[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]
What have you bought or are reading these days?
[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]
What have you bought or are reading these days?
[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]
As the holiday season is here, I thought it would be amusing between now and Christmas to do a series of posts on books by people who have, in some fashion, been friends of ZP by supporting us with links, guest-posts, friendly comments and other intuitive gestures of online association. One keyboard washes the other.
Colonel Gentile is a historian, a professor at West Point, a combat veteran of Iraq and is the foremost public critic of pop-centric COIN theory around, bar none, which he has translated into a book-length critique that is required reading for the con side of the COIN debate. Gian has also been kind enough to grace the comment section here from time to time as well as participating in the Afghanistan 2050 Roundtable at ChicagoBoyz blog.
I have had the pleasure of hearing Don speak and demonstrate some of his adaptive leadership techniques at the Boyd Conferences which I greatly enjoyed and strongly endorse, for those interested in having Vandergriff as a speaker or consultant. His absence this year at Boyd was much regretted but Don was off doing some important work this year overseas. Catch him in print instead.
I am an unabashed huge fan of John’s work and Global Guerrillas has been on my (very) short list of must read sites for years. This book, like Ronfeldt and Arquilla’s Netwars, is a classic of emerging trends in warfare and strategy that belongs on your shelf.
Grip, the post by Lynn Rees generated comments linking to two further posts on the topic of Rear Admiral Joseph Caldwell (J.C.) Wylie, Jr. and his Military Strategy: A General Theory of Power Control which I suspect are of interest to many readers here:
….I will introduce and discuss six specific areas of Wylie’s book. The first regards the nature of strategy itself including his view of what strategy should be able to accomplish and the nature of strategic theory. Second is his actual definition of strategy and some of the assumptions behind it. Third is the methods of studying strategy including his comments on cumulative and sequential strategies. The fourth is one aspect of his commentary in regards to Mao, and the fifth pertains to his second assumption in regards to “control over the enemy” and the final point regards his overall view of a general theory of strategy which ties all the points together.
One of Wylie’s most valid points is that military and naval officers who command and plan our military operations use certain patterns of thought which are essentially strategic without even them being aware of it:
An idea is a very powerful thing, and political ideas or religious ideas or economic ideas have always affected and often controlled the courses of man’s destinies. That we understand and accept. So also have strategic ideas influenced or controlled man’s destinies, but too few men, including the men who had them, have recognized the controlling strategic concepts and theories hidden behind the glamor or the stench or the vivid, active drama of the war itself.(page 9)
Not only that, but a soldier, a sailor and an airman look at the same operation in very different ways, the airman especially “stands apart in basic principle from them both”. For this reason Wylie sees a general theory of strategy necessary in order to bring these different perspectives together in a way that makes sense of the whole: “what is necessary is that the whole of the thing, all of war, be studied” (p 12). The project he takes on is daunting in that “the intellectual framework is not clearly defined, and its vocabulary is almost non-existent” (p 11).
NerveAgent - J.C. Wylie: American Clausewitz?
….To formulate his own theory, Wylie starts from four guiding assumptions:
1. There may be a war, despite all efforts to prevent it. The reasoning behind this point should be self-explanatory, but alas, liberal internationalists consistently fail to grasp it.
2. The aim of war is some measure of control over the enemy. This is one of Wylie’s most important points. With it, he explains the strategic object of war itself, above the operational focus of the Clausewitzian dictum of disarming the enemy. After all, as Clausewitz himself acknowledges, destroying the enemy’s army is a means to an end. The end is control. What “control” is will differ depending on the war itself and the value judgements of the parties involved. For the West, control usually involves the defeated being accepted back into the world community, but not as a threat.
3. We cannot predict with certainty the pattern of the war for which we prepare ourselves.Wylie would certainly take issue with all the rhetoric today that would have the U.S. abandon “obsolete Cold War thinking” in favor strategies geared primarily for irregular warfare. His point is that strategists must be provided with all the necessary tools from which they can craft plans to deal with individual contingencies, especially if official U.S. policy is to have full-spectrum capabilities.
4. The ultimate determinant in war is the man on the scene with the gun. This acknowledges that, if all else has failed, only land power can impose control upon the enemy.
From these assumptions, he develops the statement that is the core of his work:
The primary aim of the strategist in the conduct of war is some selected degree of control of the enemy for the strategist’s own purpose; this is achieved by control of the pattern of war; and this control of the pattern of war is had by manipulation of the center of gravity of war to the advantage of the strategist and the disadvantage of the opponent.
