thread: 2006-03-05 : No, THIS is the perfect medium

On 2006-03-12, Sydney Freedberg wrote:


So military operations are baffled by the fog of war—because even if you can see your enemy, you can't be sure what he's going to do—and bedeviled by friction—because even if your planning and training are perfect, someone's going to screw something up. In very rough terms, there are two ways to deal with this reality:

The typically Western approach, exemplified by Clausewitz: Fog stinks, friction sucks, let's get them to a minimum so we can kill the other bastards more efficiently—although, y'know, if there were no fog and friction, we might just annihilate each other, so perhaps it's just as well. (Clausewitz coined the term "total war," too, and talked about the tendency of warfare to escalate in destructiveness to both sides long past any value the original war aims might have had).

The typically Eastern approach, exemplified by Sun Tzu: Hey, the other guy is dealing with all this fog and friction too, so in addition to trying to make it go away for us, let's maximize it for him, and hopefully he'll be so confused we won't have to fight him at all!

Of course, there are lots of Western commanders who practice "Eastern" warfare: The German blitzkriegs in 1939-1941, and the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, were both based on the principle that if you hit the weak points hard enough and then keep moving faster than the enemy can react, most of the enemy army is irrelevant.

The fancy term here is "maneuver warfare," which tries to avoid the enemy's strongest forces in order to "dislocate" then—the idea being you don't have to go through the trouble of killing the bastards if you outmaneuver them so badly that they're in the wrong place with no way to get to the right place in time. When it comes to "get there fastest with the mostest," this school is willing to sacrifice "mostest" to be "fastest." Since it seeks victory through quickly exploiting fleeting opportunities, it favors flexible plans, initiative by low-level commanders, and what's called "recon-pull," where scouts find weak points and the main attack is directed at whichever weak point turns out to be weakest.

The opposing fancy term is "attrition warfare," which tries to engage the enemy's strongest forces in order to "kill the hell out of" them—the idea being that a force that's dislocated by fancy maneuvers today may get itself relocated in an awfully inconvenient place by tomorrow, but if they're dead, you're done. This school is willing to sacrifice "fastest" for "mostest." Since it seeks victory through a massive margin of error, this school favors detailed plans, tight control by senior commanders, and what's called "recon-push," where scouts are sent to reconoiter the areas that the planning staff has already decided to commit the main effort to.

In discussions of military theory, Sun-Tzu and the maneuver warfare school are generally portrayed as the good guys—so sophisticated their tactics! so bloodless their victories!—and the attrition school, including most U.S. generals from Grant onwards, are portrayed as knuckledragging butchers. And there's some truth in that: You can win by attrition by having enough people, enough equipment, and enough bloody-minded persistence; to win by maneuver, you have to be smarter than the other guy.

Here's the problem, though: To win by maneuver, you have to be smarter than the other guy. And the other guy has a great incentive to become smarter: You're killing his people—only, since this is maneuver warfare and winning-without-fighting (right? you're so humane!), you're not actually killing all of them, and boy do the survivors learn fast.

So in practice, in history, maneuver warfare finesse gets dulled by use, time after time:
- Hannibal outmaneuvered the Romans, until Fabius came up with delaying tactics.
- The German Blitzkrieg outmaneuvered the Russians, until the Russians mired it in mud and came up with fast-moving tank forces of their own (but using recon-push instead of recon-pull, and trusting in a few central commanders rather than low-level initiative).
- The American airstrike plus helicopter-borne infantry combination in the 1960s outmaneuvered the North Vietnamese, until they gave up on a quick tank attack down towards Saigon (yes, that was what they were doing before we stopped them) and turned to Viet Cong guerrillas to grind us down, year after year after year (and then, once we left, went back to the big tank formations rumbling down the road to Saigon in 1975).
- The American precision-warfare machine outmaneuvered the Iraqis in 1991 and 2003, until the Iraqis (liberated from Saddam's incompetent leadership) turned to guerrilla warfare and car bombs.

There is a limit to cleverness. To give the original, full quote from General Sherman everyone knows the short version of:

"War is all hell, and there is no refining it."


This makes...
short response
optional explanation (be brief!):

if you're human, not a spambot, type "human":