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The Elegance of Distributed Lethality

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

[by J. Scott Shipman]

In April of 2017 I was honored to speak at a Naval Postgraduate School Littoral Operations Center “Littoral Op-Tech” event in Cartagena, Columbia. This was supposed to be my last Op-tech event, as I was winding down the effort to make our submersible boat a reality. As it turned out, I was in Halifax, Nova Scotia about a year later—and that was my swan song.


The core of this talk was based on four bullet points the late Wayne Hughes wrote on a piece of paper sometime in 2016 and asked me to deliver to VADM Tom Rowden. I had mentioned that I was scheduled to be in a meeting with the admiral the following week, so Wayne wrote four bullet points as points of departure for Admiral Rowden to consider as he attempted to execute his “distributed lethality” concept. The bullets were: Distributed Influence, Distributed Competition, Distributed Confrontation, and Distributed Interdiction. I made a copy and referred to them frequently and added to the list as I thought appropriate. Later in email correspondence, Wayne filled out his ideas of these bullet points and allowed me to use when I told him about this idea for the talk. These bullets are identified with (WPH).


As far as I know, Distributed Lethality as a focus evaporated when VADM Rowden retired, but in my opinion his initiative was refreshing and much needed. Perhaps this little missive will resurrect some interest and spark new interest.


If this collection of ideas seems a bit “all over the map,” it is because it is. The talk was meant to be given with slides, and to generate discussion. This is also my first foray back to blogging in too many years. I apologize in advance it this is too long and conversational—or too navy-centric. Charles left some big shoes to fill.

Setting the stage with quotes and ideas:


“…strikes may in all instances be necessary but they will not in all instances be sufficient to achieve a national military purpose…[and] a fleet is incomplete which has not elements that can operate in waters next to the enemy coast.” From Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, Second Edition, pg 249-250 by Wayne P. Hughes, Jr., CAPT, USN, Ret (emphasis added).


“Where missiles are concerned, the contest between the offense and defense is marked by a serious differential in starting points. In practical terms, the offense has a huge and nearly motionless target to hit and needs to hit it only once. One large missile warhead is equivalent to something like five or ten direct hits by a sixteen-inch gun. The defense, on the other hand, is required to intercept an extremely fast and quite agile flying object, sometimes hardly detectable in the various phases of its trajectory, which can be launched from any operational dimension and often—for design purposes, every time—completely by surprise.” From The Littoral Arena; A Word of Caution, by RADM Yedidia “Didi” Ya’ari, Israel Navy, Naval War College Review, Summer 2014 (emphasis added) (this was a reprint suggested by Wayne Hughes who wrote, A Prophet For Our Times to accompany the rerelease.)


“Future wars in which LRPS (Long Range Precision Strike) systems predominate will involve efforts by all sides to find adversary platforms while hiding their own from the enemy’s ISR and targeting systems. In the “hider/finder” competition, a mobile platform that can hide in clutter (such as environmental or electromagnetic noise, dense traffic areas, on and under the water, etc.) will likely survive and be capable of offensive action. This will become the paramount element in contested seas, straits, and littorals. The offensive action of targeting and counter targeting is decisive, and no navy ever triumphed at sea without having the offensive advantage.” RADM Walter E. Carter, Proceedings, May 2014

