Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Cheaper Man

It is often repeated in gun nut corners of the Internet that small "spray and pray" rifles (as some derisively call weapons like the AR-15 or AK) are not needed, if one only is willing to train their soldiers and marines better.

They clearly haven't read their Kipling:

A great and glorious thing it is
To learn, for seven years or so,
The Lord knows what of that and this,
Ere reckoned fit to face the foe--
The flying bullet down the Pass,
That whistles clear: "All flesh is grass."

Three hundred pounds per annum spent
On making brain and body meeter
For all the murderous intent
Comprised in "villainous saltpetre!"
And after--ask the Yusufzaies
What comes of all our 'ologies.

A scrimmage in a Border Station--
A canter down some dark defile--
Two thousand pounds of education
Drops to a ten-rupee jezail--
The Crammer's boast, the Squadron's pride,
Shot like a rabbit in a ride!

No proposition Euclid wrote,
No formulae the text-books know,
Will turn the bullet from your coat,
Or ward the tulwar's downward blow
Strike hard who cares--shoot straight who can--
The odds are on the cheaper man.

One sword-knot stolen from the camp
Will pay for all the school expenses
Of any Kurrum Valley scamp
Who knows no word of moods and tenses,
But, being blessed with perfect sight,
Picks off our messmates left and right.

With home-bred hordes the hillsides teem,
The troop-ships bring us one by one,
At vast expense of time and steam,
To slay Afridis where they run.

The "captives of our bow and spear"
Are cheap--alas! as we are dear.

Arithmetic on the Frontier, by Rudyard Kipling

Certainly, great skill is required to accomplish certain things, like flying a helicopter, and those that perform their tasks well will be pound-for-pound better than those that do theirs poorly. Yet, it is the sorry reality that skill at something does not scale linearly with training. If a rapid course in riflemanship takes 20 hours, but total mastery takes 10,000 hours, then a nation holding its soldiers only to the standards of the rapid course will be able to field two and a half orders of magnitude as many soldiers as the latter. Is a master rifleman good enough to kill 500 "OK" riflemen? Most likely, no.

The ubiquity of special forces in militaries worldwide speaks to a recognition of the value of great skill in warfare, but for the average soldier, the appropriate standard is usually the lowest one that's still capable of carrying out the task given to them.

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