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Everyone makes missteaks

Last week, a great deal of the world was abuzz when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated that in Iraq, the United States had made "thousands of tactical mistakes." She later retracted the statement, and I think that's a shame. I think it was a moment of candor, of honesty, and of integrity, so naturally it drove the moonbats nuts.

Mistakes happen. They are unavoidable. They are inevitable. I once read a little piece of doggerel that described what is considered the most intellectual game: "In chess the winner is he who makes/ the very next to last mistake."

And that is even more true in war. I once read O'Toole's Commentary on Murphy's Law ("Anything that can go wrong will go wrong"), and it said simply: "Murphy was an optimist." O'Toole must have been career military.

Another truism among the military is that "no plan survives first contact with the enemy." One simply can't account for everything that can happen once the bullets start flying, and only a fool tries to.

I'm a bit of a World War II buff, and I've always had a particular fascination for the Battle of Midway. In that battle, the United States made tons of tactical mistakes -- some quite serious, that cost a lot of Americans their lives. Scout planes repeatedly missed finding the Japanese fleet. Once they were found, the scouts misreported the fleet's location and heading. The planned coordinated attacks fell apart when the American squadrons of torpedo bombers, dive bombers, and fighters lost track of each other. Some missed the enemy completely, and had to return to their own carriers. Whole squadrons of torpedo bombers were slaughtered in utterly futile attacks when they arrived at the Japanese fleet alone and went in anyway. And after the battle, we allowed a Japanese submarine to sneak in and sink the carrier Yorktown and the destroyer Hammann, then escape unscathed.

Nonetheless, the Battle of Midway was a decisive victory for the United States. At the price of the Yorktown and the Hammann and a little over 300 killed sailors, we cost the Japanese four of the six carriers that had attacked Pearl Harbor, a heavy cruiser, and over 3,000 dead. Further, we destroyed a huge number of their best carrier pilots, a blow from which the Imperial Japanese Navy never recovered. June 4-6, 1942, was the decisive turning point. Earlier, at the Coral Sea, we confronted them and fought them to a draw. Later, at Guadalcanal, we won our first offensive victory. But it was at Midway that our ultimate victory was assured.

And we won not despite all our mistakes, but arguably because of them. Because our battle plan was flexible enough to recognize that mistakes will be made, and allowed for reacting and adapting to them.

Much like in Iraq. Dr. Rice is correct -- we made thousands of tactical mistakes. But we learned from them, adapted, and moved forward. Need a little supporting evidence? Let me call on a former guest poster from here at Wizbang, Rob Port, to give one indicator.

It's a shame Dr. Rice had to retract her statement. It was an important point, and those people who are demanding a full accounting for every single error are gravely misguided. They are demanding perfection, and that is an unattainable goal -- and any plan that demands perfection is doomed to tragic failure. Back to my earlier example, that was the hallmark of Imperial Japan's battle plans -- and history shows how well they worked.


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Comments (13)

I think we're better at min... (Below threshold)

I think we're better at minimizing mistakes than we used to be. I remember reading about guys training for D-Day with live fire and artillery. The notes of a commander said something like "34 simulated dead, 23 actual" meaning, they screwed up with artillery in training and shelled the infantry!

There are other breathtaking incidents, like AAA gunners accidentally shooting down our own paratrooper planes. Imagine if CNN had been covering that then.

A personal fav of mine from... (Below threshold)
Tony Goodhew:

A personal fav of mine from when I was in the army was the purported 'Murphy's law of infantry combat':

"Every battle occurs at night, uphill, in the rain and at the corner of four maps"

At times it certainly felt like that.

Hmmm.Mine was:... (Below threshold)


Mine was:

If you don't like mud or sand in your underwear, don't join the Marines.

Much like in Iraq. Dr. R... (Below threshold)

Much like in Iraq. Dr. Rice is correct -- we made thousands of tactical mistakes. But we learned from them, adapted, and moved forward. Need a little supporting evidence? Let me call on a former guest poster from here at Wizbang, Rob Port, to give one indicator.

The problem is not the tactical mistakes, it is the strategic ones, and the fact that those who made the strategic mistakes still have jobs.

It's a shame Dr. Rice had to retract her statement. It was an important point, and those people who are demanding a full accounting for every single error are gravely misguided.