These three quotes identify challenges that are just the tip of the iceberg one must encounter if there is any hope of success in the littorals. If history is our guide, the littorals are a life and death environment. Whether a defender or an aggressor, how a navy fights in coastal green water more often than not decides who wins and who loses.
US VADM Tom Rowden, Commander of US Naval Surface Forces introduced the idea of “distributed lethality.” In a January 2015 article in Proceedings he and his colleagues wrote:
“For more power in more places, the Navy should increase the offensive might of the surface force and employ ships in dispersed formations known as ‘hunter-killer surface action groups.’
With respect to VADM Rowden, I would suggest a slight modification:
“For more power in more places, the Navy should increase the offensive might of the surface and subsurface forces and employ ships in dispersed formations known as ‘hunter-killer surface action groups.”
These hunter-killer action groups would be an elegant solution to challenges faced in the littorals. So let us quickly examine some of the attributes and advantages Distributed Lethality brings, bearing in mind many of these examples overlap.
Distributable Options. The number of platforms will often determine the number of options available to leadership. Fewer platforms limits options in an almost binary fashion—ships are either available or not. As magnificent as some of our big deck multipurpose warships are, they can’t be in two places at once. The more ships, the more choices and the more flexibility across the spectrum.
Distributable Presence. Presence is a message without words. The Freedom of Navigation Operations conducted in the South China Sea recently are a good example of the power of presence to send an unmistakable message. As William Beasley wisely suggested in the November 2015 issue of Proceedings, the US Navy needs to “close the presence gap.” Beasley “steals” a line from former Naval War College Dean CAPT Barney Rubel and defines “presence” — “it means being there.”
Distributable Influence. (WPH) A large number of affordable surface [ JSS: and subsurface] ships can be widely distributed—or aggregated—on demand anywhere in the world where our presence is wanted and we are needed. I added subsurface ships to Wayne’s list because knowledge of the potential for additional subsurface presence will influence the decision-making process of an adversary.
Distributable Competition. (WPH) A large number of lethal ships that are capable of cooperating to make sneak attacks using a wide variety of targeting capabilities, and can be based forward in peacetime at small cost in friendly ports.
Distributable OODA. John Boyd’s OODA loop for Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act is a complex, yet simple diagram of decision making (or learning) and engagement. The larger point I want to illustrate with this slide is the power of Distributable Situational Awareness (observe) (manned or unmanned), Distributable Orientation (multiplied across platforms) (mostly manned, but aspects could be assigned to an algorithm), Distributable Decisions, and Distributable Action (manned or unmanned). Implicit in OODA is explicit knowledge of Commander’s Intent, where individual Commanding Officers possess the knowledge and capability to execute Commander’s Intent throughout the full spectrum of options.
Armed with their commander’s intent, their human senses and ship sensors a ship’s captain will possess a level of adaptability/flexibility that we will never be able to pre-program into an unmanned system, or implement from remote control. From the Battle of Salamis over 2,000 years ago to the War on Terror, the history of warfare is replete with examples of human ingenuity and bravery overcoming what seemed like at the time impossible odds. As CAPT Frank Andrews wrote in a 1958 Proceedings article:
“But let no one forget that one and only one element will finally sway the balance, when a country must defend the things for which it stands. That element is people, people who believe, people who will act, people who can think, people who have what it takes to outfight the enemy.”
We believe there are roles for unmanned vehicles, but we advocate manned solutions over automation for there are things people can do that computers will never be able to do, make no mistake: our people are our edge. In the event of hostilities, navies will need resilient and survivable platforms to adapt, scout, and attack and create:
Distributable Uncertainty. War is the business of the previously unthinkable. If history is any guide, man’s unmitigated barbarity and ability to conjure novel methods of death and destruction will continue. The outcomes won’t change, though the methods and pace will stagger our sensibilities, so we might as well stagger the enemy first. Shaping the mind of the adversary, in his planning and assumptions. The benefit of creating uncertainty is the creation of novelty in the mind of the adversary.
Distributable Confrontation. (WPH) A large number of lethal ships the enemy understands will attack his fleet and commerce if shooting starts the larger number of lethal ships will conduct lethal attacks at an affordable cost to us and he is forced to devote his time and energy to defending against an attack at a time and place of our choosing with a force large enough to cause him great loss. The late naval strategist Herbert Rosinski said:
“At sea there is no halfway house between victory and defeat, because there is no difference between what is needed for defense and what for attack. One side only can gain security at the cost of the other—or neither.”
Distributable Interdiction. (WPH) Ships that will team with international partners to assert the right level of maritime interdiction all the way from occasional inspections up to a full distant quarantine or blockade.
Distributable Deterrence. A credibly armed Fleet, large enough to be distributed/dispersed should dissuade any potential adversary of the inherent folly and hazard of engagement. As Colin Gray points out, “with deterrence the enemy gets a vote.” Deterrence is connected at the hip with credibility. Credible people, doctrine, ships and weapons combine to establish deterrence in the mind of the adversary. The best fight is the one that never occurs, where angst and second-guessing are artifacts for the historians.

