Fix bayonets

Mark Steyn:

Here's a story no American news organization thought worth covering last week, so you'll just have to take it from me. In the southern Iraqi town of Amara, 20 men from Scotland's Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders came under attack from 100 or so of Muqtada al-Sadr's ''insurgents.'' So they fixed bayonets and charged.

It was the first British bayonet charge since the Falklands War 20 years ago. And at the end of it some 35 of the enemy were dead in return for three minor wounds on the Argylls' side.

If you're used to smart bombs, unmanned drones and doing it all by computer back at HQ, you're probably wondering why a modern Western army is still running around with bayonets at the end of their rifles. The answer is that it's a very basic form of psychological warfare.

''If you're defending a position and you see someone advancing with a bayonet, you may be more inclined to surrender,'' Col. Ed Brown told the British newspaper the Guardian. ''I've never been bayoneted, but I can imagine it's pretty gruesome.'' Or as Cpl. Jones, veteran of the Sudan, used to say every week on the ancient BBC sitcom ''Dad's Army'': ''They don't like it up 'em.''

By comparison, a Cruise missile, an unmanned drone, even a bullet are all antiseptic forms of warfare. When a chap's charging at you with a bayonet, he's telling you he's personally willing to run you through with cold steel. The bullet may get you first, but, if it doesn't, he'll do it himself. To the average British squaddie in the 21st century, the bayonet's main practical purpose is for opening tinned food. But when you need it on the battlefield, it's still a powerful signal of your resolve, your will.


And they have a point. From Baghdad press conferences to Colin Powell, too much of the tone is half-hearted and implicitly apologetic: On bad days, the president himself is beginning to sound like an unmanned drone. The coalition needs to regain the offensive, to demonstrate not just weary stoicism but fierce will -- the same will those Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders showed. Bush has to be bold and imaginative, and to end the impression that he, his administration and America itself are mere hostages to events.

Marines joked that the command to fix bayonets was one that struck fear in both sides. But it does tend to focus the issue of winning the battle.


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