No one wants a full accounting of every error, just recognition of the big errors, the strategic errors, and maybe actually firing the people responsible for the collossal blunders.

As far as Rob's contention that a) the media haven't covered the drop in US casualties in Iraq and b) that drop shows we're "winning", they're both bullshit. The press have covered it, mostly in the context of the precipitous rise in attacks on Iraqi civilians

There were at least 29 U.S. military deaths in March, according to a count of fatalities announced by the military. That would represent the smallest monthly death toll since 20 in February 2004, the lowest of the three-year war.

U.S. officers in Iraq said several factors have contributed to the decline, including that insurgents are now directing their attacks toward civilians and U.S.-trained Iraqi government security forces who are assuming more security responsibilities previously handled by U.S. and allied forces.

Defense analysts said the recent decline in U.S. deaths is not evidence of an overall improving security environment.

"It still does not fundamentally alter the deteriorating security situation in the country, given the rise in sectarian violence," said Ted Carpenter of the Cato Institute think tank.


But recent weeks have also been among the most lethal of the war for Iraqi civilians, police officers and soldiers, who were killed and wounded at a rate of about 75 a day, a rate three times as high as at the start of 2004. The U.S. military's count of Iraqi civilian casualties is likely far lower than the actual total, because many attacks go unreported.

The numbers reflect a pair of trends grown sharper in recent months, military commanders and analysts say: the insurgency and sectarian militias focusing attacks toward "softer" Iraqi targets, and a move by U.S. forces to cede ever more terrain and initiative to their Iraqi counterparts.

If we're winning, the Iraqis are losing.

"They are demanding perfect... (Below threshold)

"They are demanding perfection"

Ummm...no. Just truth, competence and accountability.

None of the above has been given. Well, except accountability. Finally, that monster Andy Card is gone. Kudos to Bush.

I'm glad you brought up the... (Below threshold)

I'm glad you brought up the Battle of Midway, because I think it's instructive to apply some of the same "logic" to that battle (and WWII in general) that the left applies to our war in Iraq. Consider especially the case of Torpedo Squadron 8 off the USS Hornet, which is at once an example of tragedy and valour. The aircrews from Torpedo 8 were flying the Douglas TBD, a slow, ungainly, underarmed, obsolete aircraft.

(Why didn't our boys have better aircraft??? Sec. of the Navy Knox should be fired! Roosevelt should be impeached!)

Every one of the aircraft was shot down. Only one man, Ens. George Gay, survived.

(What a tragedy! Those aircraft didn't have adequate armor plating! And how many of those poor boys would have been in the Navy to begin with if it hadn't been for the fact that the terrible Roosevelt economy left them no other option but to fall prey to unscrupulous recruiters???)

Torpedo Squadrons 3 and 6 from the Yorktown and Enterprise also lost the majority of their aircraft. Ironically, the torpedoes were defective; the few that hit their targets failed to explode. One Japanese survivor from the Japanese carrier Kaga actually used the remains of one as an impromptu life preserver when his ship was sunk later by Navy dive bombers. Problems with torpedoes continued to plague the Navy until late 1943.

(Criminal negligence!)

The sacrifices of the torpedo squadrons were not in vain; their unflinching attacks drew the Japanese fighter cover down to sea level, paving the way for devastating blows delivered by the bomber squadrons from Yorktown and Enterprise (Bombing 8 from Hornet never found their targets). Midway provided the first clear-cut victory for the US in the Pacific theatre and gave the Navy and the country a much-needed boost of confidence after the losses at Pearl Harbor, the Phillipines, and Wake Island.

(Pearl Harbor? You mean the place that Roosevelt SHOULD HAVE KNOWN was going to be attacked? High crimes and misdemeanors! Impeachment! Over two thousand Americans killed and HE KNEW it was going to happen!)

Better aircraft such as the TBF Avenger would be delivered to the fleet starting in 1943, giving the Navy a qualitative as well as a quantitative edge over the Japanese. By late 1944, the Japanese were so outclassed in the air that they resorted to the infamous kamikaze attacks on our ships that killed thousands of American sailors and Marines.

(Roosevelt should have seen that coming! It should have been obvious to him that the Japanese would resort to suicide attacks! Admirals King, Nimitz, Halsey and Spruance should have resigned!)

