As an ex-infantry soldier, I’ve always considered the actions of the UNSC to be a little short-sighted. Sure, they were fighting against a technologically superior enemy and there were isolated victories but nothing substantial. The Covenant war machine simply carried on and eventually rolled over every defensive position and every colony. Our fleets were ineffective, our weapons the same and our tactics one-sided and predictable. So how did the UNSC expect to turn things around? How did they expect to win?
I used to think of the UNSC as the United States of the 1940’s—a vast war factory of seemingly limitless supply. Tanks and ships just seem to appear, and even when destroyed there are plenty left to take their place. In fact, one particular scenario during the Second World War sticks very firmly in my mind that embodies this attitude—a US armoured column against a lone German 88” Gun.
The Germans had clear line of sight and superior range. So every time a US tank rounded the corner 2 kilometres away the Germans opened up, destroying each tank with ease. After a number of hours the American column was able to approach and neutralise the enemy position. The reason they achieved this was not down to a change in tactics or additional support. It was because the German 88” crew ran out of ammunition before the column ran out of tanks. It is this approach, this mentality to war which I think mirrors the UNSC. Build as much as we can and hopefully we’ll just outnumber them in the end—a Command and Conquer attitude to war. Perhaps against an inferior enemy, one without any strategic talent, this would work. But against the likes of the Covenant a tactic of bloody attrition will never provide a clear, resounding victory.
And yet despite all of this, we’re constantly reminded that the UNSC innovates, whereas the Covenant—unimaginative and assuredly confident—replicates. Based upon this, the dent made by the UNSC should have been significantly more destructive. The initial encounter on Harvest and the subsequent attacks by Cole on the orbiting vessel would have sent a very clear message to HIGHCOM—adapt or die. And yet after twenty seven years of constant conflict, the UNSC still builds inferior frigates, uses Archer missiles and relies on the actions of a few hundred Spartans to turn the tide.
If you take a cold hard look at the way the war was fought, especially the defence of both Earth and Reach you gain a sense of almost blind military judgement, bordering on incompetence. One could argue that complacency played its part in the fall of Reach, that military commanders thought themselves beyond the reach of the Covenant—out of harm’s way. And I suppose an element of that was present. But it’s the reaction to the invasion which puzzles me most. Instead of a large-scale mobilisation of orbital support, we’re supposed to believe that the UNSC’s answer to a groundside deployment of Covenant forces was Warthogs, Scorpions and Spartans. What were they thinking?
Going by what we already know, the Covenant don’t just pop in for tea and crumpets. They decimate any defensive force once they gain the upper hand, swiftly followed by a good glassing. The UNSC’s reaction should have been overwhelming–a reflex based upon previous encounters, instead of what appears to be a more considered approach. The discovery of Covenant forces on Reach should have been answered with everything at the UNSC’s disposal, sending a very clear message to the Covenant that any fight on or around Reach will be bloody and protracted. In fact, the UNSC and ONI could have utilised the fact that the Covenant displayed a more than occasional interest in Forerunner artefacts, using them to bait the enemy, set ambushes and hit the enemy when they were more interested in other things. But again, this doesn’t happen.
Some of you will probably be arguing that the UNSC was decimated by the war and that after twenty seven years of conflict it was on its last legs and that suitable ships were in short supply–that the frigate was a simple, cheap MAC platform instead of being a ship of the line, hunting in vast wolf packs. I could almost accept that if it were not for one simple aspect of the war, first contact.
The military industry of man should have shifted into overdrive, producing ship after ship of considerable note and size–an increased production of cruisers for instance. But instead of that we see ONI as an organisation more preoccupied with fleet morale and keeping secrets, instead of finding those secrets, uncovering and using them to aid the war effort. And in the middle of all of this the vast amounts of money spent on the SPARTAN programmes instead of fleets of ships shows what? Desperation? Or the fact that ONI and HIGHCOM had vast financial reserves to spend on other, as yet, unknown areas of interest.
Perhaps this is the case, or did the UNSC try everything at their disposal? In any case the war effort seemed ridiculously one-sided and mis-managed, as though those in command had something to gain from the destruction of so many colonies and the deaths of so many humans. I, for one, hope we’ll one day discover what exactly went on and what went wrong.