• Sunday, January 19, 2020

Why do we need to study Military History

Discussion in 'Seniors Cafe' started by Xeric, Oct 21, 2012.

  1. Xeric

    Xeric PDF THINK TANK: CONSULTANT

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    Throughout history, modernists have questioned the relevance of military history. With the rapid evolution of technological change in the post-industrial era and the emergence of new missions for military professionals, the question of relevance is more salient than ever. This thread will examine the argument that technology may have reduced or obviated the utility of military history; in short, do we as of today still require to read an analyses battles that took place centuries ago?


    Prelude

    The utility of the study of military history to the military profession is an open question that has been asked for centuries. However, the question is even more relevant today with the advent of the nuclear age, the explosion of information technology, and the emergence of new threats (and, therefore, new missions) to the members of the military profession. Many theoreticians believe that the history of warfare will provide no glimpse into the future because of the unprecedented pace of change in the post-Cold War era. On the other hand, there are many who believe that the only way to accurately predict the future is to study the past.

    Recently, a retired US Army colonel-cum lobbyist on Capitol Hill lamented that the newest catch phrase in the Pentagon had become ‘thinking outside of the box’. He mused, ironically, that he retired after more than twenty years of service because he couldn’t think ‘inside the box’. What this new catch phrase apparently refers to is an ability to visualize the future of warfare while being able to discard old, seemingly useless paradigms about past wars. In an environment
    that rewards military professionals who seek new solutions to new problems, does the study of military history still have utility? If so, how useful is it?

    In this thread we will attempt to examine if the study of military history has lost its relevance in the modern era of warfare. It will also examine the utility of military history to the military profession as it tackles new problems posed by an increasing number of actors on a chaotic world stage. These new problems fall outside of the normal definition of war and include nonlinear
    threats such as terrorism, information warfare and international crime.

    Winston Churchill once stated that military historians could do something that even God can’t do: they can change history. He then equipped that this was the only reason that God tolerated their existence.

    So with this quotation in mind, i open the floor to the members to put in their thoughts regarding the topic. As in any debate, they can go for or against the topic, but i would suggest that whereas your thoughts are respected, please refrain from copy/pasting irrelevant info. Original and well researched data will be welcomed.

    Trolling, off-topic posts and bringing in India and Pakistan in every post will be dealt with servery.

    Thanks.

    Prelude paraphrased from an article by Captain David B Snodgrass, US Army
    (Published by Nepalese Army Command and Staff College, Shivapuri, Kathmandu and Defence Services Command and Staff College, Mirpur (Dhaka) Bangladesh)
     
  2. Xeric

    Xeric PDF THINK TANK: CONSULTANT

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    For those who are against the teaching of MH, here's an heads up:

    Those who argue against placing emphasis on military history in teaching modern warfare are concerned that old paradigms will be obsolete on the battlefields of the future. The basis of their argument is that modern technological advances have outpaced conventional thought processes relating to warfare. In other words, those military professionals who are still studying how to win the last war will be overcome by the sweeping tide of technological changes in the next war.

    Proponents of this view often cite the works of Alvin and Heidi Toffler. The Tofflers argue in ‘Third Wave’ and ‘War and Anti-War’ that revolutionary change in technology creates ‘waves’ of societal change that, in turn, define how wars are fought. Ryan Henry and Edward C Peartree, writing in ‘Parameters’, the US Army War College quarterly, provide a concise explanation on the implications of this hypothesis: -

    “Successful pre-industrial war was generally predicated on the seizure of territorial assets, control of them, or both. Successful industrial age war was about reducing the means of production and out-manufacturing one’s opponent – dubbed ‘schlacht material’ by the Germans during World War I. If the analogy holds, the advance guard of Pentagon theorists and defence analysts contend, future war will be waged for control of data, information, and knowledge assets”.

    These same theorists would also contend that new force structures and doctrine would be required in the information age. Furthermore, many of them would argue that conceptual models of future warfare and computer war games will have more utility than the study of military history.

