I promised Nathaniel Lauterbach that I'd leave a comment on his excellent post at the Clausewitz Roundtable. However, I broke that promise and did not comment. So I thought I'd do one better and write a post on it. One of the important aspects of Clausewitz is that he focuses very much on the psychological dimension of conflict, a quality that other writers frequently neglect. What kind of mind does someone need to master the "art" of war---a complex human social form that defies reductionism and supposedly iron rules? Lauterbach writes that the ideal military commander according to Clausewitz is "Practical, realistic, inquiring, and experienced." He quotes Clausewitz at length:
"Knowledge must be so absorbed into the mind that it almost ceases to exist in a separate, objective way. In almost any other art or profession a man can work with truths he has learned from musty books, but which have no life or meaning for them….Continual change and the need to respond to it compels the commander to carry the whole intellectual apparatus of his knowledge within him. He must always be ready to bring forth the appropriate decision. By total assimilation with his mind and life, the commander’s knowledge must be transformed into genuine capability."
Later, Lauterbach cites the example of the "strategic corporal"--a figure introduced by former Marine Corps General Charles Krulak. The strategic corporal is a low-ranking soldier whose tactical actions in the media-heavy "Three Block War" can have strategic significance.
"Is tactical experience irrelevant? Clausewitz certainly thinks so. Therefore he must mean that only strategic experiences are a source of strategic knowledge. If that is the case, then perhaps our entire process where we attempt to produce strategic excellence from tactical excellence is foolish! Is this the case? Should we continue expecting our tactical leaders to miraculously transform into strategic leaders? Might we be better off by trying to produce tactical excellence from strategic excellence? (The exact opposite of what we’ve been doing). Could this be the genius of the Strategic Corporal concept? Is the Strategic Corporal a worthy rejoin to strategic incompetence?"
Developing a tactical appreciation for strategic factors is at the heart of former Army Maj. Donald Vandergriff's writings on adaptive leadership in conflict. But, as Vandergriff writes, it is easier to talk about adaptability than institutionalize it, especially given countervailing social and career pressures. Modern wars "among the people," however, demand appreciation for strategic factors because every kinetic operation is also an information operation.