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Laser guided concrete – a conjecture about why the Iraqi army “melted away”

Funny how these things work out. Al-Qaeda sowed the wind, and the people of Iraq are now reaping � a crop! No 9/11, and there would never have been this. Not nearly so soon, anyway.

Looting? Well, according to our TV people it seems to be reasonably well targeted, maybe not exactly laser guided, but heavily concentrated on The Bastards rather than just inflicted on random innocent civilian shopkeepers. Good to see that the UN building in Baghdad has been included in the rampaging. And besides, I agree with Instapundit:

Some people think the looting is bad, but I think that a certain amount is good. It reinforces in people’s minds that Saddam is gone, and that he was unpopular.

I’ll say.

I like silly postings as well as sensible ones, because civilisation consists of harmless fun as well as profound goodnesses like those on TV today (provided you exclude our Chancellor Muhammed al-Brownaf spitting in the face of financial reality in the House of Commons). And a rich vein of silliness is Dave Barry’s Blog, which I heartily recommend, even if you just enjoy his fun writing and ignore all the fun links.

Links to individual items in Dave Barry’s Blog don’t seem to work, so you’ll either have to scroll down or else take my word for these stories.

There’s a nice losing the Drug War item. (Kermit with a joint.)

Mice with herpes isn’t so funny. Says Dave: “This is just what we need.” Although this story is really evidence of extreme human ingenuity in the face of the mouse menace.

And how about the escape of 80 million bees? This happened when a lorry full of them crashed, in Florida.

But what is this? “Another reason why we will definitely win.” That sounds like it could be serious, as well as funny of course. And it is.

Laser guided concrete:

The jets, normally based at RAF Marham in Norfolk, have already used high-tech weaponry such as the “bunker busting” cruise missile Storm Shadow, which cost £750,000 apiece and can pierce several feet of concrete.

But now the crews operating over Iraq from the Ali Al Salem airbase in northern Kuwait are about to go to the opposite extreme and use “inert bombs”.

These are basically blocks of concrete shaped as bombs and painted blue to identify them as non-explosive if they are discovered still intact after the war.

But they will be laser-guided 1,000lb blocks of concrete, capable of destroying a tank or artillery piece, but without causing a devastating explosion that would put civilians at risk and shatter surrounding buildings.

Tornado Detachment commander, Group Captain Simon Dobb, said: “We have the option of using these inert bombs.

“They still have the guidance and steering methods of other high explosive weapons but the risk of causing civilian casualties is greatly reduced.”

But I reckon these high tech lumps have had another very big pay-off during the last few days and weeks.

Suppose you are an Iraqi in a tank, during a “battle”, i.e. slaughter. You face death at any moment. You can’t hope to win the battle. So what the hell else can you do to stay alive? Answer: get out of your tank and “melt away” as fast as your legs can carry you.

I am only guessing about it, but my understanding of, for instance, World War 2 tank battles is that, dangerous as it was to be in a tank during a tank battle, it was even more dangerous to get out of your tank, because the air outside it was full of bullets, bangs and bits of metal wizzing about. Climbing out of a tank was stepping into a mincing machine. So you stayed put and hoped against hope.

But with these deadly accurate laser guided bombs, that rule changes. In Iraq a week ago, if you were an Iraqi soldier and you stayed in your tank or beside your big gun, you might as well have been wearing a T-shirt with a target on the front. But, if you climbed out of your tank or abandoned your big gun and run away, they might then lose interest in killing you. All the big bangs in this war have been concentrated exactly on your hardware, so, if you abandon your hardware, you may get to stay alive.

Reporters have been struck by how few busted Iraqi tanks have contained any dead Iraqis, and I have already joined the small chorus asking about where the dead Iraqi bodies are to be seen in our newspapers and on our screens, because despite everything there have to have been some.

But things like these concrete bombs suggest another explanation for the general absence of dead Iraqi soldiers. It wasn’t just that the Iraqis were uniquely unwilling to fight for the uniquely nasty Saddamite regime. There was also the fact that, for the first time in the history of conventional warfare, “melting away” actually worked as a way to stay alive. Faced with an enemy willing and unprecedentedly able to smash all your big weapons, but willing to leave you alone if you just got the hell out of there, which the Iraqis were facing if I understand Coalition tactics correctly, they actually could run away.

If this is correct, then this is just one more reason among hundreds to admire all the thought that has gone into the Coalition attack and its tactics, throughout the last few weeks but also throughout the previous year and more. I hope that, when the story emerges, we will discover that the Coalition wasn’t just trying to avoid killing Iraqi civilians, but that they were also trying to avoid killing Iraqi soldiers more than was absolutely necessary to protect their own activities. Certainly the public pronouncements of Rumsfeld and co. suggest this. “Go home, abandon your weapons”, etc. Well, that’s what seems to have happened.

There is also this. I am reluctant, speaking as an armchair sub-lieutenant, to call anyone a coward. God knows, I’d be brown underwear terrified if anyone ever stuck me in any battle, let alone anything like a tank battle.