    Just as machine guns, tanks, iron-clad ships and aircraft heralded the ‘second wave’ of industrial age warfare, many believe that precision-guided munitions, or smart bombs, like the ones used in Desert Storm, are heralding in the third wave of information age warfare. For these theorists, the study of the Persian Gulf War would have some utility, but the World Wars and all that came before would have little or no utility. In other words: Schwarzkopf is in, Hannibal is out. Similarly, Clausewitz will have less utility than Toffler and other prognosticators of future war.

    While we can question whether or not modern weapons will render past history lessons obsolete, there can be no doubt that they will have a revolutionary effect on how wars are fought. Battlefield tracking and warning systems such as AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) and JSTARS (Joint Surveillance and Target Radar Systems) will allow commanders to attack targets well beyond the line of sight. The system used by Gulf War commanders to transmit messages could move 2400 bits of information per second. The current system transmits 23 million bits per second into Bosnia. Space-based satellite sensors are capable of providing real time intelligence with resolution up to one metre. In military parlance, these information systems offer a promise that anything that can be seen can be hit.

    In addition to technological advances in information warfare, firepower systems are also achieving greater lethality, accuracy, and range than ever before. These technological advances are also taking place at an astonishingly fast pace. Tests at the US Army’s National Training Centre and elsewhere show that digitized platoons are three to five times more lethal than the tank platoons that smashed Iraq’s best forces during the Gulf War. Systems such as the
    Tomahawk Cruise Missile can allow technologically advanced forces to deliver precision firepower from platforms remote from conflict areas. The implications of this new technology could be that old paradigms emphasizing numerical superiority and manoeuvre of forces would be replaced by new paradigms emphasizing technological superiority and firepower.

    The technological advances described in preceding paragraphs have led many observers to believe that what Clausewitz called the ‘fog of war’ can be lifted. According to one Washington consultant, ‘What the (Military Technical Revolution) promises, more than precision attacks and laser beams, is ….. to imbue the information loop with near– perfect clarity.’ These new technologies, many believe, will allow the application of military force to be reduced to a
    science. Military history, by contrast, is a discipline that focuses on warfare primarily as an art, not science. To many in the advance guard of military theory, military history would have almost no relevance in the teaching of modern warfare.

    Ibid.
     
  3. Armstrong

    Armstrong PDF THINK TANK: ANALYST

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    As much as I agree that the advent of technologies, especially in the last 50 year or so, has brought about what could be described as a paradigmatic shift of sorts, I don't buy into the argument that a study of historical battles has been made redundant. Sure studying how 'archer formations' operated & how 'a sniper squad' should may not be the most fruitful of exercises but the recognition of how much of a 'tactical advantage' marksmen (whether sniper or archers) provide is still very relevant. Think of how, in the past, archers were positioned at strategic locations or even in the midst of the infantry to try to take out the enemy 'Captains' to disrupt their chain of command ! Trying to study the effect it has on the overall efficacy of the 'formation' under question - Their ability to improvise, to continue on unhampered, to not loose discipline & organization, to not witness a plummet in morale or to not choke at the more critical junctures or the ability to replenish their officer ranks in the midst of battle to keep the momentum going etc. *I'm sure the more informed readers can come up with much more* could indeed be a fruitful exercise. I'm sure past battles would provide an invaluable insights to devise a response & a counter-response to many 'threats/opportunities' under question. I'm sure a study of 'military history' would lend furthermore invaluable insights on both a strategic & tactical level many of which may find their use outside the vicinity of the immediate battle e.g logistics for one.

    That said, I'm sure none of us are expecting a cent-for-cent copy paste of the tactics of past to any probable situation we may find ourselves in, in the now. But that whereas the operational execution part may be drastically different owing to the different paradigms we find ourselves & the different capabilities & threats we have at our disposal & are subjected to respectively, learning involves 'inspiration' not 'copying' & I'm sure there is a lot that we could still look into the past that could give us that for the present scenarios that we may find ourselves in.

