Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Fog of War

By most accounts, war is not like you imagine.

One of the more interesting books on the subject that I've read is Randall Collins' "Violence: A Micro-sociological Theory". His basic thesis is that, contrary to popular perception, violence is difficult to do. Generally, people don't like it, are reluctant to do it, and when they do are generally very ineffective.

One of the claims in the book is that in war situations, guns are very inefffective per bullet fired. For muskets, the estimates were about one hit per 500-3000 shots fired. In the Franco-Prussian War, hit rates were about 1 in 119 and 1 in 200 for the two sides. In World War 1 it was a little better, getting up to one hit per 27 rounds fired, but that probably has as much to do with how far away the targets were. In Vietnam, most estimates are of the order of one hit per 50,000 rounds fired (!!!).

Don't believe me? Watch this fascinating helmet-camera view of a firefight in Afghanistan. In particular, pay attention to the following questions:

-Can you see where you're being fired at from?

-Can you tell who's firing at any point (admittedly we don't get directional audio like you do in real life, but when machine guns are firing next to your ear, do you think you could tell where a shot 200m away was coming from)?

-Can you tell whether the dust is coming from the bullets you fired, or the shots being fired at you?

-How many shots appear precisely aimed at a particular target?

-How much incentive do you have to to keep your head up above the wall to get a clear look at what's going on?

-If you hit someone, would you even know?

This isn't to knock the US military - they're almost certainly amongst the most effective armies in the world. The point is that it must be damn-near impossible to kill someone at this distance in this kind of situation with this kind of weapon. Except, basically, by chance and the law of large numbers.

It also goes a part of the way to explaining why you want
a) RPGs instead of rifles, and more importantly
b) Airstrikes.

If you can't see what the hell is going on, wide area-of-attack weapons are a much better bet.

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