You are here

Saracens and Sailing Ships


Armies are often accused of preparing for the last war. It means they train and equip guided by the lessons of recent combat instead of first looking to the future. The next war is often quite different, due to advances in technology, differences in geography or the character of the enemy.

There were many casualties in Iraqi Freedom because the U.S. was using equipment and tactics designed to fight the Soviet Union in northern Europe. Staying at war for a long time allowed those mistakes to be corrected.

In a strategic (instead of tactical) sense, we may still be fighting the last war. If one subscribes to some version of a global war on terror (or a global Salafi jihad, to put the proper Islamic face on the terrorists), we might be wise to look back several wars for strategic insight:

Due to the geographical extent of the conflict and the extremely limited amount of information involved, the ongoing war between the Islamic jihad and the nations of the West is strategically more akin to naval war taking place in the Age of Sail or the Age of Steam than any ground war from any period in history.

The idea is nicely developed in the comments thread.

The jihadis are compared to the French navy in Napoleonic times. The English navy would have wiped them out in regular battle. So Napoleon kept his ships in well-defended harbors. Those harbors were spread around the French coast, and if part of the French fleet decided to venture out, they could cause major damage before the English could find them and sink them.

The English, then, were forced to build more ships and keep enough deployed around all the French harbors to prevent the French from leaving port. It was a huge drain on English resources. This allowed Napoleon to put his resources toward winning on the ground, at times and places of his choosing.

The French navy never sought battle, but still helped France achieve her strategic objectives.

The current parallel has the jihadis as the French navy. The jihadi fighting capacity has safe harbors in the civilian populations in the Arab world, across South Asia, and in several U.S. cities. They do not need to attack. We’re using enormous resources screening airports, government buildings and sporting events at home. We’re using enormous resources to maintain control over very small foreign populations in several theaters of war.

As bin Laden observed, they must keep it it until the Western public tires of war. And our strategy is to give him the long war he sought.

The better response, if the lessons from the Age of Sail are applied, is to evict the enemy from their safe harbors in our own territory. Currently it is as if the French navy was freely allowed to dock in English ports. No place is safe, and we cannot guard everywhere all at once. As a first step, stop allowing immigration. Make it difficult for the enemy to attack our home territory and then disappear into protective immigrant enclaves.

Keep in mind that the immigrants need not ever actually attack. What matters is how we spend our resources defending against the possibility of such. And how that exhausts our will to keep fighting.

The writer who posed the idea, Vox Day, would like to see our attempts to control foreign populations stop. He would pull out of South Asia and North Africa and concentrate on defending U.S. and Western borders with military zeal.

He wants to draw a bright line with the good guys inside and the jihadis outside. It would be something like the English pulling away from encircling France and instead encircling England. Since the French—or the jihadist—ultimate goal was to gain control of the enemy’s homeland, this would force them to attack more like convetional invaders than guerilla marauders. It would play into our strengths.

And flying wouldn’t be such a pain. At least domestically and between any nation who subscribed to a similar strategy.

Whether this is all politically possible is a different question. The first battle is still being fought in our culture over public opinion. There are still too many who do not see the global Salafi jihad. And too many who might see it but are afraid of offending the gods of diversity and losing their standing among left-leaning friends.