Saturday, November 26, 2016

Some Philosophic Remarks for the New President-Elect

Congratulations, President-elect Trump, you are now committed to filling what is arguably the toughest jobs on the planet.

As you obviously understand, the President’s most important function is to make decisions.  You will be inundated by matters to be decided by you usually accompanied by recommendations from advisors, counselors, cabinet secretaries, members of Congress, et al, but you will be the actual decision maker.  Also, as important as many of your past decisions were in business, your decisions as President may literally decide between war and peace, life and death for Americans and others.   Although the Federal Government will not function if you try to make all of the decisions yourself, it’s just too big and complex and there are too many things going on every day, you should resist as much as possible any thought of delegating the big war and peace decisions that will define your presidency. 
War is the organized use or threatened use of violence in conflicts between two or more states or proto-states.  Warfare is the collective human activity of conducting a war.  War is universal but warfare reflects culture, history, social organization, technology, personality, inspiration, etc. and will always be different each time a war breaks out even as parties to the conflict try to refight their last war.  Peace is generally but inaccurately considered to be the absence of war.  A lifetime studying history, war, warfare, military affairs long ago convinced me that "if you want peace, prepare for war" (from Epitoma Rei Militaris, by the Roman Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus).  To appear unprepared to go to war even in your own defense is the surest way for a nation to invite war.
That said, the most important lesson I have derived from the reading of Clausewitz is that war and the use of military force to resolve a dispute or conflict is almost always the worst possible tool for solving a problem or resolving a dispute (except in cases of national survival).  Murphy’s Law applies to war because in war whatever can go wrong probably will go wrong.  The military set great store in having plans because a plan let’s everyone know what they’re deviating from.  The Law of Unintended Consequences equally dictates that for every anticipated result of a war, there will be multiple events that were not intended almost none of them good for you.  Edward Luttwak, a very smart guy even when I disagree with him, wrote a whole book on how the logic ofwar and conflict is the opposite of what applies outside of war. 
The first decision you have to make – because if you wait until a crisis to decide it may be too late – is whether you accept the reality that nuclear weapons are not for fighting wars but for preventing anyone else from using their nuclear weapons against the US or its friends or allies.  Deterrence is the name of the game and in order for it to work, the US invests effort and resources in to preparing to use them.  (See above re the logic of war).

Another important idea for both decision making in general and for war and warfare in particular is to understand that ‘speed is essential, haste harmful’ –Alexander Vasilyevich Suvorov.  Our own John Boyd took this idea a step further with his OODA Loop, which emphasized the cycle of Observe, Orient, Decide, Act – and doing it faster than your opponent so that he is reacting to what you do rather than initiating his own plans.  Many observers note that in today’s cyber-world, the available time to complete this cycle is under incredible pressure.

There are also some important concepts used in discussing warfare - 

Surprise – doing anything that your opponent did not expect, i.e. attacking in a place, at a time, or with a capability that wasn’t expected.  This is one of the oldest force multipliers giving the attacker the initiative.

Mass and/or Unity of Effort – making sure that enough friendly force is concentrated at the right place and time to assure victory – but not too much force – and that few if any friendly forces are needlessly left out of the fight.

Simplicity – “keep it simple, stupid”.  Combat is a multiple body problem (a phrase coined by astrophysicists to describe really hard and complicated interactions between many objects moving through space over the same time period).  The more bodies you have in motion, the harder it is to know who’s doing what much less control them as they do it.   Napoleon, Robert E Lee, Ulysses S Grant, and Dwight Eisenhower all ran into this challenge.

You never want to pit your strength directly against an opponent’s strength.  You commit your strength against weakness – never fight fair.  All properly executed warfare is Asymmetric.

You have seen along with all of us how in Iraq and in Afghanistan, the US failed in its efforts to rebuild and reshape those nations, societies, and cultures.  The US Armed Forces and the Department of State are not constituted, equipped, manned, or supported for such missions.  Ultimately, only Iraqis and Afghans can rebuild.  Our best role is to help and support them with aid and sometimes by fielding military forces to secure space in both time and geography in which our local friends and allies can do that rebuilding.   We are also not constituted politically and socially to support seemingly open ended deployments of our military forces for anything other than a major conflict.

