Desert Storm saw three firefights involving more than 3,000 armored fighting vehicles in a span of just 100 hours. That massive, intense, compressed event surpasses anything from World War II and there has never been anything remotely comparable since. (Yes, there were more tanks at Kursk, but the combat was spread over months. There was no single battle in the Kursk campaign that comes close.)
A couple of films have tried to convey the feel of what happened — the rapid decisions, heroism and mistakes. My favorite is probably “Courage Under Fire, ” the Meg Ryan and Denzel Washington flick from 1996. However, it’s difficult to convey the emotional intensity of night action in which it is impossible to identify friend and enemy and firing comes from all directions. The US and Japanese navies fought one such action off Guadalcanal in 1942. And then there’s this tank battle. It’s a nightmare scenario that commanders generally try to avoid.
National Geographic has published a very good article on this action. I grew up with this magazine; my grandmother loved it. However, it’s content seems to have changed dramatically in the last couple of years. It now covers topics that used to appear in major magazines that no longer exist, and it does so with an eloquence and style that is largely missing from all things Internet.
A lesson for us all from this: When humans (or computers programmed by humans) are called to make instant life-or-death decisions, there will be mistakes. Innocent people will die. It’s quite important that political leaders understand this. If we want to reduce the frequency of mistakes, we need to reduce the frequency with which these decisions arise.
If you have any interest in history or the human side of conflict, please read.