    P.S I know next to nothing about Military History so I do apologize if the above comes across as a load of rhetoric filled BS ! :undecided:
     
  4. Xeric

    Xeric PDF THINK TANK: CONSULTANT

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    For those in defence of teaching/learning from MH:

    Foremost among these, of course, are military historians. Historians, however are not the best defenders of their craft. Their arguments are sure to arouse some skepticism, much like the arguments of the air force arguing for more airplanes. The most compelling arguments for the utility of military history come from those who made it, particularly the great captains.

    There is perhaps no greater endorsement of the utility of military history than Napoleon’s advice to his son from his deathbed: Let him need and meditate upon the wars of the great captains: it is the only way to learn the art of war. Napoleon was renowned for his use of history. When he assumed command of the French Army in Italy in 1796, he took with him a history of a campaign conducted in the same theatre by Marshal Maillebois half a century before. In 1806, when he sent his cavalry commander, Murat, to reconnoiter the Bohemian frontier, he recommended that Murat take with him a history of the campaign that the French had waged there in 1741. Napoleon also proposed establishment of a special school of history at the College of France that would have practical application for officers.

    Modernists, of course, will argue that Napoleon’s endorsement is not as important in this modern age. Thus, to illustrate a more modern leader’s thoughts on the utility of military history, let us examine a recent article by US Army Chief of Staff General Dennis Reimer. General Reimer tells of a recent visit to the American Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg. One of the lessons brought out
    during his visit related to the issue of technological change.

    Springfields and Henry were two different types of rifles available in 1863, the year the Battle of Gettysburg was fought. Both belligerent sides used the muzzle-loading Springfield rifles which fired about three rounds a minute. Either side or both could have used the Henry repeating rifle that had a 15-round magazine. If either side had availed themselves of the new technology, the
    outcome of the battle and perhaps the war, could have changed dramatically.

    After the war, the US Army decided to stick with the tried and true Springfield rifles and made a few minor improvements. A decade later General George Custer’s forces were completely annihilated at the Battle of Little Big horn by Indians who had acquired repeating rifles. The historical lesson, according to General Reimer is that armies must know when and what to change. His article also suggests that technology and military history need not be incompatible. In other words, it is possible to embrace technological change and learn from history at the same time.


    In many ways, military history can be considered relevant because it is the history of change itself. In the teaching of modern warfare, military history may be of little use in learning how to acquire or employ a specific space age technological innovation. However, military history is likely to be very relevant in learning how to help military organizations adapt to the changes that such new technologies bring. By drawing analogies from past innovations and their effects, leaders can avoid repeating mistakes of history.

    As an example, West Point teaches its cadets to change in warfare using ‘threads of continuity’. Threads of continuity that are part of the military profession include tactics, strategy, logistics and administration, military theory and doctrine, military professionalism and generalship. Threads of continuity can provide the student of military history with a way of obtaining information, and
    serve as a lens through which events can be examined and placed in perspective. Studying the threads of continuity can help the student to seek and find the relevance of past events to the present situation. If viewed in this always, it argued, history will always be relevant.

    Ibid.
     
  5. Joe Shearer

    Joe Shearer PROFESSIONAL

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    Certainly technology changes the tactical situation. One cannot imagine a brigade entrenched behind a ditch and an outer fence of sharpened wooden stakes, awaiting an attack by the other side's armoured brigade. It is far more likely that the armoured brigade should have gone up in flames under a barrage of missiles fired from tank destroyers, attack helicopters and ground support aircraft, and that the mobile battle group, not a brigade, should be prepared to sweep forward towards other enemy concentrations located and identified through a combination of satellite surveillance and battlefield UAV patrolling.

    But what India should do when faced by an enemy with a fearsome combination of superior terrain, better logistics infrastructure, greater military expenditures, a firmly rooted indigenisation campaign resulting in well-balanced equipment levels, and a politico-military leadership answerable to nobody but itself,can be evaluated and decided only by reference to the lessons of the past.

    The lessons of the past are increasingly valuable as they are studied in the larger scope of things. They may not be valid at tactical level, they are still valid at the level of global strategy. History is the only possible resource for creating comparable situations and testing them out for various combinations of actions and thinking through the possibilities.
     