Finally and most importantly, holding the Moral High Ground in conducting military combat operations is as critically important to long term mission success as holding the tactical high ground on the battlefield.  We have to reserve the use of lethal military force for those situations in which it is truly warranted, will be most effective, and can be used with the minimum – preferably zero – damage or casualties to civilians/non-combatants.  And we have to be seen to be acting with restraint and limited aims because as the old cliche reminds us, "with great power comes great responsibility."  As you may have observed, many Americans are not happy with the USA acting as the world's policeman, but they are even more unhappy when anyone else does it.

Monday, February 15, 2016

“Remember the Maine and to Hell with Spain!”

Today, in 1898, the American armored cruiser, USS Maine, blew up and sank in the harbor at Santiago, Cuba, then still a Spanish possession though one facing an ongoing Cuban insurgency.  As both historians and action or watch officers know, first reports are almost always wrong but at the time these still-disputed reports cumulatively placed the responsibility for the sinking on the Spanish.  War between the United States and Spain (with some involvement by Cubans and eventually Filipinos) ensued, ending with the US acquiring additional island territories in the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean.

I’m sharing with you a few poems reflecting the complexities of that war, which cemented a domestic reconciliation in a United States still bearing the scars of the Civil War barely 40 years earlier.  However, that reconciliation was achieved on the backs of African-Americans facing Jim Crow laws curtailing their rights as citizens to live, work, and vote as freely and equally as anyone else.  The war was fought, like all of our wars until recent years, by volunteer citizen-soldiers, commanded by a mix of both Confederate and Union veteran generals and by a professional though fledgling navy fighting in two oceans.

One of the first poems is an old favorite focusing upon the Irish who were now coming into their own in many ways in America.  The verses also note how the Irish had fought for and on the soil of many nations beyond Ireland, including in and even for Spain, and how even sometimes Irishmen fought Irishmen in other people’s battles, though that’s not hit upon too hard here.  The reference to Marye’s Heights brings in the role of the Union Army’s Irish Brigade at the Battle of Fredericksburg.  Vinegar Hill was one of the battles of the 1798 Rising in Ireland against British Rule – and the British troops did include at least one hired German regiment, thus the “Hessian blood.”  The next verse’s references are first to the original Irish Brigade that fought for France e.g., (Ramillies and Fontenoy) and then to the role of the Irish in Britain’s imperial wars (Waterloo, Egypt and Dargai).  An emigrant to America from Dublin, Clarke was a newspaper man, poet, playwright, and a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) that would be instrumental in launching the 1916 Easter Rising. 


“READ out the names!” and Burke sat back,
   And Kelly drooped his head.
While Shea—they call him Scholar Jack—
  Went down the list of the dead.
Officers, seamen, gunners, marines,
  The crews of the gig and the yawl,
The bearded man and the lad in his teens,
  Carpenters, coal passers—all.
Then knocking the ashes from out his pipe,
  Said Burke in an offhand way:
“We’re all in that dead man’s list, by Cripe!
  Kelly and Burke and Shea.”
“Well, here’s to the Maine, and I’m sorry for Spain,”
  Said Kelly and Burke and Shea.

“Wherever there’s Kellys there’s trouble,” said Burke.
  “Wherever fighting’s the game,
Or a spice of danger in grown man’s work,”
  Said Kelly, “you’ll find my name.”
“And do we fall short,” said Burke, getting mad,
  “When it’s touch and go for life?”
Said Shea, “it’s thirty-odd years, bedad,
  Since I charged to drum and fife
Up Marye’s Heights, and my old canteen
  Stopped a rebel ball on its way.
There were blossoms of blood on our sprigs of green—
  Kelly and Burke and Shea—
And the dead didn’t brag.”  “Well, here’s to the flag!”
  Said Kelly and Burke and Shea.