Back to Nuts and Bolts, or as a friend in the intel community called “ground truth”


An affordable and executable set of solutions will be needed to make the most of these ideas. We believe essential elements of these action groups should be a combination of manned and optionally manned, subsurface and surface platforms. For the subsurface vehicles the price per hull should not exceed $250M and for the surface platforms the price should not exceed $100M (though we should aim for $70M). We should buy these ships in numbers. The broad concept of operations for these vehicles would be to operate and compliment our growing number of unmanned underwater vehicles, and our SSNs, where appropriate.

For the subsurface realm we have concept model we call a “Hoss Boat:” a small, stealthy, air breathing lightly manned submersible boat designed to operate and fight on the surface or submerged. Our boats have a long surfaced endurance, able to patrol or project force in the littorals as a real-time, networked asset.
Since Hoss boats are small they can operate in shallow coastal water (in the 20-10 fathom curve range). Our boat combines stealth and persistence on station to greatly complicate a potential enemy’s tactical situation. Hoss Boats can hide in coastal clutter such as environmental or electromagnetic noise, dense traffic areas, the hundreds of islands in the SCS (or the Baltic Sea) to increase stealth in places where we’d probably never send an SSN or traditional SSK. Since she can hide on and under the water, unlike a traditional surface craft in the same environment she would likely survive and be capable of persistent offensive action.
“Submarines are difficult to find and hard to destroy. Even fairly crude submarine forces can attack surface ships or other targets with a great deal of stealth, making them perfect for countries with limited resources. The threat of such an attack is a powerful deterrent in Asia, where coastal defenses are vital.” (Eric Talmadge. Battle for control of Asia’s Seas Goes Underwater, Associated Press, 19 January 2012)
We planned her initial primary mission to be anti-surface ship (ASuW) warfare, holding at risk both combatants and when appropriate, other surface assets. She would also have a robust AA capability for air threats. This boat could also be used for scouting/ISR missions operating as a real-time, networked asset, although she is not bandwidth or network dependent and will be able to independently detect and destroy adversaries. We believe these boats could be built for about $250M per hull, considerably less than SSK/AIP solutions, and the resources required to deter them would have a favorable affect on would-be belligerents.
Recently we added a small surface missile boat to our portfolio of possibilities, with the working moniker Hoss-Surface. While this boat has not been drawn her mission sets are similar in some respects to the submersible, and radically different in others. While both will have an anti-ship mission, the surface boat should have variants allowing for additional missions (ASW-MIW, for instance). Given the environments where she will operate, the radar cross section should be reduced as much as possible. Compared to an LCS, she won’t be fast at a modest 25 knots. Her main battery should include at least eight Norwegian naval strike-type anti-ship missiles and the largest gun the design will allow, but 30 caliber minimum. Our working price estimate is less than $70M per hull.
Both of these boats can provide navies with a needed capability to distribute lethality that are survivable and offers more offensive flexibility at a lower cost. Lightly manned and highly automated, our boats would provide a “man-in-the-loop” level of situational awareness. It would be appropriate to interject here that instead of a binary choice manned or unmanned, both designs should be capable of working in concert with unmanned vehicles across the spectrum and incorporate “optional manning” as initial design consideration.
The title of this talk describes Distributed Lethality as “elegant,” as indeed it is, but Distributed Lethality will continue to be a myth if at least three significant obstacles aren’t overcome. (1) No budget growth, (2) an acquisition process is too slow and complex (3) hard force structure choices. The Navy cannot control the first two without Congressional support, which will not happen quickly. Thankfully, within the Navy a fairly vigorous debate on force structure is on-going. If we frame the force structure debate through the prism of a Winston Churchill quote: “Now that we have run out of money we have to think,” our predicament comes into sharp relief and alternatives appear. Trust me: poverty focuses the mind.
