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October 04, 2010


Joseph Fouche

The engineering mindset that Colin S. Gray asserts dominates American military thinking in "The Making of Strategy" strikes me as accurate. While grasping for a strategic panacea with tactical-style certainty is deeply embedded in Western military thinking as shown by the Von Bulow-Jomini-(early) Fuller-Liddell Hart tradition that Clausewitz lampooned, it's siren call is especially attractive to Americans. It may be that the binary American conception of war, with its sharp demarcation between distasteful war and tasteful peace, creates huge pressures to find short cuts back back to peace. The search for the military magic bullet draws on the same American impulses that leads to get rich quick schemes. It is in such deep tendencies that American problems (and some solutions) come from.


The latter issue--the bifurcation between distasteful war and tasteful peace--is something I want to explore in the future.

By the way Joseph, have you ever read any stuff by Tetlock?

Phil Ridderhof

In terms of application to military planning, this issue is why I like many of the ideas in the "Design" movement. Our current planning emphasizes analysis (the engineering approach), which is based on the assumption that by breaking the problem apart into its discrete parts we can find the key factors (COGs), and vulnerabilities, etc. Its not by accident that the first step in military planning has been mission analysis. This faciliates applying "magic bullet" solutions and an idea of efficient use of effort.

Effects-Based Operations, in practice, used the same approach. The situation and mission was broken into discrete parts ("effects"), which were further defined by desired Measures of Effectiveness (MOEs) and Measures of Performance (MOPs) in elegant flow charts that showed how specific tasks could be nicely (and linearly) linked to achieving desired effects.

What is hardest to describe in theory, and thus translate into a trainable planning approach, is synthesis: understanding the the whole is more, or at least different, than the sum of its parts. Also, we cannot be fully sure of the cause-effect linkages in play. Even when we do have a clue, they will change as the situation develops.

I think its the aspect of synthesis that can really only be understood through constant exposure and study of history (ala Clausewitz as explained by Jon Sumida in "Decoding Clausewitz" 2008).

Joseph Fouche

I've only encountered Tetlock as he's been transfused via Nassim Nicholas Taleb. I have a few of his books on my Amazon Wish List but, as they are in the "deep" antilibrary, it may be some time before I ever get around to them

A key phrase in the American dichotomy between war and peace is "beyond the Pale". Within the original Pale of Settlement there was "normalcy", order, law, civilization, and domesticity. Outside there was Indian Irish Territory, disorder, lawlessness, barbarity, and wildness. The English preferred to remain inside the Pale but if the world beyond the Pale intruded inside the Pale, the English would intervene outside the Pale using a viciousness that was often also outside the Pale. The ferocity you see in the Elizabethan conquest of Ireland and the early wars by the English colonists against the Indians may be a sort of magic bullet analog: by escalating war towards extremes of violence you might shorten the interruption of normalcy.

This line of Sherman's from his famous letter to the mayor of Atlanta always struck me: You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices to-day than any of you to secure peace. But you cannot have peace and a division of our country. If the United States submits to a division now, it will not stop, but will go on until we reap the fate of Mexico, which is eternal, war. The United States does and must assert its authority, wherever it once had power; for, if it relaxes one bit to pressure, it is gone...

One major thrust of American strategy since Jamestown has been pushing the House of War further and further from the boundaries of America domesticity by ridding its flanks of warmaking European states, their local proxies, and local competing military powers. Extreme violence such as the March to the Sea and the March from the Sea, strategic bombing, and the atom bomb were mechanisms to secure peace as quickly as possible.

This strategy of extreme violence alternating with extreme peace allowed the creation of a zone of domesticity many Americans find addictive. So addicting, in fact, that to many Americans leaving it is an expulsion from Paradise and the only thing they want to do is go home (very few Americans in proportion to the population live outside the United States). If they have to leave America, they want where every they go to be a FOB as much like America as possible. Another expression of this is erratic interventions "beyond the Pale" to try to settle the wild world outside down by making it more like the world inside the Pale.


I just got Castel's "Decision in the West," will take a look at his view of Sherman.

Joseph Fouche

If Confederate troops could have walked on water, I wonder if Joe Johnston would have fallen back as far as the mid-Atlantic in his attempts to keep Sherman from outflanking him. Reminds me of the old quote, "Sherman will never go to hell; he will flank the devil and make heaven in spite of the guards."

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