trip –they just HAD to see the high desert in the wintertime. I tried to tell ’em but they are young and foolhardy.

  29. Dana
    December 31st, 2014 @ 7:37 am

    Let’s be brutally honest here: civilians are military targets! Our enemies certainly think so, carrying the war to civilian targets, but we thought so, too, in WW2. What is a child but a future soldier? What is a woman but the incubator for the next generation of soldiers? The ones who aren’t actually fighting are still working in the munitions factories, or growing the food to feed the armies in the field.

    You think that we didn’t know that? We firebombed Tokyo and Yokohama and Dresden, and killed a lot of soldiers who hadn’t been born yet or weren’t old enough to carry a gun.

    And General Lee should never have accepted battle on such unfavorable terms; he could have moved around Gettysburg and chosen better ground.

  30. Quartermaster
    December 31st, 2014 @ 7:43 am

    Civvies really aren’t military targets. The industries they man are and civvie deaths under the circumstances are not avoidable. In his autobiography, LeMay told of visiting Japan after the war and finding drill presses and other machine tools in the ruins of residential areas. The Japs were still “putting out” work from the plants.

  31. Quartermaster
    December 31st, 2014 @ 7:53 am

    I’ve heard just the opposite. LeMay’s point, however, is unassailable. The prime reason we dropped the nukes was to make a statement to Stalin. The second was to show we had or could make more. It had the effect of scaring Stalin to death.

  32. trangbang68
    December 31st, 2014 @ 8:22 am

    I haven’t been seen on PJ media for awhile. I think I made a disparaging remark about the saintly light in the loafer crowd. Oh well
    We’re on a sabbatical from Arizona for a while in the midwest. trying to do some good.
    Hoping for sanity to return to our land this year I don’t know about the chances of that but hope springs eternal.
    Have a blessed New Year my friend..

  33. Dana
    December 31st, 2014 @ 10:26 am

    Mr Master, you are lying to yourself: the man who runs the lathe is just as important a part of the chain of production as the lathe. If the lathe survives, but the operator doesn’t, the time it takes to find and train a replacement is down time, and a military goal, just as much as destroying the lathe is.

    That’s the difference between WWII and modern war: we are so fornicating concerned about the deaths of innocent civilians that, had we conducted WWII under today’s rules of engagement, our government in Berlin wouldn’t be allowing us to discuss this at all.

  34. Donald Sensing
    December 31st, 2014 @ 11:15 am

    Which was Giap’s point, I think.

  35. Quartermaster
    December 31st, 2014 @ 11:34 am

    We’ll have to agree to disagree on specifically targeting civilians. I’m not worried about civilian deaths, as bad as that is, when they can’t be avoided. WW2 was a good example of this when we were bombing industrial plants. What the RAF’s Bomber Command did, however, was simply butchery and were meant as terroristic acts, although they studiously denied it. The Germans had a legit complaint on that. Dresden, for example, had no military purpose and is a stain on the 8th AF and AAF in addition to Bomber Command. The protests of military necessity are simply lies.

  36. JeffS
    December 31st, 2014 @ 11:37 am

    That’s a concept brought into vogue about the same time the United Nations was created. And a stupid one. As evidence, take note of the wars America has won since WWII.

  37. JeffS
    December 31st, 2014 @ 11:38 am

    SausageMaker is back under a new nom de blog. And as stupid as before.

    December 31st, 2014 @ 11:38 am


  39. JeffS
    December 31st, 2014 @ 11:56 am

    No, it requires soldiers. Or Marines. “Warriors” is a pretty word, referring to personal bravery, but ignoring the fact that, historically, warriors come from the ranks of barbarians. And warriors are all about themselves, and their victories.

    A “warrior” can be good in battle, one-on-one, but suck as a member of a formed unit. Lone wolves we do not need in uniform, thankyouverymuch.

    The US Army started using “warrior” as part of their recruiting campaign, since being a “warrior” is sexier than being a soldier. I loathed it then, and I loathe it now. As a reservist and Guardsman, I still remember the phrase “weekend warrior”. Do you?

    We need SOLDIERS, dammit. Trained, brave, capable SOLDIERS, fighting as UNIT. Or Marines, who are soldiers in their own way. Just don’t call them a soldier to their face. Or run if you do.

    You want warriors? Go look at a street gang. THOSE are warriors. Right down to the barbarian mindset.

  40. JeffS
    December 31st, 2014 @ 11:59 am

    Yup. That’s why the Springfield ’03 was developed. And the Remington 1917, in an odd fashion.

  41. General Maxwell Smart
    December 31st, 2014 @ 1:49 pm

    “no reason to invade Iraq or Afghanistan”? Iraq can be argued but Af was as open-and-shut a case as there ever was.

  42. Gunga
    December 31st, 2014 @ 1:54 pm

    Isn’t the bottom line that we are utterly DOOMED!? Our military leaders are talking like therapists for crying out loud. If that helps you feel safe when you turn out the lights, you clearly do not reside in the US.

  43. RRG’s 75th Annual Lefty Awards | Regular Right Guy
    December 31st, 2014 @ 2:06 pm

    […] How to Win Wars […]

  44. dlr
    December 31st, 2014 @ 4:47 pm

    Yes, Western Governments (like France, Australia, etc), shouldn’t be trying to put roadblocks in the way of volunteer jihadists trying to make their way to the Middle East. The equivalent of their CIA should be buying them tickets, and speeding them on their way. And that goes triple for Israel.

  45. richard40
    December 31st, 2014 @ 6:15 pm

    A lot of sound military literature does talk about the importance of understanding the enemy. But it is generally done in the context of finding ways to defeat them in battle and kill them more efficiently. But we dont need this “find out the root causes” stuff, other than to discover where the enemy may want to attack next. That kind of empathy for the enemy may be OK for diplomats in a peace negociation, but for the warmaker the only reason to understand an enemy is to more redily discover their vulnerabilities and intentions, so you can better kill them.

  46. richard40
    December 31st, 2014 @ 6:19 pm

    Considering that the berlin wall fell, the USSR disintegrated, and Eastern Europe was freed, I would say we ultimately did pretty well in the war against communism, once we got rid of the leftist dem traitors and put Reagan in charge.

  47. Quartermaster
    December 31st, 2014 @ 6:39 pm

    I know where you are coming from, but a soldier is still a warrior.

  48. Ivan Ewan
    December 31st, 2014 @ 10:50 pm

    No, it is very important to understand IS and what motivates them.

    What’s the point of winning the war abroad if you’re losing it at home?

  49. Fail Burton
    January 1st, 2015 @ 9:46 am

    I’m pretty sure ISIS isn’t invading America.

  50. Fail Burton
    January 1st, 2015 @ 9:47 am

    Yeah, more than a decade of rancid failure sure proved that.