To its credit US Navy has embraced innovative technologies, but in ship building we have over-specialized (mostly because of economy) in large-deck multipurpose warships that are so complex and expensive they take years to design and build and of such value that every ship becomes a capital ship—too precious to send into harm’s way when the purpose of a warship is to fight and win when necessary. In too many cases, the budget will not endure the addition of the number or ships necessary meet our commitments using existing plans and acquisition assumptions/processes.
It would seem the less complex and expensive alternatives we have suggested would fit the bill, if only we could speed up the acquisition process. There must be a way. Why? Because the status quo is not sustainable, safe, nor secure. How can we overcome these problems and challenges? We could begin by casting off what Angus K. Ross called some of our “lazy assumptions.” In an institutional bureaucracy like the Pentagon; lazy assumptions are ubiquitous because they are the path of least resistance. Some examples: the status quo is fine, we can shape any environment, our current acquisition process of buying/building ships optimizes for budget scarcity, unmanned will make all our dreams come true, etc., etc. At the risk of trafficking in clichés: If everyone is saying the same thing, someone isn’t thinking.
What is the answer? No easy answers exist, but we could begin by setting aside a small amount of SCN and dedicating to less complex and less expensive smaller ships. The late Captain Wayne P. Hughes provided the scaffold of this approach in his essay for Proceedings in 2018.
One immediate benefit to less complex ships would be shorter times between design, build and deployment. Right now the cycle time between design and deployment is approaching 20 years—where obsolescence can invalidate a solution before it hits the Fleet. There used to be a phrase, “low cost, technically acceptable,” and we would do well to remember as we move forward.
Distributed Lethality properly deployed is the marriage of the strategic and the tactical. While more platforms options to distribute will largely be a function of strategic force structure planning, the capabilities conveyed by the increase in available ships provides tactical commanders on the scene who can adapt and attack—as their decisions more often than not decide who prevails.
Distributed Lethality is elegant precisely because increased numbers of ships and the capability to adapt on the fly to achieve our ends: maritime dominance.
If we were to take a poll from the representatives of the militaries represented here today and asked if you want your navy to have more options and firepower in your area of responsibility my guess is there would be a resounding “YES.”
We need alternatives and will stipulate there are many from which to choose. Our boats would be a cost effective way to influence war in the littorals in our favor, but there are other solutions to be sure.
Making Distributed Lethality a reality is within our grasp if we possess the imagination to reach beyond the status quo and think differently. As Marc Andreessen once said, “True innovations don’t follow a pattern.” Our platforms and options offered by others are an innovation in how to fight that does not follow a prescribed pattern. On the subsurface front, as a student of military history I believe we’re reaching the point when an offensively disposed subsurface force will be needed in growing numbers. In a world of ubiquitous precision-guided munitions, surface ships will be increasingly at risk in areas where navies will need to have eyes and potentially provide fires—specifically in contested coastal shallow waters—the littorals. All navies will need a deeper subsurface bench.  We need also to explore surface design alternatives that are affordable and stealthy enough.
The USN needs manned highly capable submersible craft and stealthy small missile boats that can be bought in numbers, to achieve a lethal, numerous and credible presence that can dramatically change warfare in the littorals.

Andrew Marshall, RIP 1921-2019

Wednesday, March 27th, 2019

[mark safranski / “zen“]

Image result for andrew marshall office of net assessment

Andrew Marshall a.k.a. ” Yoda”

Famed founder of the Office of Net Assessment, Andrew Marshall passed away today at the age of 97, having retired only in 2015 from the Pentagon job he held continuously since his appointment by President Richard Nixon in 1973. Marshall, affectionately known as “Yoda”,  was nearly the last of a generation of deeply influential of Cold War strategists who shaped American national security, a group including Albert Wohlstetter, Herman Kahn, Fritz G.A. Kraemer, James Schlesinger and Henry Kissinger.