  6. Xeric

    Xeric PDF THINK TANK: CONSULTANT

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    Though i agree with you but what about those cases in the history that bears no resemblance to the battles of today? The case in point is the Non-Linear threats that we face today i.e humanitarian operations, terrorism and peacekeeping operations.

    But do we find examples in the history which can be helpful in teaching us as how to counter this 'new' menace? If not, then of what use is MH to us?

    As of today technologically advanced countries of the world are increasingly faced with such threats or operations, even in the developing world, militaries are being asked to perform a variety of tasks such as nation-building activities, disaster relief and internal law and order - tasks that have no precedence in history.

    In these kind of operations mental agility, fluidity in thinking and unorthodox methods are probably the only way to overcome such versatile missions. The question is, does the study of military history can teach us to improve upon the qualities that i have mentioned above?

    Like for example, in the US Armed Forces, operational requirements have increased threefold since the end of the Cold War in 1989. The increase is due primarily to non-linear threats in the arena of peacekeeping and humanitarian operations. These include missions in Bangladesh (disaster relief), Liberia and Zaire (noncombatant evacuation), Rwanda and Somalia (humanitarian operations), and Haiti and Bosnia-Herzegovina (peacekeeping). In addition, soldiers have been utilised to fight forest fires, to provide hurricane relief and to help administer the Olympic Games within their own shores. Finally, US Armed Forces have participated in two medium- to-high-intensity conflicts in Southwest Asia and Panama.

    The same is also true for our (Pakistani, Indian, Bangladesh etc) militaries. They have been fighting insurgencies within their own borders, providing relief during earthquakes and floods, have been carrying out protective duties and most important have been called in in Aid of Civil Power like never before. So, do you think this MH, which spreads over 3500 years (In the nearly 3500 years of recorded history, only 283 years have seen no war) really have something to offer for military professionals?

    Joe and Armstrong sir, any suggestions?
     
  7. Armstrong

    Armstrong PDF THINK TANK: ANALYST

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    I don't think its a zero-sum game & that Military History should be an all encompassing academic endeavor where proper research papers are written drawing parallels between 'our predicaments' and those of 'our ancestors'.

    For example in the context of Pakistan where we're fighting the Taliban & these guys take out any who so much as raises a voice against them, we could look to the Sicarri, a Jewish group, who used to murder enemies & collaborators in their rule to get the Jewish Lands free from Roman rule. How they operated, how were they formed, what were their strengths & weaknesses & how were the eventually dealt with ? We could learn something from there !

    We could learn by looking at the Spanish Inquisitor Rule & understand the gravity of what we could face if their is ever a repeat of Swat, how do we oust them or to preempt them !

    I'm sure some of the more informed posters can come up with much better examples from history !

    But the point was that it doesn't have to stick 100%...its all about what inspiration could one derive from it ! I'm sure there are lessons there in on how to battle terrorism that we could learn...lessons not the least of which exist outside the realm of battle !

    P.S Conventional Wars could provide an even greater learning experiencel.
     
  8. Xeric

    Xeric PDF THINK TANK: CONSULTANT

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    i think the best answer to my own question can be that lessons from military history, commonly known as the principles of war, are timeless and can be applied across the entire spectrum of Military Operations Other Than War (MOOTW).

    In an article entitled ‘No More principles of War?, Dr Russell W Glenn quotes Emory R Helton who concluded that six of nine principles of war – objective, offensive, security, unity of command, economy of force and simplicity – applied to Operation Provide Comfort in northern Iraq conducted after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and that ‘five of these will probably apply to any future humanitarian operations’.

    i think, to quote Richard Renaldo, that ‘Principles of war are robust enough to withstand application across the full range of military operations.’

    Simply stated, in the words of a former US battalion commander, ‘If you prepare for W (war), you can do MOOTW.