“I wish’t was in Ireland, for there’s the place,”
  Said Burke, “that we’d die by right,
In the cradle of our soldier race,
  After one good stand-up fight.
My grandfather fell on Vinegar Hill,
  And fighting was not his trade;
But his rusty pike’s in the cabin still,
  With Hessian blood on the blade.”
“Aye, aye,” said Kelly, “the pikes were great
  When the word was ‘clear the way!’
We were thick on the roll in ninety-eight—
  Kelly and Burke and Shea.”
“Well here’s to the pike and the sword and the like!”
  Said Kelly and Burke and Shea.

And Shea, the scholar, with rising joy,
  Said, “We were at Ramillies;
We left our bones at Fontenoy
  And up in the Pyrenees;
Before Dunkirk, on the Landen’s plain,
  Cremona, Lille, and Ghent,
We’re all over Austria, France, and Spain,
  Wherever they pitched a tent.
We’ve died for England from Waterloo
  To Egypt and Dargai;
And still there’s enough for a corps or crew,
  Kelly and Burke and Shea.”
“Well, here is to good honest fighting blood!”
  Said Kelly and Burke and Shea.

“Oh, the fighting races don’t die out,
  If they seldom die in bed,
For love is first in their hearts, no doubt,”
  Said Burke; then Kelly said:
“When Michael, the Irish Archangel, stands,
  The angel with the sword,
And the battle-dead from a hundred lands
  Are ranged in one big horde,
Our line, that for Gabriel’s trumpet waits,
  Will stretch three deep that day,
From Jehoshaphat to the Golden Gates—
   Kelly and Burke and Shea.”
“Well, here’s thank God for the race and the sod!”
  Said Kelly and Burke and Shea.

That reconciliation of North and South was also a theme for poets, as seen in these two by Frank L Stanton.  The first is typical of the jingo-ism of the times – both for the South and for the nation as a whole in its contest with Spain.  While not the most foremost of the “Lost Cause” writers of the period, Stanton had a good platform as a journalist in Atlanta for much of his life.  His poetry also was typical of the work of a number of contemporaries who wrote with a regional emphasis and voice both thematically and in style. The USS Dixie  was in fact not even built for the navy but was a steam brig bought for navy service in 1898 as an auxiliary cruiser and later destroyer tender.


They’ve named a cruiser “Dixie”—that’s what the papers say—
An’ I hears they’re goin’ to man her with the boys that wore the gray;
Good news!  It sorter thrills me and makes me want to be
Whar the band is playin’ “Dixie” an’ the “Dixie” puts to sea.

They’ve named a cruiser “Dixie” an’, fellers, I’ll be boun’
You’re goin’ to see some fightin’ when the “Dixie” swings eroun’!
Ef any o’ them Spanish ships’ll strike her east or west,
Jest let the ban’ play “Dixie” an’ the boys’ll doe the rest!

I want to see that “Dixie”—I want to take my stan’
On the deck of her, an’ holler:  “Three cheers for Dixie lan’!”
She means we’re all united—the war hurts healed away,
An’ “Way Down South in Dixie” is national to-day!

I bet she’s a good ‘un!  I’ll stake my last red cent
Thar ain’t no better timber in the whole blamed settlement!
An’ all their shiny battleships beside that ship are tame,
Fer, when it comes to “Dixie,” thar’s somethin’ in a name!

Here’s three cheers an’ a tiger—as hearty as kin be,
An’ let the ban’ play “Dixie” when the “Dixie” puts to sea!
She’ll make her way an’ win the day from shinin’ east to west—
Jest let the ban’ play “Dixie” an’ the boys’ll do the rest!


YES, sir, I fought with Stonewall,
     And faced the fight with Lee;
But if this here Union goes to war,
     Make one more gun for me!
I didn’t shrink from Sherman
     As he galloped to the sea;
But if this here Union goes to war,
     Make one more gun for me!