The subject of a recent biography and the occasional academic study, the highly secretive Marshall, over the course of decades sponsored the careers of hundreds of civilian policy makers, academics and military officers, many of whom went on to hold responsible government posts, including some of the highest appointive and elected positions in the United States, the vast bulk of Marshall’s work at the Office of Net Assessment remains classified. Nevertheless, both the Soviet KGB and later China’s military leadership estimated Marshall’s contributions to American defense thinking and posture to be of paramount importance.

RAND, the think tank where Marshall had worked on questions of American nuclear strategy prior to joining the Nixon administration, released this obituary:

Andrew Marshall, RAND Researcher Who Founded Department of Defense’s ‘Internal Think-Tank,’ Dies at 97

The RAND Corporation notes with profound regret the passing of Andrew W. Marshall, 97, a RAND researcher who went on to serve for more than four decades as director of the Department of Defense’s Office of Net Assessment, which contemplates military strategy decades into the future. He held the position from 1973 to 2015, retiring at age 93.

Andrew Marshall/RAND Corporation photo
After studying economics at the University of Chicago, Marshall joined RAND in 1949 when the nonprofit research organization based in Santa Monica, California, was barely a year old. During his 23-year affiliation with RAND, he researched Soviet military programs, nuclear targeting, organizational behavior theory and strategic-planning, among other concepts.
“Andrew Marshall was one of the nation’s most respected and far-sighted defense experts,” said Michael D. Rich, president and CEO of RAND. “He was a gifted futurist and strategist who had mentored generations of researchers, both at RAND and beyond. His influence will be felt for years to come.”
Marshall was the founding director of the Office of Net Assessment, which is referred to as the Department of Defense’s “internal think-tank.” It provides the secretary of defense with assessments of the military balance in major geographic theaters, with an emphasis on long-term trends, asymmetries, and opportunities to improve the future U.S. position in the continuing military-economic-political competition.
In 2007, the first Andrew Marshall Scholarship was awarded by the Pardee RAND Graduate School, which offers a doctorate in policy analysis and is part of RAND. The scholarship is funded by a $150,000 endowment donated by former Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, who had known Marshall for decades.
Marshall said he was honored by Rumsfeld’s generous gesture and “proud to be associated with a RAND scholarship that will help some of the best and brightest young minds prepare for a career in public service.”

Here is a tribute to Marshall by one of his students, Sinologist Andrew S. Erickson:

Honoring the Many Contributions of Andrew Marshall, An Early Supporter and Sponsor of CMSI

The New York Times obituary of Marshall:

Andrew Marshall, Pentagon’s Threat Expert, Dies at 97

….Mr. Marshall kept the distribution of his assessments extremely limited. Few people have read more than one or two of them. Even secretaries of defense were not allowed to keep copies.
The best of the assessments, according to people who have read them, compared Russian and Chinese strategies against American war plans, finding the weaknesses of the Pentagon’s approach and pushing for improvements. He urged the Pentagon to develop not single war plans but ones that would cover myriad scenarios.
Mr. Marshall began focusing on China in the mid-1990s. He was the first Pentagon official to talk about an emerging great power competition with Beijing, an idea now embraced by Pentagon leadership.
“His view was that because of the sheer size and potential economic weight” of China, it “could become a competitor over time,” General Selva said. “That proved to be a good question to ask, and that has started to play out.”
In 2009, Robert M. Gates, the defense secretary at the time, asked Mr. Marshall to write a classified strategy on China with Gen. Jim Mattis, the future defense secretary.
Mr. Marshall believed that American military planners had little understanding of what Chinese regional or global ambitions were. Deterring conflict in the future would be impossible if strategists were blind to the competition, he maintained.


RIP, Andrew Marshall.

A complexity consideration or two

Wednesday, March 28th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — that one is a many among many, and how many does that make? ]

There are many, many distinctions that can be drawn at the group level, political, financial, religious, tribal, on the right side of the line in the diagram below — but every one of them in constituted of individuals, for each of whom the considerations on the left side would, to a greater or lesser extent, apply:


How is this multiplied?

Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

Nice words, nice indeed. Bobby Kennedy‘s words.

But did the darker aspects of “the complex compound of pure and impure impulses” — in every individual, every “tiny ripple” — get lost in the niceness of the words?

I ask because for optimists it so often does, and that’s the great weakness of positive movements. And because for the cynical, so often, no glimpse of the positive aspects can make it through their fog.


Consider this, for each individual:

As every man goes through life he fills in a number of forms for the record, each containing a number of questions . .. There are thus hundreds of little threads radiating from every man, millions of threads in all. If these threads were suddenly to become visible, the whole sky would look like a spider’s web, and if they materialized as rubber bands, buses; trams and even people would all lose the ability to move, and the wind would be unable to carry torn-up newspapers or autumn leaves along the streets of the city. They are not visible, they are not material, but every man is constantly aware of their existence…. Each man, permanently aware of his own invisible threads, naturally develops a respect for the people who manipulate the threads.

That’s not somebody writing about Cambridge Analytica or FaceBook — that’s Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in Cancer Ward, 1968, courtesy Bruce Schneier.

I may add further one and many instances and illuminations in the comments section as I find them — you are invited to do the same..

Strategy and Prometheus Unbound

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

[Mark Safranski / “zen“]

Senior Counselor to the President and Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon

Steve Bannon has been very much in the news lately, as one might expect of a former Breitbart editor turned closest adviser to the President of the United States. Much of this has been political fare by friends and foes (ok, mostly foes). We have read debates about his ideological worldview, the exact nature of Bannon’s (and Breitbart’s)  ties to the sinister Alt-Right, his rank in the White House pecking order, Bannon’s vision of realignment of American politics, populism, ethnonationalism, executive orders, the books he reads and so on. Charles has already weighed in here but I am not delving into these things today.

Less attention, though usually also accompanied by outrage, have been stories on foreign policy and national security. Nevertheless, the media gave wide play to Bannon’s comments about potential war with China, possible civilizational partnership with Putin’s Russia and most notably, Bannon being given a permanent invitation to meetings of the Principal’s Committee of the National Security Council. Most Democrats and many national security professionals believed Bannon, as a political adviser,  had no business being seated on the NSC by historical standards. While this is true, it is not a very credible argument in light of the previous administration’s decision to make a mere campaign speechwriter with no prior experience an unusually powerful Deputy National Security Adviser.

I think the criticisms based on customary protocol arguments miss the mark by a country mile.

We are all familiar with the ancient Greek myth of the Titan Prometheus. It was Prometheus, whose name meant “forethought”, who defied the gods to give Man the gift of fire – a gift that unleashed the immense creative powers of mankind. For this affront to the gods’ authority, Prometheus was severely punished. Zeus binds Prometheus to Mount Caucasus where an eagle tears out his liver each day. A torment Prometheus endures for ages until the coming of Hercules.

Strategy in American national security is much like Prometheus. Potentially useful as a creative force, sometimes employed like the gift of fire as a useful tool in a small way, most often inert, bound immobile to the rock of policy as politics savagely tears out the liver of anyone posing a strategy that might prevent a foreign policy crisis from becoming a debacle. The truth is that the gods, or in this case the established political class, much prefer a predictable and orderly debacle under their stewardship than a messy win for America with unpredictable second and third order effects.

In fairness, most of the time, stability while accruing small losses is preferable for a global hegemonic power like the United States to disruptively embarking upon large risks to its position in order to win small gains. So long as the international system is strategically designed to sustain hegemony, occasional losses can be a cost of doing business until the system or parts of it no longer appear to be working. Or until political support wanes at home.

The objection to Bannon (aside from his politics) is that a domestic political strategist should not be involved in the NSC. David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett were not. Karl Rove wasn’t.  James Carville, Lee Atwater and innumerable other key political White House staffers never sat on the NSC. However, I don’t think Steve Bannon was invited to attend NSC Principal Committee meetings in that role. Nor was he “replacing” the DNI or CIA Director or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They were not “replaced” but as customary bureaucratic constraints on policy formulation they were intentionally removed.