    And as Captain David B Snodgrass explains this further:
    "it appears likely that military historians will adapt to the demand for historical archives on MOOTW, as these operations become increasingly prevalent. Lieutenant Colonel Steve E Dietrich points out that US Army historians in Haiti during Operation Uphold Democracy collected 100 computer disks digitized format in the first month of the operation. The historian then expeditiously transferred this data to an organization known as the Automated Historical Archives Systems in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. In future conflicts, information may be passed electronically, allowing historians to recreate events almost instantaneously. Lessons learned from an operation in the first week of November could be applied by a different commander in a different part of the world by the second week of November."​
     
  9. Xeric

    Xeric PDF THINK TANK: CONSULTANT

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    Sir, can you please shed some light on the bold part in more tangible terms?
     
  10. Xeric

    Xeric PDF THINK TANK: CONSULTANT

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    i think we all agree that MH still do have relevance on today's battlefield and that someone who is part of the profession of arms must include it in his reading list, but before we blindly venture into the ether of MH one must be aware of the limitations of (military) history. Some of them are:

    - A student of history must understand that just by reading history and developing command over it will not by itsellf translate into he becoming a guud soldier who is militarily professional and
    technically competent. That is to say, that soldiers must not forget his own tools of trade or for what he is supposed to do on the battlefield. Because a thorough understanding of military history will not help an officer to remember the maximum effective range of his artillery weapons. Nor will it help a non-commissioned officer to remember the proper width and depth of a trench. Instead, in the words of Capt David, "the science part of being tactically and technically proficient must go hand in hand with the ‘art’ part. A sound footing in military history is only one component, albeit an important one, of being a well-rounded military professional."

    - Secondly, studying military history will never supplant practical experience. If it were so a second lieutenant with total command over WW-2 might be better qualified to command a brigade than a brigadier with twenty-five years experience. Knowledge acquired through the study of military history can add to but not replace, knowledge gained from years of attending, as Capt David says, ‘The School of Hard Knocks’.

    - Finally, military professionals should guard against becoming wed to outdated paradigms as they study the past. Study of the past should be conducted with an eye to the future. A good illustration of this point is the sizeable lobby of horse cavalry officers in the American Army who argued for maintaining horse cavalry units long after that concept had outlived its tactical
    usefulness. In fact there were still horse cavalry units in the US Army until 1945, long after tanks, machine guns and aircraft had rendered them obsolete. By using military history to argue for obsolete concepts, military professionals help bolster the arguments of modernists who claim that military history is no longer relevant.

    Or as in our case, people who objected to Pakistan Army shifting over to CCD for combat routines as opposed to the Khaki uniform. (Though we never wanted to 'forget' Khaki, and thus wear it on a certain days of the weak).
     
  11. Jango

    Jango MODERATOR

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    A couple of examples that practically demonstrate that why is studying military history important, and also to learn from it rather than just read it.

    Some other examples:

    - Patton studied the Norman invasion of Sicily, about 9 centuries before, and still was amazed at the amount of things that were common between the forces of Patton and those of centuries earlier regarding their method of operations.

    -B.H Liddel Hart arrived at his conclusion about 'Indirect approach' after studying some of the greatest names in history such as Napoleon among others. He saw that a fluid and mobile contingent and a Indirect approach similar to his was a commonality among a host of great military strategists. North African campaign has also been used by him as a proof of his theories.

    - Frederick the Great's use of 'operating on interior lines' effectively in the Seven Year war also stands as an example. Napoleon also used the same principles, coupled with using his forces effectively, (Economy of force), gave him a distinctive edge. Von Clausewitz formulated the nine principles of war (I will try to write something about them as well), and these same principles are a integral part of the teaching process of the US Army.

    Learning military history does not mean that you should be replicating the exact same principles adopted in the past, but MH gives a soldier or an officer a sense and an instinctive ability to make decisions in the hear of battle and chalk out a effective strategy to counter the enemy's advances.
     
  12. Joe Shearer

    Joe Shearer PROFESSIONAL

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    This was a reference to the situation facing India vis-a-vis China.

    Superior terrain: Flat grassland plateau on the Chinese side, lending itself to transportation, and creation of logistics infrastructure (roads, rail tracks, airports, airfields and air strips); steep drop from 14,500 ft. (average height of Tibetan plateau) to sea level on the Indian side.

