A lesson in History.


Sponsoring Member
Mar 7, 2000
The letter below is lengthy, but is worth the read.
"Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country."
This is a message from:
Dr. Tony Kern,
Lt Col, USAF (Ret)
Former Director of Military History, USAF Academy.

Recently, I was asked to look at the recent events through the lens of military history. I have joined the cast of thousands
who have written an"open letter to Americans." Please share it if you feel so moved.

Dear friends and fellow Americans 14 September, 2001
Like everyone else in this great country, I am reeling from last week's
attack on our sovereignty. But unlike some, I am not reeling from surprise.
As a career soldier and a student and teacher of military history, I have a
different perspective and I think you should hear it. This war will be won
or lost by the American citizens, not diplomats, politicians or soldiers.
Let me briefly explain.
In spite of what the media, and even our own government is telling us, this
act was not committed by a group of mentally deranged fanatics. To dismiss
them as such would be among the gravest of mistakes.
This attack was committed by a ferocious, intelligent and dedicated
adversary. Don't take this the wrong way. I don't admire these men and I
deplore their tactics, but I respect their capabilities. The many parallels
that have been made with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor are apropos.
Not only because it was a brilliant sneak attack against a complacent
America, but also because we may well be pulling our new adversaries out of
caves 30 years after we think this war is over, just like my father's
generation had to do with the formidable Japanese in the years following WW II.

These men hate the United States with all of their
being, and we must not underestimate the power of their moral commitment.
Napoleon, perhaps the world's greatest combination of soldier and statesman,
stated "the moral is to the physical as three is to one." Patton thought
the Frenchman underestimated its importance and said moral
conviction was five times more important in battle than physical strength. Our
enemies are willing - better said anxious -- to give their lives for their cause.
How committed are we America? And for how long?
In addition to demonstrating great moral conviction, the recent attack
demonstrated a mastery of some of the basic fundamentals of warfare taught
to most military officers worldwide, namely simplicity, security and
surprise. When I first heard rumors that some of these
men may have been
trained at our own Air War College, it made perfect
sense to me. This was not a random act of violence, and we can expect the
same sort of military competence to be displayed in the battle to come. This
war will escalate, with a good portion of it happening right here in the
good ol' U.S. of A. These men will not go easily into the night. They do
not fear us. We must not fear them.
In spite of our overwhelming conventional strength as the world's only
"superpower" (a truly silly term), we are the underdog in this fight. As you
listen to the carefully scripted rhetoric designed to prepare us for the
march for war, please realize that America is not equipped or seriously
trained for the battle ahead. To be certain, our soldiers are much better
than the enemy, and we have some excellent "counter-terrorist"
organizations, but they are mostly trained for hostage rescues, airfield
seizures, or the occasional "body snatch," (which may come in handy). We
will be fighting a war of annihilation, because if their early efforts are
any indication, our enemy is ready and willing to die to the last man.
Eradicating the enemy will be costly and time consuming. They have already
deployed their forces in as many as 20 countries, and are likely living the
lives of everyday citizens. Simply put, our soldiers
will be tasked with a search and destroy mission on multiple foreign
landscapes, and the public must be patient and supportive until the
strategy and tactics can be worked out.
For the most part, our military is still in the process of redefining itself
and presided over by men and women who grew up with -
and were promoted
because they excelled in - Cold War doctrine, strategy and tactics. This
will not be linear warfare, there will be no clear "centers of gravity" to
strike with high technology weapons. Our vast technological edge will
certainly be helpful, but it will not be decisive.
Perhaps the perfect metaphor for the coming battle was introduced by the
terrorists themselves aboard the hijacked aircraft -- this will be a knife
fight, and it will be won or lost by the ingenuity and will of citizens and
soldiers, not by software or smart bombs. We must also be patient with
our military leaders.
Unlike Americans who are eager to put this messy time behind us, our
adversaries have time on their side, and they will use it. They plan to
fight a battle of attrition, hoping to drag the battle out until the
American public loses its will to fight. This might be difficult to
believe in this euphoric time of flag waving and patriotism, but it is
generally acknowledged that America lacks the stomach for a long fight. We
need only look as far back as Vietnam, when North Vietnamese General Vo
Nguyen Giap (also a military history teacher) defeated the United States of
America without ever winning a major tactical battle.
American soldiers who marched to war cheered on by flag waving Americans in
1965 were reviled and spat upon less than three years later when they
returned. Although we hope that Usama Bin Laden is no Giap, he is certain to
understand and employ the concept. We can expect not only large doses of pain
like the recent attacks, but! also less audacious "sand in the gears"
tactics, ranging from livestock infestations to attacks at water supplies
and power distribution facilities. These attacks are designed to hit us in
our "comfort zone" forcing the average American to "pay more and play
less" and eventually eroding our resolve. But it can only work if we let it.
It is clear to me that the will of the American
citizenry - you and I - is
the center of gravity the enemy has targeted. It will be the fulcrum upon
which victory or defeat will turn. He believes us to be soft, impatient, and
self-centered. He may be right, but if so, we must change. The Prussian
general Carl von Clausewitz, (the most often quoted and least read military
theorist in history), says that there is a "remarkable trinity of war" that
is composed of the (1) will of the people, (2) the political leadership of
the government, and (3) the chance and probability
that plays out on the field of battle, in that order. Every American citizen
was in the crosshairs
of last Tuesday's attack, not just those that were unfortunate enough to be
in the World Trade Center or Pentagon. The will of the American people will
decide this war. If we are to win, it will be because we have what it takes
to persevere through a few more hits, learn from our! mistakes, improvise,
and adapt. If we can do that, we will eventually prevail.
Everyone I've talked to In the past few days has shared a common
frustration, saying in one form or another "I just wish I could do
something!" You are already doing it. Just keep faith in America, and
continue to support your President and military, and
the outcome is certain.
If we fail to do so, the outcome is equally certain.
God Bless America
Dr. Tony Kern, Lt Col, USAF (Ret)
Former Director of Military History, USAF Academy