The book behind what has become the most vilified and ridiculed American slogan in recent history should be on everyone’s coffee table. In Shock & Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance, an arrestingly wretched set of briefs published in 1996, authors Harlan Ullman and James Wade—in association with the National Defense University—ripped off blitzkrieg and retitled it Rapid Dominance.
Since this ersatz Complete Idiot’s Guide to War has a great deal to do with the intriguing catastrophe that is Gulf War II, the press should also scrutinize it—with an eye more toward its risible substance than its fantastic plans.
It is not stretching to say Shock & Awe reads as if written either by flatulent egotists or writers for intellectual children. Tracts of it are devoted to dumbly obvious recapitulations of military history, dumbly obvious oversimplifications of conflict suitable for a college term paper, and the occasional parable from a historical figure, meant to lend a literary quality. Some tidbits, just from Shock & Awe‘s opening chapter:
• “Since the end of World War II, the military strength and capability of the United States have never been greater . . . ”
• “Shutting [Iraq] down would entail both the physical destruction of appropriate infrastructure and the shutdown and control of the flow of . . . information and associated commerce . . . ”
• “Rapid Dominance [read blitzkrieg] might conceivably achieve this objective in a matter of days (or perhaps hours) . . . ”
Inevitably, the authors refer to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, the equivalent of a soldier’s Magic 8 Ball, a book chock-full of self-evident aphorisms for every battle occasion:
• “Sun Tzu observed that disarming an adversary before battle was joined was the most effective outcome a commander could achieve.”
• “The ‘Sun Tzu’ example is based on selective, instant decapitation of military or societal targets. . . . ” Decapitation—sounds familiar, like something simple George W. Bush would like that doesn’t work.
• “The concubines merely laughed at Sun Tzu” until he cut the head off one of them. “The ladies still could not bring themselves to take the master’s orders seriously. So, Sun Tzu had the head cut off a second . . . [and] the ladies learned to march with the precision of a drill team.”
The decapitation cure-all, again.
It is difficult to know how seriously this tripe was taken by U.S. war planners. To be sure, not everyone wearing military dress can be a fan of it. And many of them also know that blitzkrieg was very often not rapid, but good at setting off long battles in which the enemy did not give up even though its cities, people, and treasure were pulverized with “overwhelming force.” If any of the critics got through to Don Rumsfeld, perhaps their heads were cut off.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 1, 2003