#Reviewing Football Books

The Genius of Desperation: The Schematic Innovations that Made the Modern NFL by Doug Farrar

Doug Farrar’s book is a detailed discussion on how football evolved over the decades. His book begins in the early years of the NFL in the 1920s, and takes the reader on a tour of the major innovations through the modern era. Farrar details how specific individuals from Vince Lombardi to Sid Gillman through Bill Walsh and Bill Belichick.

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The lessons I take from this book are the similarities in the evolution of warfare and evolution of professional sports. While the nature of both war and football remain constant, the character, or how they are fought and played continually change. This may be from advancements in technology, changes to the rules, or the rise of an individual who thinks on a higher plane. Further, as a nation or team gains a competitive advantage, other nations and teams soon catch up, which leads to further evolution and innovation.

Secondly, The Genius of Desperation chronicles the innovators of football. In this respect, the evolution of the game was dependent upon men who saw the game differently. Again, I see similarities to evolution in military thought. Military history is often traced back through various individuals who saw the world in a different light than everyone else. Evolution in warfare is more than new technologies. It includes new thoughts on how to fight wars. From Alexander the Great, to Fabian, through Napoleon, Jomeni, and Clausewitz to Grant and Sherman, to the modern day thinkers such as Boyd and Warden.

Farrar’s book is a worthy edition to the bookshelf of anyone interested in football, sports, or organizational leadership.

The Score Takes Care of Itself by Bill Walsh

                Bill Walsh, former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers offers his thought on leadership. Each chapter or section of the book is no longer than two or three pages. Each is an insight into how he ran his organization. Walsh delivers his lessons learned on leading people, and transforming an organization from a rock bottom loser to a championship dynasty.

The Score Takes Care of Itself is more of a business and leadership book than a sports book. The book offers nuggets of wisdom that translate directly to how military leaders run organizations, and how military planners can think about courses of action within tactical, operational, and strategic planning. For example, in talking about planning, Walsh talks about how he became the first NFL coach to script plays. Indeed, thoughtful planning, according to Walsh was a key ingredient of the 49ers dynasty. More than just thinking through the first ten or fifteen plays of a game, Walsh developed plays for a verity of contingencies or scenarios that would arise in a game. This is directly translatable to contingency planning with built in branches and sequels that operational and strategic planners develop in the military.

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In terms of leadership, Walsh discusses how he would demand excellence from everyone in his organization. From the star quarterback to maintenance crews, Walsh wanted perfection from everyone. Further, Walsh identifies that the best leaders know when to put feelings aside, and to make decisions that are best for the organization. These types of decisions come often in military leaders careers when handling men and women who don’t perform to expected standards. Leaders must always balance what is best for an individual against what is best for an organization. Ideally, they align, but often enough they do not.

Another aspect to Walsh’s leadership the teaching aspect. Walsh tells us that true leaders double as teachers. Indeed, Walsh was a product of Paul Brown, and then mentored a number of coaches who became a part of the Bill Walsh Coaching Tree. This translates to military leadership too. Every leader in the military is just passing through. We are judged on how well we prepare the next generation of leadership. If follow-on generations of leadership fail spectacularly in the next war, the current generation has only themselves to blame.

Walsh also cautions against leaders ignoring “the bottom 20 percent. Walsh sees that the performance of the bottom 20 percent will also determine success or failure of an organization. The star quarterback and wide receiver are dependent on the offensive guard earning the league minimum, or the back-up running back. Walsh advises leaders to pay attention to this cohort, as there are always times when the bottom 20 percent will be called upon to act in a decisive moment.

This is another book that leaders in all professions can look to as a guide to running small or large organizations.

Do we need Ethical Jedi? No.

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In a recent essay, Dr. Pauline Shanks Kaurin presented ideas on enhancing ethics in the military profession. Her essay, “The Ethics Specialist: To Jedi or No,” examined the idea of an ethics specialist at various levels of command. While this idea is certainly intriguing, it would not solve the complex ethical problems military leadership at the tactical, operational, and strategic level face throughout their careers.

To examine where the military should press forward on ethics, an important first step is to take inventory of all the programs, organizations, doctrine, and regulations that are in place vis-a-vis ethics. One can start with the Army’s DA PAM 600-3, or with the Center for the Army Profession and Ethic (CAPE). There are numerous other examples, but I will limit my analysis to counter some of the points made in Dr. Shanks Kaurin’s essay.

