Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Just a quick moan

Because who doesn't love a good moan on a Tuesday evening am I right?

I followed a link on Twitter to a defence blog I haven't previously seen (Quill or Capture) and I just read this sentence in one of the articles; "His assumption that there is a trend for wars to be fought among the people and that urban operations are the ‘new normal’ seems to be largely accurate."

In this case "his" is relating to Ben Barry, the Senior Fellow for Land Warfare at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). And here comes my moan; when have wars not been fought among the people and when have urban operations not been the norm?

We like to make a big play about how in the first and second world wars strategic bombing brought the frontline to the people for the first time, but that completely ignores the fact that there are lots of graves filled with the victims of starvation and disease incurred during medieval sieges and the such like (and that's just for starters). Civilian populations have long been caught up amongst the raging fires of warfare. And urban centres have long been the target for military operations.

Stalingrad anyone? The Battle for Berlin? The fighting in Moscow at the greatest extent of the German penetration into Russia? The siege of Bastogne? The battle of Arnhem? And these are just the famous examples, the ones that stand out most in the history books. But during the course of the war in the east and the allied invasion of Italy and then France countless towns were fought over, won, lost, won again, lost again.

The English civil war, while perhaps more famous for some of its field battles and its end result, was basically a war of sieges. Far more people, military and civilian, were killed fighting over the possession of important towns than on the fields of Newbury, Marston Moor and Naseby. 

Urban operations have been the 'norm' for a very, very long time now. The technology in use has changed, as have the tactics, but the importance of urban areas hasn't. It just annoys me, the concept that somehow urban warfare is a 21st Century invention, along with counter insurgency wars no doubt. I'm sure someone, somewhere is right now writing a paper to present to congress about how the US army needs more of x and y shiny new kit in order to cope with this new "warfighting paradigm".

Rant over.


  1. I think the change is not that wars are being fought in residential neighbourhoods, but that wars are being fought in residential neighbourhoods and 'the west' expects to fight there without inconveniencing the locals.

    Stalingrad, Moscow and Berlin were all but levelled with huge numbers of civilians killed or made homeless.
    Now we won't throw a flash bang in a house for fear of damaging a rug and getting sued.

    1. Hello TrT,

      Then that would be a change in the rules of engagement or a change of how we approach such tasks, but it still means that urban operations have been going on for some time. Urban warfare is not new, it's simply a change in the acceptable level of civilian casualties.