Open Letter to Americans

Dr. Tony Kern, Lt. Col., USAF (Ret)
Former Director of Military History, USAF Academy


This was written by my academic advisor at the Academy. He was not only one of the most
brilliant men I've ever met, but also an individual who combined that brilliance with
common sense to lead others.

His words are the ones that haven't been heard yet but I believe will come to be true
before we have the chance to recover from this initial tragedy.

From: Dr. Tony Kern, Lt. Col., USAF (Ret)

Recently, I was asked to look at the recent events through the lens of military history. I have joined the cast of thousands who have written an "open letter to Americans."

Dear friends and fellow Americans 14 September 2001

Like everyone else in this great country, I am reeling from last week's attack on our
sovereignty. But unlike some, I am not reeling from surprise. As a career soldier and a
student and teacher of military history, I have a different perspective and I think you should
hear it.

This war will be won or lost by the American citizens, not diplomats, politicians or soldiers.

Let me briefly explain.

In spite of what the media, and even our own government is telling us, this act was not
committed by a group of mentally deranged fanatics. To dismiss them as such would be
among the gravest of mistakes. This attack was committed by a ferocious, intelligent and
dedicated adversary.

Don't take this the wrong way. I don't admire these men and I deplore their tactics, but I
respect their capabilities. The many parallels that have been made with the Japanese
attack on Pearl Harbor are apropos. Not only because it was a brilliant sneak attack against a complacent America, but also because we may well be pulling our new adversaries out of caves 30 years after we think this war is over, just like my father's generation had to do with the formidable Japanese in the years following WW II.

These men hate the United States with all of their being, and we must not underestimate the
power of their moral commitment.

Napoleon, perhaps the world's greatest combination of soldier and statesman, stated
"the moral is to the physical as three is to one." Patton thought the Frenchman
underestimated its importance and said moral conviction was five times more important in
battle than physical strength. Our enemies are willing - better said anxious -- to give their
lives for their cause.

How committed are we America? And for how long?

In addition to demonstrating great moral conviction, the recent attack demonstrated a
mastery of some of the basic fundamentals of warfare taught to most military officers
worldwide, namely simplicity, security and surprise. When I first heard rumors that some of
these men may have been trained at our own Air War College, it made perfect sense to
me. This was not a random act of violence, and we can expect the same sort of military
competence to be displayed in the battle to come.

This war will escalate, with a good portion of it happening right here in the good ol' US of A.

These men will not go easily into the night. They do not fear us.

We must not fear them.

In spite of our overwhelming conventional strength as the world's only "superpower" (a truly
silly term), we are the underdog in this fight. As you listen to the carefully scripted rhetoric
designed to prepare us for the march for war, please realize that America is not equipped
or seriously trained for the battle ahead. To be certain, our soldiers are much better than
the enemy, and we have some excellent "counter-terrorist" organizations, but they are
mostly trained for hostage rescues, airfield seizures, or the occasional "body snatch," (which
may come in handy).

We will be fighting a war of annihilation, because if their early efforts are any indication, our
enemy is ready and willing to die to the last man. Eradicating the enemy will be costly and
time consuming. They have already deployed their forces in as many as 20 countries, and
are likely living the lives of everyday citizens.

Simply put, our soldiers will be tasked with a search and destroy mission on multiple foreign
landscapes, and the public must be patient and supportive until the strategy and tactics can
be worked out.

For the most part, our military is still in the process of redefining itself and presided over by
men and women who grew up with - and were promoted because they excelled in - Cold
War doctrine, strategy and tactics.

This will not be linear warfare, there will be no clear "centers of gravity" to strike with high
technology weapons. Our vast technological edge will certainly be helpful, but it will not
be decisive. Perhaps the perfect metaphor for the coming battle was introduced by the
terrorists themselves aboard the hijacked aircraft -- this will be a knife fight, and it will be
won or lost by the ingenuity and will of citizens and soldiers, not by software or smart bombs.
We must also be patient with our military leaders.

Unlike Americans who are eager to put this messy time behind us, our adversaries have
time on their side, and they will use it. They plan to fight a battle of attrition, hoping to drag
the battle out until the American public loses its will to fight. This might be difficult to believe
in this euphoric time of flag waving and patriotism, but it is, generally acknowledged that
America lacks the stomach for a long fight.

We need only look as far back as Vietnam, when North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen
Giap, (also a military history teacher) defeated the United States of America without ever
winning a major tactical battle. American soldiers who marched to war cheered on by flag
waving Americans in 1965 were reviled and spat upon less than three years later when they
returned.

Although we hope that Osama Bin Laden is no Giap, he is certain to understand
and employ the concept. We can expect not only large doses of pain like the recent
attacks, but also less audacious "sand in the gears" tactics, ranging from livestock
infestations to attacks at water supplies and power distribution facilities.

These attacks are designed to hit us in our "comfort zone" forcing the average American to
"pay more and play less" and eventually eroding our resolve. But it can only work if we let
it. It is clear to me that the will of the American citizenry -- you and I - is the center of gravity
the enemy has targeted. It will be the fulcrum upon which victory or defeat will turn. He
believes us to be soft, impatient, and self-centered. He may be right, but if so, we must
change. The Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz, (the most often quoted and least read
military theorist in history), says that there is a "remarkable trinity of war" that is composed of
(1) the will of the people, (2) the political leadership of the government, and (3) the
chance and probability that plays out on the field of battle, in that order. Every American
citizen was in the crosshairs of last Tuesday's attack, not just those that were unfortunate
enough to be in the World Trade Center or Pentagon. The will of the American people will
decide this war. If we are to win, it will be because we have what it takes to persevere
through a few more hits, learn from our mistakes, improvise, and adapt. If we can do that,
we will eventually prevail.

Everyone I've talked to in the past few days has shared a common frustration, saying in one
form or another "I just wish I could do something!" You are already doing it. Just keep faith
in America, and continue to support your President and military, and the outcome is certain.


If we fail to do so, the outcome is equally certain.

God Bless America

Dr. Tony Kern, Lt. Col., USAF (Ret)
Former Director of Military History, USAF Academy

**********************************************************

Please forward this to everyone you know. I hope you agree that the message is very clear
and must be understood by every citizen of this country. Make copies and pass along to as
many as you can.

God Bless America

 

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