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As the U.S. entered the ground war in the Persian Gulf this weekend, faculty drew on their knowledge of land assaults in wars past to make predictions about this war's future. Faculty experts say the air component of the U.S. offensive bears many similarities to those in World Wars I and II, while efforts to ravage the Iraqi infrastructure to deter future conflict compares to strategies in Vietnam. And, as in almost all previous U.S. wars, ground troops have little actual combat experience. Yet, in many respects, faculty say this battle is unlike any the U.S. has previously faced. The unique difficulties posed by the desert setting, the unparalleled threat of biological and chemical warfare and the heightened reliance on state-of-the-art military technology are unknown variables hampering their predictions. Although faculty offered differing assessments of how this land war will compare with those in the past, all said that any ground combat means increased risk and increasing deaths. "In ground war, often the casualties are enormous," Associate History Professor Robert Engs said yesterday. "And if it doesn't happen in this war, that will be incredible." The prospects for casualties are heightened by U.S. soldiers' lack of combat experience. Engs said, however, this innocence might make the "well trained and well disciplined" U.S. troops a better fighting unit. He added that Iraqi troops, reportedly surrendering in large numbers, may have lost their will to fight because of their knowledge of war's human cost. Iraqi soldiers have faced death under both the heavy Allied bombings in this conflict and in the fighting of the Iran-Iraq war which preceded it. "They know what it's like and they don't want it to happen to them," Engs said. "You can be macho until you see the guy's head blasted off in the foxhole next to you. Then you stop being macho." Yet, if Iraqi troops are depending on the lessons of the war in Iraq, they may still find themselves surprisingly inexperienced. According to professors, the U.S. does not use the same deceptive ground maneuvering and mass assault tactics for which Iran became known. "I think one of the interesting things in all this is that the Iraqi army is experienced fighting the Iranians," said Political Science Professor Frederick Frey. "But the Iranians are quite primitive compared to what they're facing now." Iraqi technology, while not primitive, also lags behind what the U.S. and its allies have in their arsenals. "Our weapons are so much better, so much more powerful," said Engs. "We have weapons that were designed for Eastern Europe, but apparently seem to work in the Saudi desert too." The modern weapons also seem to be working above the Saudi desert, professors indicated, arguing that the ground campaign will be tied to assaults from the air. These will be used to soften Iraqi positions and reach Iraqi divisions once they are flushed out of their bunkers and trenches. The technological advantage is also used specifically on the ground, helping the U.S. fight at a distance and avoid risky face-to-face combat and, in this case, the threat of biological and chemical warfare. "This is the standard way in which the U.S. fights wars -- to make use of its overt technical superiority, it's domination in superior military hardware," History Professor Bruce Kuklick said. "The wealth of the U.S. is used to design these weapons, which are meant to save lives," Kuklick added. Kuklick argued that the technological advantage has also been used as a deterrent against opposing the U.S. and to keep world peace, a subtle strategy developed even as the U.S. lost the Vietnam conflict. "Basically the way the war ended in Vietnam was to teach anyone that the cost of winning against the U.S. is so painful that it isn't worth it," Kuklick said. Ironically, though, the current conflict in the Persian Gulf may bear its greatest similarity to a short, almost forgetten quarrel that occured in the late nineteenth century -- where inexperienced U.S. soldiers still overwhelmed their opposition. "[It can be compared to the Spanish-American war] in that the U.S. has picked on a country that is considerably less powerful than the U.S. in a variety of obvious ways," Kuklick said.

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