I was with ‘em at Manassas—
     The bully boys in gray;
I heard the thunders roarin’
     Round Stonewall Jackson’s way;
And many a time this sword of mine
     Has blazed the route for Lee,
But if this old Union goes to war,
     Make one more gun for me!

I’m not so full o’ fightin’
     Nor half so full o’ fun
As I was back in the sixties
     When I shouldered my old gun.
It may be that my hair is white
     (Such things, you know, must be),
But if this old Union’s in for fight,
     Make one more gun for me!

I hain’t forgot my raisin’,
     Nor how, in sixty-two
Or thereabouts, with battle shouts,
     I charged the boys in blue;
And I say, I fought with Stonewall
     And blazed the way for Lee,
But if this old Union’s in for war,
     Make one more gun for me!

Frank L Stanton, (1898)

But the Spanish-American War inspired not just voices speaking for the Irish or for the South recovering from defeat.  Among these “regional” voices was Paul Laurence Dunbar, the son of slaves as well as poet, novelist, and journalist whose work appeared in The New York Times.   Although the charge of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders up San Juan Hill at Santiago is oft remembered in histories, paintings, and verse – the participation alongside the Rough Riders of the 24th and 25th Colored Infantry is as often overlooked and forgotten as it is remembered (even by Roosevelt it seemed at times).   Dunbar here appears to be telling those soldiers that their role on that day will – eventually – be remembered alongside the men of the Maine. 


Round the whole earth, from the red field your valour has won,
Blown with the breath of the far-speaking gun,
                                Goes the word.
Bravely you spoke through the battle cloud heavy and dun.
Tossed though the speech toward the mist hidden sun,
                                The world heard.

Hell would have shrunk from you seeking it fresh from the fray,
Grim with the dust of the battle, and gray
                                From the fight.
Heaven would have crowned you, with crowns not of gold but of bay,
Owning you fit for the light of her day,
                                Men of night.

Far through the cycle of years and of lives that shall come,
There shall speak voices long muffled and dumb,
                                Out of fear.
And through the noises of trade and the turbulent hum,
Truth shall rise over the militant drum,
                                Loud and clear.

Then on the cheek of the honester nation that grows,
All for the love of you, not for your woes,
                                There shall lie
Tears that shall be to your souls as the dew to the rose;
Afterward thanks, that the present yet knows
                                Not to ply!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Some Philosophical Musings from The Military Philosopher

Having been at this for a while, I should share my thoughts about the military philosophy of The Military Philosopher.  After a lifetime of reading military history, studying wargames and simulations, walking battlefields, time spent in various uniforms in the Army National Guard and as a living historian, and a career working in political military affairs in both the State and Defense Departments, I do have a military philosophy. It principally draws upon Clausewitz mixed with a bit of Sun Tzu, a dash of Liddell Hart and the indirect approach, JFC Fuller’s mobile warfare, and odd ideas here and there from many others.  What I propose to do here is to hit some of the highlights rather than attempt to replicate On War or The Art of War.

Let’s begin by defining some terms.  War is the organized use of the threat of violence and/or actual violence in conflict between two or more states (or proto-states).  Warfare is how humans go about  conducting a war.  War is universal while warfare is where we see the impact of culture, history, social organization, technology, personality, inspiration, etc.  War and warfare exist upon one extreme end of a spectrum that runs from that extreme to the other – peace.  This spectrum presents the range of activities of states and proto-states as they interact with each other. 
The first lesson I took away from reading Clausewitz at the Naval War College was what I read as his insistence in the introductory chapters of On War that war is absolutely, definitively the dumbest possible way to resolve a dispute.  The rest of the book is for the benefit of those who ignore that advice and read on as Clausewitz explains what war is, what warfare is, and how to be successful in waging war.

The Principles of War are a checklist, a reminder, not a straightjacket.   The commander needs to mentally run down the list in planning or executing military operations to determine which ones are relevant, but there is no need to churn out reams of explanation of how each one does or does not apply.  I’m not fixated on any one version of the many lists of principles that have been put out, primarily because there is a lot of overlap from one list to the next and usually the variations reflect a particular technological period and are adjusted as technology changes.

