That slogan of the U.S. Army — “an Army of one!” — has always set me to pondering. What do they mean? On the one hand, they extol teamwork; but on the other hand, the brass seem to want recruits to feel like individuals, cardinal numbers instead of merely ordinal numbers. It seems confused, to say the least.
But what if it were literally true? What if one man (or woman) could be the hyperpowered equivalent of an entire army back in the days of the so-called “greatest generation?” What if the United States had ten thousand “armies of one?” To explore this intriguing idea, do the obvious….
This may seem a diversion, but it actually drives into my point from an oblique angle.
Wretchard, over on Belmont Club, had an interesting post a while back.
Note: until the old Belmont Club site returns to active duty, the link above will not work.
Wretchard contemplated what it would take actually to carry out the mission we seem to have chosen for ourselves: to institute regime changes around the globe, casting out the most repulsive, venomous dictatorships, the ones that test the will of civilization, in favor of democracies that allow the people of those lands the greatest expression of individual liberty they have ever known. Wretchard noted the obvious: the United States is ill-equipped for what we would really need: a “Colonial Corps” specifically designed for long term occupation of hostile nations, rather like the British army of the nineteenth century.
We have always shied away from the imperial hubris of dedicating multiple armies to occupying other people’s countries; instead, we focus on the blitzkrieg, as in Iraq — the lightning strike, the disabling blow. We have an army of combat, not occupation. But if we plan to protect ourselves by civilizing the worst hellholes on the planet (probably a good idea), we’ll have to get over our squeamishness.
This Colonian Corps would not be entirely military; it would include administrators, engineers, diplomats, jurists, politicians — everything needed to tear down the repugnant elements of a terrorist state and build on the ashes the foundations of a modern democratic, liberal state. One presumes it would not be hamstrung by the rampant racism that infested the Raj and other European colonial institutions.
What it would be, however, is hideously expensive, requiring a tremendous amount of manpower and resources. It would, in fact, cost at least as much as our entire armed forces today; thus, most military analysts argue it would have to be created in place of our current military force. And for that reason, almost nobody supports the idea because of the danger to our republic.
As Wretchard notes, the British Army, so focused on supporting and enforcing colonialism, simply crumbled the first time they ran into a military force that was their equal: the Boers in South Africa, and later, the Germans and Austrio-Hungarians in World War One. Clearly, in today’s world, we dare not sacrifice our ability actually to fight for the strange and foreign idea of “colonialism.”
Although there is no military our equal, there are militaries at least in our ballpark — the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, for example, which is modern enough that its massive size would make war between them and us a dicey affair. Also, many countries have nuclear weapons and other WMDs; if we had only a Colonial Corps and suddenly found ourselves facing off against the PLA, we might be in as serious trouble as the Brits were in 1914.
So the question arises: is it possible for a military to be both a Colonial Corps and also a Blitzkrieg Batallion?
Conventional wisdom says no: it would require two entirely separate armed forces, one for colonial occupation, the other for warfighting against technologically sophisticated enemies… and no country could afford both at the same time.
And this is exactly where, by a commodious vicus of recirculation, the “army of one” trendline comes into play. Where is the empowerment of the individual American soldier headed? What is the omega? It is possible in theory that a single, “hyperpowered” soldier of the realistic future could defeat an entire army of today?
The theory has already been set forth. The scenario above should ring a very loud bell with those who have read Robert A. Heinlein’s novel Starship Troopers (1959). (It will not ring any bells with those who only watched the movie, which is as curious as the dog that did not bark.) Heinlein, writing long before the current trend towards more individually adept and technologically armed and armored soldiers, postulates the ultimate extension of the individualization of combat: the “mobile infantry,” or MI, where every man wears an armored “power suit” that gives him fantastic strength, mobility, and survivability, along with weapons that range all the way up to tactical nuclear weapons at the MI’s individual discretion to use.
But here in the real world, we’re edging closer to that astonishing, science fictional world every day. DARPA is indeed working on crude versions of a “power suit;” C³I piped from overhead AWACs funneled through battlefield simulators give our soldiers the vision of Superman and the ESP of Doctor Strange; and there are even programs to develop “smart ammunition” that can shoot over cover, around corners, and distinguish between friend and foe.
Imagine an army with just one of these soldiers a scant twenty years from now. Now imagine ten of them. Imagine ten thousand “armies of one.”
Ten thousand soldiers is not a lot. It’s a single division. And one extra division of Mobile Infantry would hardly break the bank, leaving plenty of money left over for the Colonial Corps. If we were to go this route, we would end up the first “empire” in the world that conquered only to liberate, colonized only to build independence, and yet still could shake the Earth with our thunderbolts.
With such a numerically small strike force, however, the biggest problem would be transportation: how to quickly move your lone MI division from wherever they happen to be to wherever they happen to be needed. The only possibility that would be fast enough would be a fleet of hypersonic transport vehicles — like the National Aerospace Plane (NASP), the “Orient Express” as Ronald Reagan called it, but much bigger. Suborbital hops could carry the MI into combat anywhere in the world in a mere hour or two of flight time. Logistics would have to evolve to the point where the entire MI division (if necessary) could be mobilized in a day or two… they would literally have to be packed and ready, “locked and loaded” at all times.
They would have to be professional Soldiers, career men (and possibly women) all. With such small numbers, it would be tedious and time-consuming to have to destroy entire enemy armies, as we did in the World War II-style wars (we fought WWII six times: in Kosovo, Bosnia, Desert Storm, Vietnam, Korea, and of course during WWII itself). Instead, the MI would focus on the terrifying demonstration: moving in so quickly and devastatingly, albeit in a small area, that tyrants and terrorists alike would walk in fear and lie sleepless at night.
I’m not sure of the international ramifications of such a combination of forces — the unbeatable Mobile Infantry coupled with the Colonial Corps to utterly transform the conquered. Certainly we would have to inure ourselves to hysterical cries of “imperialism”… but since we hear that every day anyway, what would be the difference?
It would require a much stronger willed national government than we have now or have had since the 1940s; and that in turn means a greater risk of the national government overreaching and seizing too much power from the states. But that, too, is nothing new; we have a lot of experience finding that precise balance. Even if it tilts too far towards nationalism today, it is nowhere near as bad as in nearly every other country on Earth.
Still, it certainly would depend upon American exceptionalism to pull off; nobody but us could do it.
Ten thousand independent armies of one — how American!