The kamikaze attacks as well as the tiny numbers of Japanese captured during island fighting convinced American planners that the Japanese, fanatical in defense, would not surrender except in the face of overwhelming force. US planners predicted that hundreds of thousands of American and Allied soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines would have died taking the Japanese islands. Roosevelt and later President Truman decided, in an attempt to spare those lives, to drop the A-bombs on Japan.

(They killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians! The Japanese would have surrendered eventually without us using the Bomb! Truman made no effort to work with the Russians to negotiate a peace treaty. HE MISLED US INTO DROPPING THE BOMBS! HE IS A WAR CRIMINAL!!!)

Well said, docj. G... (Below threshold)

Well said, docj.

Go to Strategy Page today, http://www.strategypage.com/qnd/iraq/articles/20060402.aspx, and see some interesting assessments - we're on the threshold of having destroyed al Quaida militarily, and the whole Iranian-Syrian backed insurgency is now militarily incapable of winning. The ONLY way they can win now, the only way they could EVER have won, is/was for the US to lose moral courage.

Andy Card, monster? Oh, yeah, THAT really tracks...

That wasn't very nice of Co... (Below threshold)

That wasn't very nice of Condi to place the blame just on the military.

Gen Zinni, selling a book, was on MTP 4/2/06.


GEN. ZINNI: I think so. I think we are paying the price for the lack of credible planning, or the lack of a plan. We're throwing away 10 years worth of planning, in effect, for underestimating the situation we were going to get into, for not adhering to the advice that was being given to us by others, and, I think, getting distracted from Afghanistan and the war on terrorism that we were committed to when we took on this adventure.

MR. RUSSERT: I want to bring you back to a book you co-wrote with Tom Clancy called "Battle Ready." And you wrote this: "In the lead-up to the Iraq war and its later conduct, I saw, at a minimum, true dereliction, negligence, and irresponsibility; at worst, lying, incompetence, and corruption." That's very serious.

MR. RUSSERT: Should someone resign?

GEN. ZINNI: Absolutely.


GEN. ZINNI: Secretary of defense, to begin with.

MR. RUSSERT: Anyone else?

GEN. ZINNI: Well, I think that, that we--that those that have been responsible for the planning, for overriding all the, the efforts that were made in planning before that, that those that stood by and allowed this to happen, that didn't speak out. And there are appropriate ways within the system you can speak out, at congressional hearings and otherwise. I think they have to be held accountable.

Can we all please finally accept as fact the failure of the policy in Iraq. It doesn't have to be Red vs. Blue...just competence vs. incompetence.

Go to the head of the class... (Below threshold)

Go to the head of the class, docjim!

docjim, go back and take yo... (Below threshold)

docjim, go back and take your history classes on WW II again. Perhaps you might then learn that the Iraq war and WW II had only one similarity and that is that soldiers are commited to the same activity, namely to kill the enemy and some will die trying to do this. After this the comparison stops. The Bush administration pulls this comparison when they run out of other excuses why this war goes bad.

wfk,If you think t... (Below threshold)


If you think this war is going bad, you must be a throw back to Vietnam. The only people who are praying for defeat are people like you and the terrorists. You need a MAJOR attitude adjustment and also need to read a bit more about history (you are obviously a product of the American skrewl system). Instead of listening to the MSM and the rest Defeato-crats in Congress like Kennedy, Kerry, Murtha, Pelosi, etc., why don't you use the miracle that is the Internet and read some blogs of people who are actually there in Iraq and not sitting on their fat asses in Washington playing armchair quarterback (like that disgrace to the USMC Zinni). It's called making an informed opinion, something that liberals are loathe to do nowadays.

As for tactical/strategic mistakes in World War II, here's another one for you. When the Allies invaded Sicily in July 1943, they neglected to invade Calabria at the same time. This enabled the Germans to withdrawal their troops from Sicily and live to fight another day. A nice amphibious landing at Reggio Calabria or over at Sibari would have shut the door on the Germans and probably hastened the end of the war. Sooooo, if we are going to start yelling about impeachment for military blunders, let's dig up Roosevelt's grave and put him on trial for incompentence.

why don't you use the mi... (Below threshold)

why don't you use the miracle that is the Internet and read some blogs of people who are actually there in Iraq and not sitting on their fat asses in Washington playing armchair quarterback

Like this one, and this one, and this one, and this one?

wfk,Are my facts i... (Below threshold)


Are my facts incorrect?

