When Body Armor Makes Sense and When It Absolutely Doesn’t

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Mon, Jul 7 - 9:00 am EST | 4 years ago by
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“NO DOUBT but ye are the People-your throne is above the King’s. Whoso speaks in your presence must say acceptable things…”
~ Rudyard Kipling, The Islanders

Lines of Departure - Body Armor

Nah.

Body armor; we cannot wear it and catch the enemy, too. We cannot insist on it, all day, every day, and have a prayer of winning.

That said, the question of giving up the body armor isn’t as clear cut as all that. There are arguments on both sides, some of which are not trivial. I’ll get to one of those in a bit.

First, though, some arguments are trivial. And ignorant. And brain-bustingly stupid. Let’s get one of those out of the way right now. Getting it out of the way won’t be made any easier by the fact that the preening, self-righteous ignorance pretends to moral superiority. The conversation goes something like this:

Preening Morally Superior Ignoramus: “How can you deny our fighting men and women the very best defense available? What kind of a moral monster are you? Don’t you have any feelings? Don’t you care? What about Britney? What about the children?”

Answer: “I care enough that I want them to win the war. I care enough that I want the enemy destroyed. I care enough to want to make sure that the enemy doesn’t get away to fight again and to have another shot at killing our people. I care enough that I don’t want the deaths we will inevitably suffer to be complete wastes. Ummm… what about Britney and the children? Britney who? Oh. No, I don’t care about her at all.”

Preening Morally Superior Ignoramus: “How can you deny our fighting men and women the very best defense available? What kind of a moral monster are you? Don’t you have any feelings? Don’t you care? What about Britney? What about the children?”

Answer: “My feelings are irrelevant. You are not paying me for my feelings, but to do my job. My job is to win the war or help to win it. As terrible as it is to lose anyone, it will happen. That is the nature of war. But every man or woman lost in a losing, pointless effort is even worse than a loss; it is a waste. Every man and woman lost to your ignorance about war is still worse, it is a self-inflicted waste.”

Preening Morally Superior Ignoramus: “How can you deny our fighting men and women the very best defense available? What kind of a moral monster are you? Don’t you have any feelings? Don’t you care? What about Britney? What about…”

You get the idea. Conversation and explanation? Useless. It would be no more difficult trying to explain to this kind of jackass – and he is legion – why we don’t have powered armor yet, a la Starship Troopers. It would be about as easy to try to explain why we can’t power that armor we don’t have with unicorn farts. Think I’m exaggerating? Well… maybe a little, but recall back to that occasion when Rumsfeld had to defend that the military didn’t have everything it needed in Iraq: “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”

Though I am not fan of Rummie – not even remotely – in this case he was right. You can’t predict everything. You can’t create production facilities for something new with the stamp of a foot. You can predict that if you tried to cover every possibility in advance, you would be charged, instead, with fraud, waste and abuse. The charges would probably arise from the very same people demanding perfection in war.

*****

Sorry, but perfection in war, far more than a foolish consistency in peace, is the hobgoblin of small mind. Loss is in the nature of war. You can reduce the tempo of it… maybe… sometimes. But the enemy gets a vote. You can improve the exchange ratio for it… maybe… sometimes. But the enemy gets a vote. You cannot eliminate the fact of it, because the enemy gets a vote.

If reducing the tempo means the war goes on so that even with the reduced tempo you lose more, and then lose the war, you have gained no obvious advantage. Unpredictability is also in the nature of war. The enemy doing things without consulting you to see if you’re ready for them is in the nature of war. Unfortunately, preening ignorance pretending to moral superiority also seems to have become a feature of war.

Though we’ve (by which I mean the military has) been making concessions to this kind of willful ignorance for decades, it’s a losing effort. Every concession merely sets a new bar for the demand for more concessions to aesthetics and ignorance. It should have been nipped in the bud long, long ago. One wonders why so few general officers or admirals have tried.

*****

There is a much more defensible argument for body armor, though it’s not defensible all the time, in all places, and for every kind of war.

During Korea, after the truce talks began, and when war weariness began to set in, the enemy’s prime route – really his only remaining route – to victory hinged on that rising war weariness on the part of the American people, for an unpopular and distant war, where there was no obvious or easily explained vital interest. His method to target that weakness was to inflict casualties on us. In that kind of situation, where we are not really interested in closing with and destroying the enemy, where there is little required tactical movement, and where preserving lives is not merely good in itself, but necessary to bringing the war to a sufficiently successful conclusion, well duh, of course body armor makes sense.

It also makes sense once you’ve fixed the enemy and know he stands ready to fight. It makes sense when you’re in fixed positions, a FOB (Forward Operating Base) say, where required movement is little, rest is available, water is plentiful, and you are peculiarly vulnerable because the enemy is fairly free to snipe and shell from the distance at a target, you, that doesn’t change much and moves hardly at all.

Where it doesn’t make sense is when we’re dealing with threats – VBIEDs, say1 – where the armor is useless, or when the men are out there, in the field, actively hunting for a tough, elusive enemy, who moves very lightly and very quickly on his feet.

We need to start using it only where it makes sense.

__________

1 Just picture it; when the smoke from a 500-pound VBIED (Very Big Improvised Explosive Device) clears, and his remains come back to Earth, PFC Schmidlap’s head is about a hundred meters to the east. His left arm is a similar distance south, his right arm – well, what can be identified of it – is somewhere off to the north. His feet and legs have disappeared entirely. But, by God, his armored vest held his torso together…

Tom Kratman is a retired infantry lieutenant colonel, recovering attorney, and science fiction and military fiction writer. His latest novel, The Rods and the Axe, is available from Amazon.com for $9.99 for the Kindle version, or $25 for the hardback. A political refugee and defector from the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, he makes his home in Blacksburg, Virginia. He holds the non-exclusive military and foreign affairs portfolio for EveryJoe. Tom’s books can be ordered through baen.com.

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