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Total War at the 38th Parallel


The two Koreas have been posturing for each other for over 50 years. It seems a hopey-naïve view to think they’ve been doing it just for the theatrics.

Isegoria posts:

Marching, shoulder to shoulder, into machine-gun fire is the height of folly. No amount of élan or “heart” is going to overwhelm entrenched machine-guns. To modern Americans, even marching at a line of enemy soldiers armed with muskets seems downright insane.

But soldiers did it, right behind the officers who led them. Napoleon, who knew a thing or two about warfare, declared that the moral is to the physical as three to one — it’s not the size of the dog in fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog. Why would he say that?

Because it’s true — largely — just not for marching into modern automatic weapons or massed rifle fire. Throughout most of history, posturing — convincing yourself and your enemy that you’re bigger, meaner, and scarier — has been far more important than physical fighting ability:

It is widely known that most killing happens after the battle, in the pursuit phase (Clausewitz and Ardant du Picq both commented on this), and this is apparently due to two factors.

First, the pursuer doesn’t have to look in his victim’s eyes, and it appears to be much easier to deny an opponent’s humanity if you can stab or shoot them in the back and don’t have to look into their eyes when you kill them.

Second (and probably much more importantly), in the midbrain, during a pursuit, the opponent has changed from a fellow male engaged in a primitive, simplistic, ritualistic, head-to-head, territorial or mating battle to prey who must to be pursued, pulled down, and killed. Anyone who has ever worked with dogs understands this process: you are generally safe if you face a dog down, and you should always back away from a dog (or almost any animal) in a threatening situation because if you turn around and run you are in great danger of being viciously attacked. The same is true of soldiers in combat.

Thus one key to the battle is simply to get the enemy to run. The battlefield is truly psychological in nature, and in this realm the individual who puffs himself up the biggest, or makes the loudest noise, is most likely to win. The actual battle is, from one perspective, a process of posturing until one side or another turns and runs, and then the real killing begins. Thus posturing is critical to warfare, and victory can he achieved through superior posturing.

In a sense, the world—and much, much more so, the Korean peoples—have been fortunate that the big powers have managed to keep them apart for so long. Long enough for one side, at least, to achieve wonderful prosperity.

But keeping them apart also means their unsettled business has been building pressure for decades. And time and politics have given given both sides the resources and technology for Total War, 21st-Century style.

Winter Soldier observes and speculates (all-lowercase appears to be his custom):

wars fought since world war ii have not really given us insight into the rate of attrition and lethality of modern weapons, because those wars which have featured modern weapons, such as the arab israeli tank & air battles, and the engagements fought by the u.s. in viet nam have been characterized by tremendous reticence to unleash the full power of weapons and resources by those who held the strategic and tactical advantage.

if the north and south koreans go to war, there will be no such reluctance to display and use the full panoply of modern weapons, and their destructive force and tremendous lethality.  this war will feature something that we have not truly seen since the all out battle of world war ii, and that will be too military forces who want fervently to kill their adversaries, and who willing sustain the casualties to their own troops in order to inflict such killing.

in short, what we will see, is pitched infantry battle between two very skillful and heavily armed forces that are going to join in sustained close combat, fully supported by armor and artillery forces, fighting a pitched battle over time.  we will also see the fully integrated horizontal and vertical battlefield, with air conflict between fighters and air support of ground troops, and all kinds of anti-aircraft systems in use.

and, we have never seen such battle involving the weaponry both sides have at their disposal.  never.

should this war occur, and should it expand to include urban centers and attacks upon civilian populations and industrial centers, as i would fully expect, we shall have a very good run up on armageddon, indeed.  i really don't think that we have any comprehension of how fast the body count is going to mass.  it will be dizzying.



thanks for the link & excerpt.

i have linked your post at wintersoldier2008, as well as the post at "isegoria," as both are interesting.

again, many thanks.

john jay

You’re welcome, and thanks to you, too.