·         Speed is I think the most important of the principles of war – but in the sense given it by Suvorov when he said, “Speed is essential, haste harmful.”   Speed is critically important for seizing and maintaining the Initiative as John Boyd famously captured the thought in his OODA Loop – observe, orient, decide, act – in order to get inside your opponent’s own OODA cycle and put him into a purely reactive posture.

·         Surprise means doing anything that your opponent did not expect, i.e. attacking him in a place, or at a time, or with a capability that he didn’t expect.  Surprise is one of the very earliest ‘force multipliers.’  A critical effect of surprise is to give the attacker the Initiative.

·         Mass and/or Unity of Effort are aspects of the same challenge for the commander, i.e. making sure that enough friendly force is concentrated at the right place and right time to ensure victory and that few if any friendly forces are needlessly left out of the fight.

·         Simplicity – as in “Keep it Simple, Stupid”.  Combat is a multiple body problem and as the physicists/astrophysicists know the more bodies you have in motion the harder it is to know who’s doing what much less control them as they do it.

You never want to pit your strength directly against your opponent’s strength.  You want to commit it against his weakness – never fight fair.  Therefore, all properly executed warfare is Asymmetric Warfare. 
The Combined Arms approach to combat is essential – infantry, armor, artillery, air and sea power.   No single arm wins wars without the support and aid of the other forms of combat power.  While never denying the delight in having effective close air support (among other things), nothing says victory like a foot parade through the streets of the enemy capital (though the political decision-makers may conclude that it’s better to trade that pleasure for a sustainable peace after the war).  When everything inevitably breaks down, everyone in uniform is an infantryman.  When all else fails, you should still have your personal weapon(s) and the knowledge of how to use them effectively.

As for commanders, I have seen at least two senior German Generals, General Kurt von Hammerstein and Field Marshal von Manstein, quoted as offering a formula which must have been taught at one of the German training schools (or learned in the corridors, so to speak).  I prefer the version attributed to von Hammerstein but both say essentially the same thing:

“There are four kinds of officer:  the lazy, stupid type who do no harm; the intelligent, hard-working type who make good staff officers; the lazy, intelligent type are the best strategic leaders; and, finally, the stupid, hardworking type who must be dismissed immediately as they will lead to disaster.”

Thomas Kuhn argued that his concept of scientific revolution was not applicable to the social sciences but I disagree.  I am a believer in the concept of The Revolution in Military Affairs, though I do not buy in to all of the touted RMAs cited over recent decades.  RMA is still not widely or correctly understood.  For example, many people do not realize that there can be more than one RMA at work simultaneously and that they are usually more easily recognized after the fact.  It is also overlooked that the real revolution is in the application of a “new” technology – often something that has in fact been around for a decade or two before its optimal application is understood, recognized, and used.   It is important to remember that there is no such thing as an obsolete weapon or military technology; it retains value as a niche or situational tool.

Holding the Moral High Ground in conducting military combat operations is critically important.  This is true for the individual soldier, sailor, marine, or airman as well as for the armed forces to which they belong, and for the nation that sent them out to do so.  We have to give the individuals all of the tools – physical, mental, spiritual – that will enable them to identify and secure that moral high ground in every tactical, operational, strategic, and political situation.  They need to begin building this from their first day of training because done correctly this will also equip them for the transition back into the civilian world upon the completion of their service.

To close, I offer one final observation.  Having invented warfare in order to better harness war and bend it to benefit humanity, history amply demonstrates that after millennia we generally are not very good at it.  The expenditure of treasure and blood is usually greater than whatever material benefits (barring simple survival) have been gained by that expenditure.  Even the greatest masters of the art of war like Napoleon I and Alexander the Great fell short over the span of their careers.  This should give us all added reason to pause and think calmly about any decision regarding launching a war because war always includes renewed validation of the Law of Unintended Consequences.