Thursday, 26 April 2018

Fighting On Foot

Because the Diomedeans fly, they are used to fighting in flight. Nicholas van Rijn shows them that foot soldiers can:

hold shields above them for defense against attack from above;

occupy and hold a town that the enemy had not thought to defend on foot.

Lateral thinking. Van Rijn says:

"'In Earth history, it took some peoples a long time to learn there is no victory in air power alone.'"
-Poul Anderson, The Man Who Counts IN Anderson, The Van Rijn Method (Riverdale, NY, 2009), pp. 337-515 AT XI, p. 418.

Who does he mean?

"Even after the complete failure of air power in Vietnam to pound one half of a tenth-rate power into submission, General McKnight remained a believer in its supremacy; but he was not such a fool as to do without ground support, knowing very well the elementary rule that territory must be occupied as well as devastated, or even the most decisive victory will come unstuck."
-James Blish, The Day After Judgement IN Blish, After Such Knowledge (London, 1991), pp. 427-522 AT 10, p. 495.

Thus, McKnight is both one of the "peoples" referred to by van Rijn and one who also recognizes that ground forces must at least support the Air Force.

Again, we have jumped from hard sf to dark fantasy. McKnight prepares to attack the demon fortress of Dis, now raised to Earth's surface in Death Valley after Armageddon. The Heavenly Host has been defeated but not yet the Strategic Air Command.


S.M. Stirling said...

This is a place where technological change may have upstaged the argument.

The great weakness of air power, and why it wasn't as decisive as its early advocates thought it would be, is lack of accuracy. Unguided bombs are lucky if they get within a thousand yards of the target even dropped from low altitude, and from high up you're lucky to hit a fairly large city.

Since the 1990's, accuracy has increased with projectiles that carry their own precision guidance, until now it's possible to hit small targets very reliably - even moving ones, and even when you're bombing from 35,000 feet at supersonic speeds.

(Artillery and bombardment rockets have likewise gotten vastly more accurate -- from a PER (Probable Error Radius) of over 300 yards to about 2.)

This increases effectiveness by whole orders of magnitude. Serbia had its infrastructure destroyed in the 1990's, and armies which try to fight straight-up in the open can be obliterated if the other side has air superiority and precision guidance. You can bomb very, very close to your own troops now, too.

You still need ground troops to "develop" the enemy's position, but that's about it. In Syria recently, for instance, we slaughtered about 100,000 ISIS fighters without much effort; the Kurds fighting for us advanced until ISIS tried to defend, then our special forces blipped the targets, and the bombs and missiles landed on their heads.

The only way around this is to hide very thoroughly, usually among civilians. But it's hard to fight effectively in the open if you're hiding all the time.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Stirling,

Iow, air power will often continue to be ineffective if the side with air power is unable to crushingly devastate enemy ground forces. Even as early as Anderson's "Outpost of Empire" we see the Imperials using tactical nukes with very short half lives to devastating effect on Merseia's catspaws on Freehold.


David Birr said...

An unfortunately aborted trilogy, The Salvation War by Stuart Slade, is about humanity fighting back when Yahweh declares that human faith in science offends Him and we must all just go to Hell. Humanity does go to Hell ... as an invasion force. And Heaven is the next target. The problem for demons and angels alike is that their technology is basically Bronze Age.

One scene shows a captured demon leader being told about our nuclear weapons, nerve gas, and things still more horrific:
"The destruction of Dis would take the lives of nearly every demon living there. It would leave no building standing, and in its wake there would be giant radioactive firestorms. After the fires died, there would be nothing of Dis left save craters; what was once a city would become a charred, radioactive wasteland. Nobody, human or demon, would live there for ten thousand years. We can do that, General. And we would be right to do that, after how your people have treated us in the past... A quick death in nuclear fire is the least that your race deserves... But I warn you, we can be pushed too far for that. This map ... is still not the worst we can do. General, if you really anger us, we will try and bring democracy to your country."

The horror ... the horror....

Note: The Roman Catholic Church responded to Yahweh's Message by declaring that He is an impostor, not the True God, and excommunicating Him — or rather, him.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, DAVID!

Alas, I've never known of Stuart Slade till now. But I will look him up. Your comments about THE SALVATION WAR makes me wonder if he was hostile to Judaism and Christianity.

And we do see mention of human armies being able to invade Hell in Poul Anderson's OPERATION CHAOS, but not of being able to conquer or destroy it. Nor will humans be able to prevent the Adversary from working on men by more subtle means.


Paul Shackley said...

Mr Stirling,
The Viet Cong went underground.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Actually, Tet '68 shattered the Viet Cong. The attempt of the NVA and Viet Cong to conquer South Vietnam was a crushing defeat for them. The Viet Cong was destroyed as any kind of effective political and military force. After that, it was openly and nakedly a war by the Hanoi regime to conquer the South. It was because of POLITICAL reasons in the US that made Tet '68 SEEM a defeat. One ex Major of the US 82nd Airborne whom I used to often converse with online said that in the immediate aftermath of the NVA's shattering defeat, a single US brigade could have advanced to Hanoi. Again, politics turned a victory into a defeat.

The Johnson Administration was paralyzed with fear that any truly actions to defeat the Hanoi regime would bring in either Red China or the USSR. I don't think so. First, because Mao was busy with lunacies like the Cultural Revolution. Second, the cold blooded realists on the Soviet Politburo would not go to war with the US merely because of North Vietnam.

And, of course Poul Anderson had the Vietnam War in mind when he was writing ENSIGN FLANDRY. And he more strategic insight and good sense than the Johnson Administration!


Sean M. Brooks said...

In the first sentence of the second paragraph of my second comment I meant to write "The Johnson Administration was paralyzed with fear that any truly DECISIVE actions..."