The successful strategist is the one who controls the nature and the placement and the timing and the weight of the centers of gravity of war, and who exploits the resulting control of the pattern of war toward his own ends.
I have been eager to read this book by the eminent Anglo-American strategist Colin Gray ever since Adam Elkus sang it’s praises and now I have a hardcover copy thanks entirely to an enterprising amigo. A description from Oxford Scholarship:
The Strategy Bridge: Theory for Practice is an original contribution to the general theory of strategy. While heavily indebted to the writings of Carl von Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, and the very few other classic authors, this book presents the theory, rather than merely comments on the theory, as developed by others. Bridge explains that the purpose of strategy is to connect purposefully politics and policy with the instruments they must use. The primary focus of attention is on military strategy, but this subject is well nested in discussion of grand strategy, for which military strategy is only one strand. Bridge presents the general theory of strategy comprehensively and explains the utility of this general theory for the particular strategies that strategists need to develop in order to meet their historically unique challenges. The book argues that strategy’s general theory provides essential education for practicing strategists at all times and in all circumstances. As general theory, Bridge is as relevant to understanding strategic behaviour in the Peloponnesian War as it is for the conflicts of the twenty?first century. The book proceeds from exposition of general strategic theory to address three basic issue areas that are not at all well explained in the extant literature, let alone understood, with a view to advancing better practice. Specifically, Bridge tackles the problems that harass and imperil strategic performance; it probes deeply into the hugely under?examined subject of just what it is that the strategist produces—strategic effect; and it ‘joins up the dots’ from theory through practice to consequences, by means of a close examination of command performance. Bridge takes a holistic view of strategy, and it is rigorously attentive to the significance of the contexts within which and for which strategies are developed and applied. The book regards the strategist as a hero, charged with the feasible, but awesomely difficult, task of converting the threat and use of force (for military strategy) into desired political consequences. He seeks some control over the rival or enemy via strategic effect, the product of his instrumental labours. In order to maximize his prospects for success, the practicing strategist requires all the educational assistance that strategic theory can provide.
I am unfortunately in the midst of a large project for work, but The Strategy Bridge is now at the very top of my bookpile and I will review it when I am finished.
And as long as we are on the subject of Professor Gray, he ventured into the murky domain of cyber war recently, publishing a monograph on the subject for The Strategic Studies Institute:
Obviously, Dr. Gray is not in the “Cyber Pearl Harbor” camp:
The revolution in military affairs (RMA) theory of the 1990s (and the transformation theory that succeeded it) was always strategy- and politics-light. It is not exactly surprising thatthe next major intellectual challenge, that of cyber, similarly should attract analysis and assessment almost entirely naked of political and strategic meaning. Presumably, many people believed that “doing it” was more important than thinking about why one should be doing it. Anyone who seeks to think strategically is obliged to ask, “So what?” of his or her subject of current concern. But the cyber revolution did not arrive with three bangs, in a manner closely analogous to the atomic fact of the summer of 1945; instead it ambled, then galloped forward over a 25-year period, with most of us adapting to it in detail. When historians in the future seek to identify a classic book or two on cyber power written in the 1990s and 2000s, they will be hard pressed to locate even the shortest of short-listable items. There are three or four books that appear to have unusual merit, but they are not conceptually impressive. Certainly they are nowhere near deserving (oxymoronic) instant classic status. It is important that cyber should be understood as just another RMA, because it is possible to make helpful sense of it in that context. Above all else, perhaps, RMA identification enables us to place cyber where it belongs, in the grand narrative of strategic history….
Read the rest here.
Taking a break for a bit from .mil topics in order to refresh my perspective on strategy and policy with new learning elsewhere. Reading a lot on creativity of late and a comprehensive post or paper may be the ultimate result.
Taleb’s book has been the focus of some interesting online exchanges elsewhere. Previously I wrote of Antifragile:
One of the ”must read” books for 2013. I watched Taleb kick around some of the concepts in Antifragile on his Facebook page and then observed friends like co-blogger Scott Shipman and Dr. Terry Barnhart comment as they started reading shortly after the book’s release. There are many things in Antifragile (including, it seems, a fair piece on the epistemic deficiencies of Socrates) and this is a book to read with care – not least because I intuitively agree with a number of Taleb’s arguments which means reading with a critical eye will require more effort.
I like the “antifragile” concept. It’s useful. So I have my sharpie in hand as I read.
What are you reading these days?
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