Far from being a new experience causing casualties to friends and allies in warfare is as timeless as warfare. On a personal level the worst of this sad cost to human life became evident when my oldest son served and fought in the 1992 Kuwait war. Attached to US marines his task was to intercept fire control orders, identify their source and where possible divert or alter them. One such order identified their position to a US artillery battery and upon this discovery, they were able to deflect that attack in the nick of time.
Clear and indefinable demonstration of times where this action was not diverted came when a good friend of mine was tasked with identifying the caliber and ballistics that destroyed British vehicles in that war at its cessation by the M.O.D., and discovered a disturbing but highly sensitive fact regarding the fifty four vehicles concerned. That revelation was that forty five of those vehicles were destroyed by 'friendly fire'.
To identify how and why this occurs is highly controversial and whilst it is easy to blame the gung-ho attitude instilled into US service-people from first recruitment there remains far too many unforeseen circumstances that might contribute to this.
On a lighter note a less technical reason for a machine gun to be loaded with tracer bullets every third round was to allow visual tracking to compensate for wind adjustment but it would also illuminate a Union Jack when it was hoisted to record it as a friendly position. No, thatâ€™s not very kind to our allies across the sea, but then sometimes to us Brits, it seems that way. The truth is, Blue on Blue is a twenty first century term that applies to a centuries old dilemma.
For as long as Christianity has determined the measure of time the Greeks were the first advanced culture to recognize this problem and address it. However the Romans extended it further and applied a clearly defined policy of identification to every arm of its military personal. Each section or unit of men (contuburnium) wore the same coloured tunica only changing the colours to define differing legions. Furthermore, those with rank bore crests on their helmets to present immediate, highly visual identification. Shields also identified legions by design and the very shape altered to identify the difference between Roman legionary soldiers and foreign auxiliaries.
Such clear measures of identity were to diminish and decline at the same rate as that of the Roman Empire itself. The structure of roman governance and the ultimate power of the Caesar diminished through both Senate and then time itself. In order to re-establish control the creation of the Holy Roman Empire recognized the growth in popularity of Christianity and heralded a time when its boundaries were no longer controlled by a fighting force that awarded service with citizenship. As such it no longer depended upon a cohesive force to impose its will, alternatively promoting a spiritual based faith that theoretically had no need of one.
Less developed cultures defined identity in ways not actually recorded, but archeology has proven that men once wore white stained hair that stood on end like a crest, or daubed their bodies in blue tinted wode that quite clearly set them apart from others.
The Saxons bore elaborately decorated shields that might identify one dignitary from another and the Vikings wore horned or winged helmets, which of course was no more than myth promoted by Victorian romanticists, those horns or wings were little more than ear flaps that were raised on a hinge to remove the helm and archeology proved this when it was discovered a helmet with face plates fixed in the open position by times corrosion and giving the appearance of wings affixed to the side. To a large extent the Vikings took great pride in their independence of self dependance but were clearly defined by recognized standards or banners that identified a centre of power and place of contest.
Their offspring first known as the 'Norseman' later to be recorded as Normans were accredited to be the first to introduce heraldry and to all intents and purposes, the Bayeaux Tapestry has consistent shield patterns and guidons or banners that would indicate a calculated effort to identify groups of warriors for efficient command and tactical deployment, as well as self preservation in the heat and mayhem of battle.
As Feudal England evolved and Europe ran alongside, Heraldry became the norm and retainers and armies of different Lords began to wear surcoat and tunics bearing the Heraldic device of their retainer. This again served two purposes, the majesty and power of a Lord is soon recognized by the sheer weight of number and colourful uniformity presented by a host of men bearing his family colours. Furthermore, in the heat of battle both friend and foe might easily be recognized by such brash and colourful displays and identifying heraldic devices.
Red coats, blue coats, hat shape or helmet, all served to identify both friend and foe, that also served as a quirky code of honour in recognizing ones foes or enemies with comparative ease. The first people recognized as the innovators of camouflage to avert discovery and identification were American revolutionaries. Whilst we still wore scarlet/red coats, they donned a green or nature friendly colour for concealment.
The origin of our choice of red-coat/jacket was also a subtle means of camouflage because it concealed any sign of blood when a soldier was injured or killed. By the same token a red sash so commonly seen on dress uniforms of numerous regiments of the British Army were that colour once again to conceal blood, as it was looped around the neck and under the arms of a fellow soldier of the line when he was struck down. This loop served to drag him out of the line so that another might step in to take his place. Also upon that sash was a row of tassles, or so it would seem, but originally these were known as 'matches' in other words the fuse that ignited black powder in the pan of a matchlock weapon during the English Civil War. One other notable deception in uniform design and ongoing tradition is the wearing of a bearskin which increased the height of a man to instil a fear of being confronted by giants.
Ironically a contradiction of terms is that warlike progress acknowledged that the survival of ones troops would contribute to victory and preservation of whatever purpose that they fought for, so camouflage or geographically sympathetic uniforms began to appear consistently at the end of the nineteenth century and it was not until the mass slaughter of World War One did that concept begin to diminish in context.
Camouflage evolved in the next global war and continues to date, but mans quest for mutual destruction took a major downturn in the twentieth and twenty first century in the form of terrorism which hides behind anonymity. This unseen terror or the fear that a person standing next to you in an underground train might well be carrying a bomb simply extended and imposed that reign of terror upon every individual regardless of race,colour or religion.
Such antiquated attitudes that military personnel were principle targets was massively destroyed upon the advent of allied bombing raids on German cities where civilians became acceptable targets and the myth of clearly defined lines of engagement vanished forever. The impact of terrorism apart from the obvious, is the alienation of a people where your very neighbor or commuter traveler could be your enemy and the cause within which they fought was infinite and oft times indeterminable.
On a more passive level, as an enthusiastic participant in numerous battle re-enactments and film battles, I can tell you with some experience that adrenalin levels can get so high and the â€˜blood rageâ€™ can blind a participant to all reason. Individuals engaged even in mock battles can respond to the slightest glimpse of movement in peripheral vision causing a reflex action that must be strictly controlled to avert disaster. Weapons crash down in frenzied reaction to a perceived hostile attack or movement that on occasion, it is safe to say might well cut down friend as well as foe!
Even camouflage characteristics generated specific visual aids to identify an enemy, for example, it was said in the seventies that the Russians developed a sight which identified urine and another development identified the particular black streaks in camouflage design worn by British service personnel, this aspect taken so seriously as to generate a complete re-issue to regular troops and the first camouflage hand me downs to Territorial Army Regiments. (ie, mine). So, where are we now? Progress has taken us from animal skins to bright uniforms, from the most intricate embroidered standards and banners to a dayglo orange V shape to identify an armoured vehicle. Albeit, ordinance can be loosed from such distant ranges from the skies and drone aircraft it makes you wonder how such a small means of identification can be seen. In the meantime we have evolved into the most efficient killing machine with one constant, timeless flaw, all too often the conflict causes us to kill our friends and allies; what an awful shame?
Statistically death by friendly fire is officially calculated at 2% of all casulaties, so that's not so bad is it? And just for fun I insert a hint of implied satire to those last few words. Having said that, Political parties were once identified by colour such as red for socialist and blue for conservative but as those in government appear to all intents and purposes to be of the same hue the only way an elector might be able to identify politicians and political parties in courts of law defending increasing acts of deception, fraud, abuse and sexual perversions. That's progress!
Surely not another war???????????