Maybe Ignorant

OK, today, Geoff Demarest made an idle comment on the Willy OAM site Russian Troops Tunnel Under UA Lines – CRITICAL Area Under THREAT – Ukraine War Map Update News ( Here is what he posted:

“Great job, again, Willy. Significant comment at the end. We too often talk about what little experience some army or other has. NATO countries don’t have that much experience in the kind of war being waged by the Russians, and we have not been doing all that well strategically in the experiences we have had lately. I hate going full-on boring pedant, but I suggest politely that for your part you maybe, kinda be a tad more economical in your use of “attritional war” as though that were a best-fit for this thing. We are the ones who seem to think attrition can be a core winning strategy. The classic strategists don’t suggest that as a winning way overall. Another commenter here suggested to me that any strategic pundit could outline attritional warfare doctrine to me. I don’t think they could. Iam not convinced there is such doctrine. Look again. Attrition is an activity, a way, a means, a thing to do, of course. Plenty of writers (Liddel Hart comes to mind) have railed against reliance or faith in attrition strategies (WWI, mostly), but a “doctrine” of “attrition war?” We might have an electronic warfare field manual or a special warfare manual. Do we have an attrition warfare manual. Is there a chapter I missed on a whole warfare? A ‘doctrine’ of attrition war would outline where, when, how and with what — as the winning leg. [Gosh, maybe you’re right. Maybe some clutch of Victoria Nulands planned this somewhere using one of their master’s theses] The Russians are busy weakening Ukrainian strength in all ways, sure, but the Russian battlefield strategy is one of aggregate tactics to take and hold ground. Their strategic objective is not to weaken the enemy (although of course that is an intermediate goal; in what war is it not?). Theirs is to take ground. Gliding our strategic conversation away from ‘attrition’ and back toward ‘battlefield maneuver’ would be consequential in that it might help us realize that we will not take ground in Russia as a counter. Even our getting lost Ukrainian ground back militarily looks to be costly in the extreme. NATO (or Ukraine, whatever) is slowly losing and is likely to lose more ground, slowly perhaps. But continuing to slowly lose ground in a war of maneuver (in part because of some notion about attrition) is not a wise long-term strategy, is it? What do attritionistas think is ultimately being attrited? Ukrainian resolve? Russian resolve? American attention-span? Ukrainian economic capacity? The Ukrainian army? European resolve? All that maybe yes, but what most importantly is being attrited, and we need to admit it sooner than later, is the size of Ukraine! The Russians are waging a multi-form war, a war by all means of struggle, a war that includes guerrilla actions (including inside NATO), economic actions, diplomatic actions, infrastructure and war capacity attrition, and battlefield maneuver. Our intoning ‘attrition’ all the time makes it seem as though if we just hang in there, the Ruskies will ultimately give up. Hear what Arthur Connan Doyle said of the Boer War. “The deepest instincts of the nation told it must fight and win, or forever abdicate its position in the world.” He was speaking of the British. We do not have a deep instinct about Ukraine. We don’t even have a shallow one. A Russian correspondent or novelist, on the other hand, could repeat Conan Doyle’s quote today with perfect apropos. By the way, we might label the Boer War one of attrition in that the British decided upon wearing the Boers out, including by capturing their families. Maneuver? The Boers could maneuver. The winners get to put the type-label on a war, and the British do not refer to the Boer War as a war of great British maneuver superiority. Maybe I’m wrong, but my bet is that the Russians will come up with something more glorious than a ‘war of attrition.'”

Geoff might be wrong about attrition war doctrine. Maybe there is such a thing. Much larger things have escaped his notice. If you know of something regarding attrition warfare doctrine, please inform. I think there is a book by a fellow named Carter, I think. Not sure if it counts as doctrine. Maybe.

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2 Responses to Maybe Ignorant

  1. Geoff Demarest says:

    Wow I swear I replied to this comment. I must be “going-Biden” or something. Anyhow, thanks for reminding me of Peters. Carter Malkasian wrote a history on attrition war, but it’s too pricey for me. I need to read it, will try ILL. I include attrition in Section 137, “Seven Strategy Strains” in On Multiform War, but short-shifted for sure. I’m not a fan of attrition or annihilation, but hey.

  2. George L. Humphries says:

    Ralph Peters wrote about attrition warfare 20 years ago, as GWOT (Global War On Terror) was cranking up. He basically says that attrition warfare is a dirty word in US military circles and should not be, merely a euphemistic and technical term for killing the enemy until it is dead tired of being killed, and cannot more generate forces and resources to resist. Of related interest, Peters suggests that a repeated myth comes to the fore after the loss of a war — the “Stab in the Back” thesis, that the losers didn´t really lose, but that they were betrayed. This has already been stood up in Ukraine and endlessly reinforced, by the current head of state no less, that the current Uke losses that are headed in the direction of a real loss are not the fault of the Ukes but of their extraterritorial suppliers. This will have long-range consequences, if any of us get out of this mess alive, that is.

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