Morale: Arabs Love American Uniforms

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July 10, 2006: As if they didn't have enough problems, the Palestinians are now suffering from a case of the Sukhomlinov Effect. This is manifested by the growing tendency of Palestinian fighters to be more concerned with their appearance, than their fighting capabilities. In the case of the Palestinians, this revealed itself with a particularly interesting bit of fashion consciousness. Wearing combat uniforms similar (and sometimes identical) to those used by American troops, is all the rage. While Palestinians are officially mad at the United States, for supporting Israel and fighting in Iraq, the Palestinians have noted that the U.S. troops are near invincible in combat. The Palestinians not only get the TV images of American troops in action, but email from friends and kin in Iraq, who report, with a combination of fear, hatred and awe, the fighting skills of the Americans. Palestinians have long been supporters of Saddam Hussein, and support the Sunni Arab terrorists fighting the Iraqi government and American troops. Still, the Palestinians have been taken by the impressive performance of the American soldiers and marines, and feel that, if they look like these guys, they will some how perform better against the Israelis.
Military historians have long observed that the army most likely to win a war is the one with least attractive, or extravagant, uniforms. This is called the "Sukhomlinov Effect", in recognition of general Vladimir Sukhomlinov, who was the Russian minister of war in 1914, at the start of World War I. Sukhomlinov himself was a sight to behold, favoring uniforms generously adorned with gold braid embroidery and similar accessories. Alas, Sukhomlinov was a spectacular failure as a military leader. There are numerous historical examples to back up this thesis. For example, there are the many barbarian invasions, the Dutch War for Independence, the English Civil War, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, the American Civil War, World War I, the Russian Revolution, World War II, the several Arab-Israeli wars, the Vietnam War, and the 1980s Afghan War. All of these were lost by the side that had the snappier uniforms. There is more than coincidence going on here.
The Sukhomlinov Effect describes a common pattern that develops in armies during peacetime. Untroubled by an armed enemy, armies tend to concentrate more on style than substance. That means that sharp looking uniforms become more popular than developing better fighting skills. You can see the snappy uniforms, but not the fighting skills. Thus men who "look" like generals (tall, ruggedly handsome guys with broad shoulders and splendid posture), who wear the uniform well, are more likely to be promoted. A frumpy looking fellow, who has the awesome tactical skills, will go unnoticed, and unpromoted. This pattern tends to apply universally, with even sergeants being selected more for their bearing than for their battlefield abilities. It's often noted that, once a war begins, the peacetime leadership is often found wanting, and is quickly replaced with guys who can get the job done, even if they don't look so great.
Troops who are successful in combat often partake of what might be termed the "Mexican Bandit" look. This image derives from the ill-equipped, unkempt Mexico an irregular troops, some of whom were bandits (at least some of the time), who outfought the splendidly attired French in the 1860s and the neatly uniformed Federales in the Revolution which began in 1911, and outmaneuvered the comparatively well-turned out gringos under John J. Pershing, in 1916. During the Vietnam War, most US troops sported starched and pressed fatigue uniforms. The people at the numerous headquarters were particularly resplendent, with even their combat boots sporting a shine you could see your face in. Generals flitted about in helicopters featuring Simonize jobs any corporate limo would be proud of. In contrast, the Viet Cong and NVA wore dingy black pajamas. US troops actually in the field, particularly those who were better led, soon adopted attire less elegant than that of their commanders. The best US forces, those actually able to go out there and beat the Viet Cong at their own game, on their home ground, regularly partook of the "Mexican Bandit" look, and some extremely successful commando units even preferred the black pajamas. To a greater or lesser degree, in peacetime all armies try to look good, and one way to do this is by concentrating on appearances to the exclusion of many more important concerns. When war comes, it's the army which has been least corrupted by such peacetime pathologies which wins.
The Palestinians have constantly failed in combat because they have been unable to understand that it's what you do, and how well you do it, that counts, not how you look.

 


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