    Better logistics infrastructure: Vastly superior Chinese railways, roadways and air traffic infrastructure; rudimentary roads, no railways, and strictly restricted air traffic facilities.

    Greater military expenditure: China spends $143.0 billion, India spends $46.8 billion per annum.

    A firmly rooted indigenisation campaign: China: Army - main battle tank, APCs, guns, attack helicopters; Navy - all classes of ships from patrol craft to the aircraft carrier that they have just inducted, including missiles for anti-ship warfare; Air Force - transition from Russian technology absorption to own design, introduction of contemporary stealth technology; India, by contrast, struggling to convince its own military to allow space for an indigenous effort, whether the Arjuna main battle tank, or the Garden Reach Workshop's manufacture of patrol craft and corvettes; and the LCA project.

    Politico-military leadership answerable to nobody but itself: The seeming thaw is worth nothing on one side, it is marked with solemnity on the other side.
     
  13. Xeric

    Xeric PDF THINK TANK: CONSULTANT

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    To add to your points i must say that whereas advancement in technology have influenced the very nature of war and probably has made history irrelevant to an extent, but it still has to offer us with a 'Silver Bullet' that can be an answer to the conflicts of the future.

    i will rather go to the extent of saying that the unparalleled advances in technology makes the study of military history more relevant to warfare today than in the past.

    To strenthgen my case i will take example of Lt Gen Paul Van Riper of the United States Marine Corps and Major General Robert H Scales Jr of the United States Army who have warned policy-makers of the perils of succumbing to ‘promises of high-tech, bloodless victory’ (there is no such thing despite the advancement in lethality and accuracy of weapons):

    “Political limitation, friction, and fog are not artefacts of history, but rather conditions embedded in the fabric of war. To suppose that technology could eliminate them from the battlefield thus flies in the face of the natural world as it is. Instead, 2500 years of history confirm that ambiguity, miscalculation, incompetence, and above all chance will continue to dominate the conduct of war. In the end, the incalculables of determination, morale, fighting skill, and leadership far more than technology will determine who wins and who loses”.​


    And thus we can say that technology and modernization though can minimize the 'fog of war', they cannot completely remove it, and only lessons from military history can help us in minimizing these conditions which technology fails to tackle despite its revolutionary nature.

    To go a step further, i will quote Van Riper and Scales who points out that recent failures of technologically advanced nations against determined foes underscore the danger of over-reliance on technology.

    For example, superior technology did not prevent America’s defeat in Vietnam, France’s defeat in Indo-China and Algeria, the Soviet Union’s defeat in Afghanistan or Russia’s defeat in Chechnya.

    By reading and learning from MH one can avoid putting too much faith in technology. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, improvements in artillery led enthusiasts to predict that artillery would become the dominant force in warfare. Today, artillery still plays a subordinate role in combat operations.

    Similarly, Giulio Douhet predicted as early as the 1920s that air power would be the ‘most important element in future wars’. Events in Southeast Asia and elsewhere have failed to prove his hypothesis.

    From the above examples we can see that the search for a ‘silver bullet’ in the realm of military warfare is elusive at best and thus technology alone, especially when it has been retarded from historical knowledge can (mis)lead military commanders into committing blunders - hence the importance of going through history.

    In short, advancement in technology cannot cater for the uncertainty and the factor of 'chance' that would be prevalent on any future battlefield, rather the advancement in technology itself will create a higher form of uncertainty which it would not be able to tackle. And thus the best way for military professionals to minimize the effects of 'uncertainty' and 'chance' is to take help from history!
     
  14. Xeric

    Xeric PDF THINK TANK: CONSULTANT

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    So do you think there is something that history has to offer you in this context?

    ^^ Ofcourse, you guys may not be able to unfold another Schlieffen Plan to overcome the problems of 'superior terrain available to the enemy' and the possibility of a Two Front War, but what do you suggest, is there any other 'help' that you as a reader can get from history?
     
  15. Joe Shearer

    Joe Shearer PROFESSIONAL

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    Most certainlly.

    On return.