Dr. Shanks Kaurin begins her essay by dismissing the role of chaplains and jag officers in providing ethical advice and ethical leadership. I disagree with her based on these points, and strictly from an Army perspective.

While it is true that chaplains “are generally members of a religious/faith community of practice whose role is to provide comfort and pastoral care to the military,” the army insists on other roles. DA PAM 600-3 (dated 26 June 2017). Dr. Shanks Kaurin’s description more closely aligns with the stated purpose of the Chaplain Corps “The Chaplain Corps “whose mission is to provide for the comprehensive religious support to the Army across the spectrum of operations.” However, her description omits the “unique functions performed by chaplain corps. Specifically, “chaplains provide the religious, spiritual, moral and ethical support to the Army in any contingency.” The ethical support is not limited to a faith or religious community.

A second argument Dr. Shanks Kaurin makes for the necessity of an ethics specialist or SME, is to serve as moral exemplars. This is a dangerous road with a slippery slope. The Army rightly expects all leaders to serve as moral exemplars. Again, going back to DA PAM 600-3, multiple branches demand officers that hold the highest morals and ethics. For example, infantry officers must be “Adept at using ethical decision-making to solve complex, dynamic problems.” Ethics is not just for the infantry, The Military Police branch requires officers who continually demonstrate strong character and high ethical standards in order to infuse these traits into their units and Soldiers. Thankfully, the financial management branch requires “Financial managers maintain the highest standards of integrity, and professional ethics.”

Public Affairs officers, who continually communicate messages to the American public understand that “to maintain credibility, Public Affairs professionals must understand journalism ethics and be able to identify when media are not adhering to fair and balanced reporting.” Further, PA Officers attributes include “Applies ethical reasoning to make informed choices and provide counsel to the commander when faced with tough issues and ethical concerns with regards to the ramifications of an organization’s or leadership’s actions.” Ethical advice is not limited to chaplains and lawyers.

More broadly, the Army’s centralized promotion selection process emphasizes ethics and values as key factors in the potential to serve at a higher grade. Three of the top four factors center on ethics and values and are listed as:

(1) Performance.

(2) Embodiment of Army Values.

(3) Professional attributes and ethics.

(4) Integrity and character.

Indeed, maintaining a moral and ethical compass is paramount to how the Army views the selection of leaders at all levels.

Where Dr. Shanks Kaurin is absolutely on target is in her assessment that ethical training and development is paramount for everyone, not just officers or senior leaders. Further, her assessment on emerging technology having an impact on ethics is spot on. The advent of cyberspace and social media has brought to light ethical considerations and dilemmas previous generations of soldiers never contemplated.

There are a number of ethical improvements the army can adopt. First, officer and enlisted professional military education and training should include periods of instruction on ethics. To an extent, the services already include this aspect, evidenced by Dr. Shanks Kaurin’s position as the Stockdale Chair of Ethics at the Naval War College. This type of position should expand to include ethics professors at each respective schoolhouse and center of excellence. Further, the inclusion of these potions would offer the opportunity for an ethics elective at the Command and General Staff College and army War College (as well as JPME II and other joint education).

Second, unit training should encompass ethics. This is more than a PowerPoint presentation during Sergeant’s time training, or random officer professional development sessions with battalion and brigade commanders. Rather, field exercises at the unit level and at the combat training centers should include ethical scenarios. There may be no correct answers to the ethical portion of field exercises, as this would resemble the Kobayashi Maru training exercise depicted in the sci-fi series Star Trek.

Third, joint staffs at combatant commands should integrate an ethical portion into their tier one exercises. More than exercising fictional war scenarios, planners and commanders on joint staffs should develop MESLs that test a staffs ability to make ethical and moral recommendations to joint force commanders.

Add an ethics category to our reading lists

Add an ethics category to our reading lists

Finally, service chiefs and their subordinate flag officers should include articles, essays, and books that focus on the ethical portions of the military profession. Currently, reading lists center on tactics, strategy, military history, and various geographical regions of the world. Ethics should be a topic or category of every leaders reading list.

Dr. Shanks Kaurin’s essay on the Ethics Jedi is an interesting idea. However, it is not the answer to how the army should approach improving ethics at all levels of command. Improvement to ethics must occur across the board and leaders at all levels must be accountable for ethical failures, both of a personal nature and of their respective organizations.

Quarterbacks and Generals

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Baseball may be America’s pastime, but football is America’s sport. Indeed, football represents strength and power, the current hallmarks of American foreign policy. George Carlin communicated the football and baseball dichotomy with his famous comedy bit comparing the two sports. The football analogies expand when we look at the archetypes of NFL quarterbacks and general officers.

