Truth be told, the overwhelmingly superior efficiency, dedication and effectiveness of U.S. troops today is more closely comparable to the Sardaukar. That’s not an analogy I like to make, because the Sardaukar were the bad guys — or at least, allied with the bad guys. They were arrogant, and received their comeuppance from the little-regarded, fanatical desert people they thought they could easily crush. So you can see how I wouldn’t like that analogy at this particular point in history. It doesn’t fit with my worldview at all.
Probably the best way to put it in Dune terms (if one is to be so frivolous as to draw such analogies) is that the U.S. military has the virtue of the Atreides combined with the competence of the Sardaukar. (And now that I think about it, I seem to recall that the reason the emperor sent the Sardaukar after the Atreides was that the Atreides troops under Duncan Idaho and Gurney Halleck had been trained to the point that they were almost as tough as the Sardaukar, and the emperor saw that as a threat. So maybe our guys are the Atreides after all — or what the Atreides might have been. That makes the sci-fi nerd in me feel so much better.)
This brings me, through a leap that probably makes sense only to me, to a photo I grabbed from AP back during the fighting in Fallujah in 2004, and never used. If I had been blogging then, I would have posted it, but I wasn’t.
It’s the best photo I can remember seeing from the fighting in Iraq. Actually, when you think about it, it was one of the LAST photos of actual fighting I’ve seen. You don’t see pictures of action any more on the wires. You see portraits of soldiers and marines who have died, and pictures of caskets and funerals. You see pictures taken AFTER something happened — say, the aftermath of an IED. Or you see pictures of soldiers on routine patrol, or aiming their weapons from a fixed defensive position, but not firing them.
What you don’t see is American troops inexorably, irresistibly advancing the way they are in this photo. This photo is classic, and illustrates a standard offensive infantry tactic in the act. Maybe some of you with infantry experience will correct me on this, but what I see is one soldier laying down covering fire down a street with his M-240 Bravo (which, as James reminded us Monday, is likely manufactured right here in Columbia SC, at FN) while the other men in the squad cross the street. Another soldier (actually, I’m guessing these are Marines; someone with sharper eyes than mine can probably tell for sure) backs up the machine-gunner, prepared to shoot with aimed fire at any enemy who stick their heads out, using his standard rifle.
The second man to cross the street is another machine-gunner, who will no doubt establish a base of fire from the opposite side of the street in order to allow the first MG operator and the last of the squad to cross.
The squad seems to be operating with a relentless, almost mechanical efficiency that is terrible to behold — if you are the enemy. In fact, it’s probably the unusual perspective of this photo that created the literary (if you can call sci-fi "literary") allusion in my mind: This is probably what it looks like when you are the enemy, and the U.S. Marines are coming to get you — like the Sardaukar with their "hard faces set in battle frenzy."
As I said, you don’t see many pictures like this one. It’s impressive. It certainly made an impression on me.