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Sunday: February 26, 2006

Intellectual Recycling

Filed under: — site admin @ 10:41 AM GMT-0500

There are disadvantages in posting comments on other people’s sites instead of one’s own. Not only does it reduce the available quantity of home-grown fodder for the browsing herds, you never know when some rude person is going to slip in a comment just before yours that is 4,375 words long (actual count), many of them capitalized or bold-face or both. Whether right- or wrong-headed — I’ll never know, since I didn’t read it — such a comment will naturally cause a huge drop in the number of readers who go on to read yours.

The only solution is to repost the precious verbiage on one’s own site. The following paragraphs are quoted from my comment on this post at Protein Wisdom. They should be clear enough without the preceding context:

Since [troll-name omitted] keeps insisting on his benchmark, I’d like to note a serious problem with it. Here’s the supposedly damning WP quotation:

The number of Iraqi army battalions judged by their American trainers to be capable of fighting insurgents without U.S. help has fallen from one to none since September, Pentagon officials said yesterday.

And here’s the following sentence he carefully omitted (thanks, Jim in Chicago):

But the number of Iraqi battalions capable of leading the battle, with U.S. troops in a support role, has grown by nearly 50 percent. And the number of battalions engaged in combat has increased by 11 percent.

Am I the only one who realizes that these two developments are probably connected? If I were trying to build an effective army of 100+ battalions from scratch in the middle of a war or insurrection, here’s what I would do:

1. Put together one or two or three battalions of the best men I could find, put them into battle situations as soon as they look like they’re ready, and see how they do. No doubt some would do better than others.

2. In building dozens more new battalions from raw recruits, add a few seasoned veterans to each one to provide them with backbone, experience, and the high morale that comes from having proven winners in the unit. Where are these seasoned veterans to come from? The battle-hardened first-string battalions, of course. That will detract from their fighting ability in the short run as good men are taken away, but they can be ‘topped up’ with raw recruits and kept fighting until the latter get the hang of it.

I have no inside knowledge, or military experience, but it’s obvious to anyone who thinks about it that a single first-rate battle-hardened battalion may be more valuable as ‘seed corn’ and hands-on training academy than as a single unit. Lowering its effectiveness by sending many of its men to newer, rawer units may in fact be the best and fastest way to increase the effectiveness of the army as a whole. The only downside is that it confuses stupid journalists and blog commenters, and allows the less honest ones to make disingenuous arguments.

I suspect there are historical examples to the process I’ve outlined. It’s well-known that the British recruited a (Jewish, not Muslim) ‘Palestinian Brigade’ that fought (very well) in North Africa and Italy in World War II. Many of its members were later heroes of the Israeli fight for independence. Did the nascent nation of Israel keep all their combat veterans in a single unit in their fledgling army, or did they split them up and mix them in with masses of new recruits? I’m pretty sure they did the latter, since it’s the obvious thing to do.

To sum up, a dozen competent battalions are more useful than one superb one, and can also be turned into a dozen superb battalions a lot more quickly than one can, especially if there’s a large-scale war or insurrection going on in which they can all easily get combat experience.