Saturday, January 20, 2007

A Good Blaster at Our Side

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"Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force."


- Darth Vader;
Star Wars (1977)

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Since the first reports emerged that China had successfully shot down a satellite in space, many words have been written about the vulnerability of American military power, given the perception that so much of the military power of the United States stems chiefly from defense satellites orbiting the planet. I read a very good take on this just the other day in The Australian, which given Australia’s proximity to China and North Korea, I find a good “first-person” resource when something happens in the Asia-Pacific region.

Basically, the arguments being made note the ability of the United States to conduct a war against a “big power” adversary like the People’s Republic of China would be severely hampered, if not totally wiped out, with a few well-targeted anti-satellite missile projectiles launched.

While I agree that the heavy reliance on space-age technology does make our ability to conduct warfare using such technology extremely vulnerable to enemy attack, I think that such assertions tend to ignore or at least tone down the historical fact that the Union was able to achieve victory over the Confederacy without defense satellites (but with observation balloons), and that the Allies – calling themselves the United Nations – were able to attain victory over Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, and their allies, with little more than radar...and, of course, the atomic bomb.

Despite its encroachment into our daily lives, basically dictating how we work, interact with others, and experience entertainment, advanced technology does not – as a general rule – in and of itself make American soldiers superb fighters. In fact, advanced technology doesn’t in and of itself assure the United States of an automatic victory over our enemies. For all of the F-16 jets, F-117 stealth bombers, and Abrams tanks, not to mention the various machine-guns and of course the satellites hovering above the Middle East, we still haven’t pacified Iraq.

The Vietcong successfully carried out attacks without the aid of satellites.

Satellites might help a Marine on the ground direct an F/A-18 to a bombing target, but they won’t stop a bullet. Body armor is better for that, and if you think about it that’s pretty basic, high-end but “low-tech” when compared with a “Star Wars” or other SDI program. Satellites cannot, at this time, provide a visible and immediate shield against a suicide bomber or IED – though they can probably help us track terrorists down.

Should there ever be a war with China – whether over Taiwan, due to unchecked Chinese military ambition, or even over North Korea – and China manages to shoot down some of our vacuum-based birds, the ability of military commanders to coordinate attacks or counter-attacks against the People’s Liberation Army will be hampered. Satellites, though, do not instill bravery in a soldier or sailor. A successful launch of a defense satellite does not trump the successful training of a quality grunt or skilled pilot.

Our near-total modern psychological reliance on “super-tech” causes us to question whether or not we can live without such things as computers, iPods, or HDTVs, leading us to forget that for most of modern history humanity has lived without such things and, for the most part, prospered.

Those who think we cannot effectively fight a war handicapped by satellite-killers are, unfortunately, technically correct. Unless we remember our history.

Washington and the Continental Army didn’t need satellites to hold out against the British in the Revolutionary War. Napoleon didn’t need satellites to coordinate invasions of Italy or Russia. Men charging out of landing boats onto the mine-riddled, machine-gunned, bloody beaches of Normandy, and men parachuting into enemy-held territory, helped break Hitler’s hold on Western Europe – not satellite reconnaissance and/or coordination (in fact, the D-Day invasion paratrooper drops were incredibly chaotic...but, ultimately, we won).

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"Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid."

- Han Solo; Star Wars (1977)


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Having reliable intelligence on the ground is just as important as having eyes in the sky, if not more so. Remembering that we won yesterday, without possessing the weapons of today, is just as vital as remembering that our ability to fight, our power as a Nation, the justness of our cause, and our sense of morality, do not derive from our inventions, innovations and developments in the field of military technology. Technology influences us, shapes our thinking, but it has not created us. We have created it.

While military satellites and other advanced technologies can help us achieve, secure and sustain it, victory in warfare ultimately comes to those who are flexible, brave, able to adapt, who think, who believe in victory the most, and believe in it the longest. And if we aren’t ready to beat our enemies without our satellites, well...we already know we aren’t totally able to beat our enemies with them either.

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"Good against remotes is one thing. Good against the living, that's something else."

- Han Solo; Star Wars (1977)

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1 comment:

Booted Cat said...

I recommend this short movie mocking Kim Jong Il and his secret agent buying Hennessy XO wine from Chinese black market :=)

http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=EE52D9ED01495685