Streetwise Professor

May 5, 2011

Some Instructional Reading for the Ignorant

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 8:44 pm

For all those who are bleating that SEALs should have taken an unarmed Osama prisoner, I recommend reading John Keegan’s The Face of Battle, that describes just how fraught and ambiguous the process of taking prisoners is during the heat of battle.  For many soldiers with the most basic survival instinct, the most sensible rule is don’t take prisoner anyone even capable of resistance, especially in a fluid situation.  Prisoners can cause trouble.  For instance, at the Battle of Atlanta, 22 July, 1864, Confederates from Govan’s Arkansas Brigade taken prisoner by the Iowa Brigade grabbed weapons and attacked the Iowans from the rear when the Federals were on the verge of being overwhelmed from the front and hence could not pay attention to their captives.  A guy that you thought you had subdued can do things that threaten your life, e.g., just interfering with your ability to return fire when somebody else attacks you unexpectedly.  That risk is particularly great in an enclosed space–like Osama’s compound, where you don’t know what lurks behind the next corner or in the closet or in the ceiling tiles.

And if you surrender, at best you are buying a lottery ticket, or taking a chance at Russian roulette, betting that a adrenaline-charged man that you were trying to kill a few seconds ago is in a charitable mood.  Keegan analyzes European battles between combatants for whom suicide attack was not a cultural norm.  The prisoner taking calculus takes an even more sinister turn when those you are fighting–such as the Japanese in WWII, or the jihadis today–do have such a cultural norm.

It’s not pretty, but that’s the way it is.  That is the face of battle, especially at close quarters.  Very few walk out of those situations with hands up.

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  1. None of us know exactly what happened during the operation but we do know and it was made very clear that Obama did not order Osama’s death. That decision was taken solely by the SEALS the spin goes. What an absolute act of cowardice for the commander in chief (small letters) to distance himself in that way from the soldiers conducting the operation of the century. The post operation white house chaos is worthy of a Three Stooges episode (capital letters).

    There is one and only one group I trust and respect that was a major player in this event and that is the SEALS. There were hostile survivors in the compound that were protected from harm by the Seals. If this had been a mirror image operation by Jihadists there would have been no protection and probable death of non threatening residents of the compound including all women and children.

    This is far more contrived than Dukakis’ riding in a tank with scarf flowing in the wind.

    Comment by pahoben — May 5, 2011 @ 10:16 pm

  2. Maybe he is alive after all, having a serious chat with serious people. The “no, yes, no” stance on photo release probably has something to do with Obama’s recent image release.

    Comment by So? — May 5, 2011 @ 11:57 pm

  3. Alive no but he is having a serious chat with St Peter.

    Comment by pahoben — May 6, 2011 @ 2:26 am

  4. A very close friend of mine was the assult commander in this operation.

    He told me there are two methods of assaulting a compound of men who may or may not be armed. The first is to enter each room and have a very quick look, killing any men of fighting age unless they are lying prone on the floor or in some other incapacitated position. The other is to throw a grenade in each room before you enter. The latter is used if the people inside are likely to be fanatics.

    The decision is made beforehand, so that the soldiers know exactly what to do and are not left to make silly decisions in the heat of the battle. Once the decision to assault the compound in this manner is made, everyone in the compound is condemned to die.

    Comment by Tim Newman — May 6, 2011 @ 3:58 am

  5. They should’ve stuck to one story. Raised a rifle, etc…

    Comment by So? — May 6, 2011 @ 6:34 am

  6. Re one story, my wife passed along this joke: “Obama ordered Osama killed, and *we* get the 72 versions.”

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — May 6, 2011 @ 1:18 pm

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