We're on offense. They're on defense. The worrisome thing is this: A general rule of war says the defense has the better position. There are even statistics about these things. For example, one study of 132 major tank battles, going back to World War I, shows that the ratio of attacker tanks destroyed to defender tanks destroyed is 1.2 to 1.
The more general rule goes back to Clausewitz, the Prussian military historian -- "the defensive form of warfare is intrinsically stronger than the offensive," he wrote in "On War" -- and it is repeated today by pundits and analysts as two great armies prepare for ground combat, one mobilized, the other bunkered.
What is not usually noted is that, paradoxically, the offense usually wins the battle.
"The side on the offensive wins about 65 percent of the time," says retired Col. Trevor N. Dupuy, a military historian and author of 90 books, including the just-published "If War Comes: How We Will Defeat Saddam Hussein." "You can go to the beginning of history, and it's going to be the same. It's mainly because you don't attack unless you think you're going to win, and usually the guy who attacks and thinks he's going to win has some reason for thinking that."
You can't win a war in a bunker. Clausewitz himself wrote back in 1831 that defense "should be used only so long as weakness compels, and be abandoned as soon as we are strong enough to pursue a positive object ... the natural course of war is to begin defensively and end by attacking."
The Iraqis, if American strategy holds, will be going nowhere.
"The problem with being dug in is that there's always the risk of turning your position into an instant prisoner of war camp," says Anthony Cordesman, professor of national security studies at Georgetown and a consultant to ABC.
Consider the Japanese in World War II. They were heavily dug into Iwo Jima and Okinawa. They used two layers of tree trunks with dirt in between, which acted as a kind of cushion to incoming artillery. But those bunkers eventually became death traps. U.S. troops and tanks burned them out with flamethrowers. At the liberation of Corregidor, paratroopers poured gasoline down ventilator shafts and tossed in hand grenades.
Bunker warfare, says David Bongard, a contributor to the Dupuy book, "has been a grim business for both attackers and defenders. It's very personal, and you see lots of people badly injured. With the flamethrower in particular."
Joshua Epstein, a Brookings Institution analyst who has written about the possible scenarios of war in the gulf, cautions that there's no way to say for certain who will have the combat advantage in a desert war. "At a theater level the attacker has the advantage of being able to choose when the war begins and where to concentrate his forces," Epstein says. "Defenders can counter that if they have excellent theater reconnaissance to see where the forces are concentrating, and if they have high mobility, so they can move things around to plug gaps."
Whether the Iraqis have such mobility is questionable. Certainly they have inferior tanks. Dupuy, for one, expects an expedited war. Maybe six weeks, tops. "It isn't going to go on for months. I assure you," he says.
The editor of Maledicta, a journal that tracks naughty words and tasteless jokes, says the war so far has generated very little wit. Obviously it's not a thigh-slapping situation, but neither was the Challenger tragedy, which inspired, by Maledicta's count, at least 135 separate jokes.
"The war is too young," guesses the editor, Reinhold Aman of Santa Rosa, Calif. He notes that most of the jokes so far are recycled from the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979-81, or are modifications of Italian Army jokes of World War II, e.g., "How many gears do Iraqi tanks have? Five. One forward and four in reverse." There are also wordplays with Saddam Hussein's name -- Saddam is typically pronounced "Sodom" -- or with the name Kuwait.
Syndicated humor columnist Dave Barry of the Miami Herald says he's heard only one joke so far, way below average for a national catastrophe, and floats a theory why:
"To make fun of the shuttle disaster was to be grossly tasteless, but to make fun of the war is to be unpatriotic, and it's more socially acceptable to be tasteless than unpatriotic. It's a theory, and we're testing it on laboratory rats now. We're not going to have any human results for a while."
The Mrs. Saddam Hussein Watch: It now appears that Sajida, the wife of the Iraqi president, could be relaxing in Zambia -- not Mauritania as reported here yesterday. In London, the Daily Telegraph -- occasionally accurate, always entertaining -- has printed a story quoting unnamed diplomatic sources saying that Mrs. H. and "some" of her five children switched planes in Mauritania, flew to Zambia, and have been given refuge there by Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda. They are believed to be residing in one of Kaunda's many luxurious lodges, under the protection of armed guards.
Uday, the eldest son of Saddam, is said to have joined the Iraqi military to fight the allied forces.