Summer Soldiers


During both World Wars, the British army invaded Iraq. The WWII intervention was very specifically a regime-changing project. Here is a timeline of World War I battles on the "Mesopotamian Front." This Navy paper on the World War II campaign against Prime Minister Rashid Ali el Gailani was written in December with an eye on the current war drive, and has the usual virtues and vices of a study seeking to draw historical insight about a contemporary situation. Both are worth looking at, and both give the lie to hawks who insist that we can't delay the war because of the summer heat: Battles were fought throughout the spring and summer of both 1915 and 1916, and the 1941 operation began in May. My touch? to critics who say chemical warfare suits change the equation: The British had to wear wool underpants. And they did it for England, by God!


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  1. I’m not necessarily disagreeing with the idea that our modern armed forces could find some way of engaging in effective cobat in the summer heat, but the casualties from heat prostration (possibly leading to death in many cases) would be potentially enormous. They would far outnumber actual combat casualties in number, in much the same way that disease killed more soldiers in the 19th century than combat.

    Further, knowledge of Civil War uniforms (overcoats were woolen) shows us that there is no flattering or polite response possible to any comparison between wool undergarments and full-body biochem suits.

    Our soldiers’ NBC (nuke/bio/chem) suits are, as you may have guessed, specifically designed to be airtight, meaning no vaporized sweat could escape. Wool on the other hand is a BREATHABLE fabric (and cheap and durable, making it an obvious choice for military uniforms).

    here’s a link. the explanation of breathability is toward the bottom:

  2. They were probably wearing wool underwear, but it wasn’t the same type of wool that’s in a greatcoat or a nice warm sweater.

    Note that some of the “high end” bicycling clothing (short, jerseys) are made of wool even today.

    I’ve worn 80s vintage MOP gear. It’s not comfortable even in moderate (60s-70s) temperatures.

  3. I’m a bit perplexed by this ‘can’t fight in the summer’ idea as well. If you can’t put troops into Iraq during the summer, then can someone explain what my father was doing there during WWII, when he was stationed near Basra as part of PAIForce (Persia and Iraq Force). Sure, it was hot, but it would have been hot for the enemy as well.

  4. I do wonder if the Dread Iraqi Summer is this season’s version of the Dread Afgan Winter.

    For those of us who endured this winter in the midwest, nothing that Afganistan could throw at me would scare me, I bet.

  5. The British had to wear wool underpants.

    Wow, I’m really fucking impressed.

    Now if the British had fought in hermetically sealed woolen winter coats, you might have a point. As it is you just sound like someone who spent sixty seconds studying the history of Iraqi military conflict and decided that gave you the authority to claim the Army brass are lying about the heat.

  6. I always thought the “soldiers can’t fight in the Iraqi summer” was a proxy for the real argument: “refugees can’t survive in the Iraqi summer” which the Right doesn’t want to have (What refugees?) and the Left doesn’t want to acknowledge (What need to hurry?).

    I expect that if the war lasts longer than 2 weeks we’ll be hearing from Pilger and Chomsky on the dangers (to refugees) of thirst.

  7. As the old song goes…”only mad dogs and englishmen go out in the midday sun”…

  8. The heat in Iraq is so intense, ambient temperature is 120 that you can fry an egg on bare metal. Encase yourself in a chem warfare suit with 30-40 pounds of military gear and you’re well on your way to an internal temperature that would probably hit 140-50. In other words any length of time in such a suit would lead to heat prostration or heat stroke. Even without such suits, humidity is about 5%, so you don’t really sweat, it eaporates too quickly. The Iraqis have the highest rate of kidney disease in the world due to inadequate intake of fluids. It is so hot at night in August that the streets of Baghdad actually release heat waves that distort your view.

    Take it from me, I spent too years in this Moscow with palmtrees minus culture and food, only a fool would attempt a major campaign in the summer. Try reading about the Iraq-Iran war, most of the major offensives were timed due to the weather.

    Iraq’s action in 1941, forced the British to reinforce its garrisons and restore order. Iraq was only nominally independent, the British were still in full charge of defense and foreign policy during this period. The garrisons were maintained to insure nothing got too far out of hand.

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