I think Steve Bannon – whose prior professional efforts at a high level were all about creating and articulating a vision – is really the Trump administration’s grand strategist.

And he’s unbound.



Thucydides Roundtable, Addendum: Steve Bannon’s interest in the Peloponnesian War

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — tying our colloquium on Thucydides to current White House events ]


Well, I’ve been majorly out of it since the Thucydides roundtable started, and am only slowly getting back into the swing of things, but I’d like to bookend my initial roundtable comment with a closing observation, this one concerning Steve Bannon and his interest in the history of warfare. The quote that follows is from the Armchair General‘s column, Steve Bannon’s Long Love Affair With War, in today’s Daily Beast:

You can also find Bannon’s affection for military and strategic ruthlessness in what he reads. According to two of Bannon’s former friends from his West Coast days, two of his favorite books are Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, the hugely influential ancient Chinese text on military strategy, and the Hindu Bhagavad Gita. The latter tells the story of a holy war to establish dharma.

Sun Tzu, check. Bhagavad Gita, double check. Dharma! Indeed!


The article continues:

Julia Jones, Bannon’s longtime Hollywood writing partner and former close friend, recalls seeing him excitedly flipping through both books, and talking about them lovingly and often. She would frequently see various “books all over [Steve’s place] about battles and things,” among his clutter of possessions and interests. (Late last year, Jones — who identifies as a “Bernie Sanders liberal” — had a falling out with Bannon due to his work on the Trump presidential campaign, a role that she said absolutely “disgusted” her.)

“Steve is a strong militarist, he’s in love with war — it’s almost poetry to him,” Jones told The Daily Beast in an interview last year, well before Trump won the election and Bannon landed his new job. “He’s studied it down through the ages, from Greece, through Rome… every battle, every war… Never back down, never apologize, never show weakness… He lives in a world where it’s always high noon at the O.K. Corral.”

Almost poetry.

And back to dharma:

Jones said that Bannon “used to talk a lot about dharma — he felt very strongly about dharma… one of the strongest principles throughout the Bhagavad Gita.”

I suppose I should write a follow-up about dharma and the battlefield of Kurukshetra, where Krishna instructed Arjuna in the dharma appropriate to a warrior.

And so to our roundtable topic — the Peloponnesian War:

She also noted his “obsession” with the military victories and epic battles of the Roman Empire’s Marcus Aurelius and Julius Caesar. But a personal favorite of Bannon’s was the subject of the Peloponnesian War fought between Athens and Sparta.

“He talked a lot about Sparta — how Sparta defeated Athens, he loved the story,” Jones said. “The password on his [desktop] computer at his office at American Vantage Media in Santa Monica was ‘Sparta,’ in fact.”

This is the mindset of Trump’s top White House aide who just earned himself a seat at the table on the National Security Council.


You’d like a more direct Bannon Thucydides connection? The topic is smaller than Bannon’s role at the NSC — the “war” between Breitbart and Fox — but Thucydides is front and center. In a Breitbart piece from August 2016, Fox Faces Its Uncertain Future: The Minor Murdochs Take Command, Steve Bannon writes:

Here at Breitbart News, we see ourselves as a small yet up-and-coming competitor to Fox. Yes, you read that right, Breitbart is on the rise, and Fox is in decline. Even the MSM has noticed the changing of the guard; here’s the Washington Post headline from January: “How Breitbart has become a dominant voice in conservative media,” reinforced by Politico just this morning. In this modern-day version of the epic Peloponnesian War, the incumbent Athenians might as well know that the Spartans are coming for them, and there’s not a damn thing they can do about it; indeed, more Spartans are joining us every day. As Thucydides would warn them, if the leaders of Fox choose to pipe Mickey Mouse aboard and give him command on the bridge, well, that will only accelerate Fox’s fall.

See also: Titus in Space (Paris Review, November 2016)

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