Military historian writes book in response to Iraq war

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

After his book, "Omaha Beach: A Flawed Victory," was published in early 2001, University of North Texas military historian Adrian Lewis planned to write another book on the American military during World War II - the amphibious operations before D-Day. He had gathered enough material to fill a file cabinet.

That changed after spring 2002, after U.S. troops in Afghanistan and a native insurgent group called the Northern Alliance failed to capture Osama bin Laden. U.S. attacks specifically targeted al- Qaeda camps and strongholds in an effort to kill bin Laden, but he survived the onslaught and continues to release sporadic messages on audio and video tape.

By relying on the Northern Alliance instead of using significant ground forces to capture bin Laden, other al-Qaeda terrorists and members of the Taliban regime, the Bush administration avoided traditional ground war operations, but allowed thousands of terrorists to escape into Pakistan, said Lewis, a former infantry officer and former instructor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

"I was so angry because we should have caught bin Laden," he said. "We trusted the Northern Alliance, but enemy forces were able to escape because the Northern Alliance was poorly trained, employed insufficient forces and lacked the will to stop the enemy."

When the U.S. went to war in Iraq a year later, Lewis decided to put aside his planned World War II book and instead write a response to the war.

The result is "The American Culture of War: The History of the U.S. Military Force from World War II to Operation Iraqi Freedom," which was published this month.

In the book, Lewis examines every major American war since 1941 - World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf War as well as the current war in Iraq, which he calls an "unnecessary war." He discusses the motives that people and governments used to wage each war, the discord among military personnel, the flawed political policies that guided each military strategy and the civilian perceptions that characterized each conflict. Each chapter is structured to allow readers to draw parallels between the wars.

"You can't understand the way we fight war now without understanding what we did in the past," Lewis said. "We keep coming forward with the argument that we will use new technology, but we keep coming back to what has been done before because we don't believe in fighting wars in a genocidal manner."

He pointed out that a cruise missile can strike a targeted building with such precision that it will kill everyone in the building, including civilians.

"Only a person on the ground can make the discrimination between the enemy and an innocent civilian," he said. "Our air power was supposed to win the war in Iraq, but now we're fighting an infantry war as we did in Vietnam."

While the Persian Gulf War in 1991 was successful for the U.S., Lewis said that war happened at the end of the Cold War, when American forces were prepared to fight the Soviet Union - a more powerful enemy than Iraq.

"We actually had considerable overkill in Operation Desert Storm. We could have won with only half of the forces we had," he said, adding that the Iraqi Army deserved "considerable credit" for its defeat.

"It was one of the worst led, worst fought forces in the history of warfare," Lewis writes in "The American Culture of War."

After the Persian Gulf War, George W. Bush's administration continued deactivating military units considered to no longer be necessary with the end of the Cold War, with the 9th, 7th and 6th Infantry Divisions being dismantled. Lewis says these units, however, would have been the most useful in Afghanistan to capture bin Laden and in the current war in Iraq.

"The war in Iraq alone has stretched America's military power to the point where it can only respond to other threats with airpower and nuclear weapons," he says. "The Armed Forces were ill prepared to fight an insurgency war and carry out nation-building operations."

Except for the absence of a draft, he says, Americans "have seen these practices before:" unpreparedness for the war the U.S. was most likely to fight, overpreparedness for the war the Pentagon wanted to fight, overreliance on technology and airpower, insufficient ground forces, and underestimation of the enemy, among other factors.

"Many senior leaders in the Army and the Marine Corps would have fought a very different war - one with greater ground forces, logistical preparation and concern for winning the support of the Iraqi people," he says.

Lewis is currently writing another book titled "Vietnam and Iraq: Learning the Wrong Lessons of War." He notes that although Iraq is not Vietnam because Iraq has several factors that work for the U.S. military against the insurgents, the insurgents see the U.S. as occupiers of their country, just as the North Vietnamese did.

"The presence of U.S. forces creates a powerful reason to fight," he says.

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