But, you know, you're right: Iraq doesn't compare well to WWII. A better comparison would be the Civil War.

President Lincoln had to endure the same kind of criticism during the Civil War that Bush is taking now. Ironically, in both cases, it was democrats ("copperheads") leading the charge that the president was "incompetent" and had "shifted the rational for war":

1864 - He said it was a war to maintain the Union, but it's become a war to free the Negro!

2004 - He said it was a war to find WMD, but it's become a war to try to bring democracy to Iraq!

Lincoln's utter incompetence is easy to demonstrate. Consider the butcher's bills from places like Sharpsburg, Gettysburg, and Chickamauga.(1) The yankees sometimes lost more men in A DAY than we've lost in Iraq in three years. It took the yankee armies nearly FOUR YEARS to capture Richmond, only one hundred miles from DC. Of course, the yankees might have captured the Confederate capital faster if they hadn't diverted so many troops to fight in the sideshow of the west, but due to Lincoln's incompetence they left Jeff Davis and the CSA government alone while thousands of yankee soldiers died thousands of miles away in Louisiana, Mississippi, and west Tennessee.

Another measure of Lincoln's incompetence can be seen from his generals. His best general, Grant, was (and still is, for that matter) widely believed to have been a drunk. He was also widely reviled as a butcher who would send his men off to be slaughtered by the thousands in frontal assaults. I wonder what the media today would make of THIS statement by Lincoln:

"I can't spare this man -- he fights."

Cindy Sheehan lost her son in Iraq. Lincoln believed that Mrs. Lydia Bixby had lost FIVE of her sons on the battlefields of the Civil War.(2) Sadly, there were MANY mothers like Mrs. Bixby during the war who lost their husbands and sons. What did they die for? Was the Civil War a war that really HAD to be fought? Was it REALLY worth hundreds of thousands of dead and crippled Americans just to keep the Union intact... or to end slavery? Many yankees during the war asked these very questions. There were riots in the north (most famously in NYC in July, 1863) because poor immigrants weren't willing to be drafted to fight and die to end slavery. They also resented the fact that rich men could pay to hire a substitute to fight for them. Lincoln certainly made sure that his rich friends - and their children - didn't have to fight his war even while they got richer on war contracts.

Aside from his incompetence, Lincoln was also a war criminal. Witness the horrible conditions of yankee prison camps. The most infamous was Elmira in upstate New York. Thousands of Confederate prisoners were herded into a forty-acre camp, where nearly a quarter of them died from hunger, disease and neglect. A total of nearly 25000 CSA soldiers DIED in yankee prison camps (to my knowledge, none was made to wear panties on his head). The surgeon at Elmira was heard to boast that he'd killed more "rebs" (shouldn't we call them insurgents or freedom fighters?) than any yankee soldier. Lincoln was directly responsible for this barbarity.

The yankees had to occupy the South for eleven years after the war. Those years were marked by organized terrorism against "carpetbaggers" and blacks that continued on for well over a century (and continues today, depending on who you ask). Lincoln should have realized that this would happen. It was completely unreasonable to expect Southerners, with no history AT ALL of racial tolerance, to suddenly accept millions of freemen in their midst. Insurgent groups like the KKK made it clear that there would NEVER be such acceptance.

It would have been far better to have left the South "contained" and let slavery die on its own. Yes, the country would have been fragmented, but let's face it: the US was an artificial construction left over from the War for Independence. Southerners had a VERY different culture than the yankees, who themselves were rather different than the westerners. It would have been far better and less costly to let the people of each region determine their own destiny than to try to cobble them together by force.

Natch, I don't believe a single word of all this, though I am a proud Southerner. But it's interesting (or sickening) to see how the hysterical claims of the modern left could easily be used to smear one of the greatest Americans who every lived.

(1) Sharpsburg, Sept. 17, 1862. Total KIA (est): 7640

Gettysburg, July 1 - 3, 1863. Total KIA (est): 6600

Chickamauga, Sept. 18 - 20, 1863. Total KIA (est): 3900

Note that these figures do not include missing or wounded, and cannot account for those men left permanently crippled because medical science then was not as good as it is now.

(2) "I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle." Abraham Lincoln, Washington, to Lydia Bixby, Boston, Nov. 21, 1864.






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