Well, this explanation of the Iraqi army’s “collapse” � that they could run away � not only strikes me as adding another important little truth to the mix; it also has the good side effect of being more respectful towards the wretched Iraqi soldiers, who all have my profoundest sympathy, along with all the civilians that many of these soldiers were compelled to torment. It wasn’t that they were any more cowardly than the members of any other army that was hopelessly outgunned and out-commanded and out-everythinged. It wasn’t that they were any less willing to stand and fight than earlier generations of doomed soldiers. It was just that this time around, they had an alternative. Life outside of their tanks and away from their guns was systematically safer than life inside the tanks and attached to their guns, so they had a chance to stay alive by running away, and they took it. Smart them. In their situation I’d have tried to do exactly the same thing, assuming only that I had been smart enough to work it out.

Okay this is all guess-work on my part. Armchair and all that. But it makes sense to me.

I’ve now switched on the TV again, and I just saw the big Saddam statue in the centre of Baghdad coming down, amidst jubilation. Talk about winning hearts and minds.

(I want to do a whole separate posting here some time soon about what America learned from Vietnam, because boy did they learn.)

12 comments to Laser guided concrete – a conjecture about why the Iraqi army “melted away”

  • Well, I suppose it is just the logical extreme of being able to steadily increase your accuracy. The better you can do, the less powerful the explosive needs to be. Eventually you reach a point where it doesn’t have to explode at all.

    As for avoiding killing Iraqi soldiers, I think there is no doubt that the coalition troops have been trying to actively avoid doing it as much as possible. For one thing, most of the soldiers are simply poor bastards with the misfortune to be conscripted by Saddam Hussein – they are no more guilty of anything than the civilians. If you look at the propaganda leaflets the Americans dropped, the message is extremely clear. (Essentially, “don’t give us any reason to kill you, and we won’t”).

    And I agree that the cheering crowd throwing things at the statue and then jumping all over are is just tremendous. The Americans, British and Australians have got all the footage of being welcomed into Baghdad they could possibly want.

    Finally, I am noticing a split between feeling about the war between actual Iraqis in the west (who generally support it) and other Arabs in the west (who have opposed American action as just another example of whatever it is fuels their anti-Americanism). What happens to this division is now, obviously, hugely important.

  • Oops, I hit “post” instead of “preview” there. Maybe someone with god like powers could fix my HTML.

  • God

    Done! Feel free to e-mail us the link you intended to add as it sounds like it might be interesting

  • T. Hartin

    I don’t buy it. Armies have been engaged in “melting away” since the very first battle. The technical term is “desertion,” or perhaps “mutiny,” depending on the circumstances.

    Keep in mind that big chunks of the Iraqi army apparently melted away without ever being fired on, and that significant pieces of the Republican National Guard left the field after good old-fashioned B-52 “arc light” raids (swarms of 500 pound dumb bombs).

    Its not so much the accuracy of modern American weapons that leads to “melting away,” its the combination of overwhelming firepower (which accuracy enhances) and insufficient motivation to continue fighting (see Victor Davis Hanson’s Carnage and Culture for a discussion of this issue).

  • Lou Gots

    Very interesting. Perhaps having Classics professors at the service academies is doing more good than was even planed. Plutarch’s Spartan Institutions recounts that the Lycurgan constitution of Sparta contained battlefield directions–what we could call “rules of engagement.” One of these was that submissive enemies were to be allowed to depart in peace. Drop your sword, turn around, and walk home to mama, or keep coming and go blade to blade with the toughest soldiers in the world. Works. Also don’t forget that the Iraqis had no air, no transport, jammed commo–picture a football match between your top side and eleven retards in wheelchairs. Well done all around.

  • CB

    A bit of a different look at the looting from Scrappleface.

    “(2003-04-09) — The looting in Baghdad stopped suddenly today as Iraq’s largest organized crime family disappeared from the city.”

  • Ratbane

    As to the lack of bodies inside the tanks–it may well be that the soldiers inside fled, but there are other possibilities. According to a friend of mine who spent several years in the military, when a tank gets penetrated by a depleted uranium round the occupants are essentially turned into ashes. The DU rounds burst into flame when they penetrate steel and it burns with an intensity and heat that is truly hellish. It may well be that there were bodies there, you just couldn’t recognize them as such.

  • Can you loot a government office? Its really just claiming a tax rebate.

  • Jacob

    Remember that Iraqi platoon back in ’91 that was “outgunned” by an unarmed journalist to whom they surrendered ? I don’t think that journalist was equipped with precission ammo.
    Surely, the Iraqi soldiers, in melting away, showed they have much more sense than Saddam.

  • TomD

    I think of the quote from Admiral Yamaoto ( I have no idea if I spelled that correctly) after the attack on Pearl Harbor, “I fear that we have awakened a sleeping giant”. Yes indeed.

    Do you think, just maybe, that the Islamicists may be regretting the decision to go after us? We Americans have a saying, “bitten off more than you can chew”.

    These “people” have been at overt war with us since the Munich Olympic attacks. We have finally recognised it. They may beware and they know it.

    Thank God that providence has given us Blair and Bush at this time. Serious times require serious people. If the Islamic madness had been allowed to develope for a while longer, it would have been the end of us.

  • The site I meant to link to showing the propoganda leaflets that were dropped (in both English and Arabic) is here.