Human Wave Attacks

By: Abel Merawi

Iranian youth in battleSeptember 23, 2021 ( -- Playing chess or even observing others play it is a sobering and realistic lesson on the workings of our world – our political world, to be exact. The king and queen sit surrounded by two castles (rooks), two knights, two bishops, and eight pawns. The objective is to protect the king at any cost. All the other chess pieces serve the king by engaging in battle with opponents with similar ranks, and all are expendable sacrificial lambs. Unlike the other chess pieces, pawns are greater in number, and no one losses heart when they’re sacrificed. Chess is truly an age-old war strategy, which even democracy fails to overcome. Soldiers are still sacrificed to defend the king – the leader. But what if the rules of war actually represented the election promises of politicians, which is serving the people? What if chess has a different rule that considers victory as the protection of the pawns? What if kings had to fight valiantly and sacrifice themselves to protect the pawns?

How naïve of me to expect heroic deeds from leaders! Such a utopic dream has no place in a world where leaders are too busy creating even more expendable ranks under pawns or soldiers. In desperate times when soldiers don’t suffice, something devilish is employed by leaders. To perpetuate their luxurious life, to ever conceal their cowardice under empty rhetoric of bravery, leaders have created ‘human waves.’ As a military strategy, they call it a ‘human wave attack’.

I leave the task of discovering the details to readers, and will only focus on the meaning and unique features of this wicked military tactic. Human wave attacks are used in wars to overwhelm or engulf the opponent by sheer force of number, as Anthony Harrigan describes it in his work, The Human-Wave Strategy. But these numbers represent something debased. The unique feature of human wave attacks is that the lives who serve as a wave are regarded by their leaders as expendable, whose worthless lives become meaningful only in death. They are undertrained or untrained and are ready to face death with little defense – not to waste both training and weapons.

Unfortunately, such practices are common all around us even today. But before I make my case, I want to clear the ground through detailed historical evidence so that ardent defenders will have to defend their position with only the force of reason. History offers plenty of examples of human wave attacks. Some early instances would be the Battle of Gettysburg, during the American civil war, during WWI by Europeans, during the Korean War by Chinese PLA, and during Indochina Wars by Vietnamese insurgents. The most recent and most gruesome example would be during Iran–Iraq War by Iranian Basij. It would only be fair to also point out that on the CRS Report for Congress of July 6, 2000, titled The Ethiopia-Eritrea Conflict, Ethiopia was accused of using human wave attacks. However, Ethiopia has always denied the Eritrean-driven allegations. In addition, the shorter duration of the actual battles fought and the comparable number of troops used by both sides during that war do not give credence to that allegation.

The Iran-Iraq War of 1980 is a textbook example of a human wave attack with all its unimaginably terrible aspects. On a 2018 documentary of FRONTLINE, titled Bitter Rivals: Iran and Saudi Arabia, the horrific details of Iran’s use of human wave attacks can be found. In this documentary, Mohammad Salam from Associated Press is interviewed and speaks of this vile scene, as a journalist reporting from the battlefield at the time. The writing of Sergeant Ben Wilson, called The Evolution of Iranian War Fighting During the Iran-Iraq War, explains this in detail too. I am forced to cite these sources because what I am about to say is ‘stranger than fiction.’

During the Iran-Iraq war, Iranian forces relied on the Iranian Republican Guards Corps (IRGC), which was created after the 1979 revolution to replace the old regime’s military. IRGC consists of two forces: Pasdaran, representing better-trained cadre guards, and Basij militia, which represents millions of volunteers commanded by the Pasdaran. To defeat the greater Iraqi military power, Basij volunteers, which were composed of children as young as 12-years-old, were sent first to clear the way. In other words, they were to run into minefields, face enemy fire until they can overwhelm their opponents with a huge wave of undertrained sacrificial soldiers. After they clear the way, the better trained IRGC Pasdaran attacks the opponents. The tactic of persuasion was equally unimaginable. They were given plastic keys or permission letters to heaven from the Ayatollah when they die as martyrs. For this purpose, thousands of children (martyrs) serving as Basij were blown up to pieces, protecting the real soldiers and ultimately their leaders.

Although not as extreme as the Iranian case, we do have instances of such practices on our home soil too. Poorly trained people, in some cases underage, are being thrown into battles with complete disregard for their humanity. These are almost always the children of poor Ethiopians, usually from rural areas. They are not the sons and daughters of the elite and the decision-makers. Those dying in the thousands are very young people who should have been in schools. They were meant to be future engineers, scientists, doctors, lawyers, and accountants.

In the Iranian case, religious martyrdom was used to lure young men and women into battles. In our case, it is ethnicity. When that fails, it is the threat of violence. Let's hope this madness ends and our country rebuilds.


Abel Merawi is Addis Ababa-based contributor for He can be reached through this form.

Other articles by Abel Merawi:

The Bridge Between Love and Hate

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Necrophilia – The Affliction in Servants of Death

Public Trust in Social Media

Even Monkeys Can Use Smart Techs

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Democracy and Democratic Institutions

Democracy and Democratic People

Paideia or Deep Education

Educational Purpose: Good Citizenry Vs Rational Autonomy

Crowd Leaders as National Enemies of Ethiopia

Ethiopia Under the Threat of Crowd Mentality

Conformist Realism in Ethnic Federalism

Alternatives to National Identity

Ethiopia in Conflict - Part II: A National Stand for Unity

Ethiopia in Conflict - Part I: EPRDF and the Creation of Ethnic Division

Forms of Human Violence (Part II)

Forms of Human Violence (Part I)

The ‘Having’ Mentality

Group Narcissism

Segregated Justice


Free but in Chain, Part IV: Personal Bondage

Free but in Chain. Part III: Economic Bondage

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Free but in Chain. Part I: Bondage of Worldview

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Is America the Land of Freedom? (Part II)

Is America the Land of Freedom? (Part I)

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