Military units, just like football teams rely on the cumulative talent and skills of every player on the team. However, generals, like quarterbacks are the face of their organizations and represent the success or failure of their units and teams. With this in mind, I offer a breakdown of the types of officers that we see through the lens of the various types of quarterbacks.

The Tom Brady GOAT Division. After winning five Super Bowls (as of 2018), appearing in 8, winning a dozen division titles, and three most valuable player (MVP) awards, Tom Brady is generally regarded at the greatest quarterback of all time. There are a handful of American generals that fall into this category. This includes Generals George Washington, U.S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and George Marshal. 

The Peyton Manning Division. This is the category of hall of fame caliber generals who fall just short of falling into the greatest of all time arguments. Generals in the Peyton Manning Division include Nathaniel Greene, Phillip Sheridan and George Patton.

The Dan Marino Division. Dan Marino was the most prolific passer of his time. Marino put up passing statistics that nobody would match until the character and rules of football changed. Marino won a ton of games in regular season, but alas never won a Super Bowl. The military equivalent to this division are generals who win tactical level battles, but fail to turn their tactical success into operational or strategic victory. Confederate generals such as Robert E. Lee fit this mold.

The Trent Dilfer Division. In 2000, Trent Dilfer won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens. In 2001, Dilfer was playing for the Seattle Seahawks. Deservedly or not, Dilfer earned the reputation as a game manager. Game mangers are quarterbacks are those who succeed thanks to other aspects of the team. A strong defense or rushing attack enables game managers to rack up victories in despite having average talent. There are general officers and senior leaders who succeed in large thanks to the supporting team around them. They may have a strong staff, a terrific XO, or phenomenal NCOs that make up for their many faults.

The Alex Smith Division. Some quarterbacks succeed by the design of the system they play in. Alex Smith, over the course of his career has succeeded due to coaches designing offenses that fit his skill set. Scharnhorst, the creator of the Prussian Staff designed a system that did not rely on individual talent. Indeed, the lesson Scharnhorst learned from the Napoleonic Wars was that Prussia could not afford to wait for a version of Napoleon to rise in the ranks. Scharnhorst then created the Prussian General Staff system along with the famous Kriegsacademie. In the modern era, the United States follows this mold, creating dozens of GOFOs every year through our system of assignments and professional education. In reality, everyone who rises to the top of the ranks can be replaced by the next cohort of officers.

The Ryan Leaf Division. Ryan Leaf was a star in college. Looking back, it’s comical that in 1998 people debated whether he should be drafted ahead of Peyton Manning. Ryan Leaf was unable to handle the pressure and commitments of life in the National Football League. In short order, Leaf would find himself out of football and serving time for numerous drug related offenses. Just like professional sports, there are men and women who are selected for battalion and brigade command or promote to general officer, but were clearly not ready. Some not only should have never promoted to GOFO, but belong in jail for their respective ethical and moral lapses. Former brigadier general (now retired lieutenant colonel) Sinclair falls into this category. One can find dozens of other examples that often appear on the front page of Army, Navy, and Air Force Times.   

The Frank Reich / Nick Foles Division.  In the early 1990s, Frank Reich was a back up to Jim Kelly on the Buffalo Bills. In the 1993 playoffs, Reich led the Bills to a 32-point comeback against the Houston Oilers, the largest comeback in NFL history. More recently, in 2017, Nick Foles took over the play calling from Carsen Weintz to lead the Philadelphia Eagles to a Super Bowl victory. Back-up quarterbacks rarely have the skill set of the starting quarterback, but must be prepared to step in at any time. Not every general officer gets the chance to command. Many spend their time as J-Code or G-Code directors and assistant directors. However, their work in these key positions is paramount to the success of their respective organization. When called upon to lead in the commander’s absence, they step up to the plate. Think about Brig. Gen. McAuliffe in his role as assistant division commander of the 101st in World War II as an example of a GOFO in this division.

The Mark Fitzpatrick Division. These are the generals that show up to an organization with the intent to make some serious and much needed change. Everyone in the command is excited after some early success, but give up hope after the general leaves for a more senior position after only nine months. 

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The Gary Kubiak Division. Gary Kubiak was a long-term back-up under John Elway. He never achieved fame as a quarterback at the tactical level, but used his time as a backup to enhance his thinking and coaching abilities. Later in life, Kubiak would win a Super Bowl as head coach of the Denver Broncos. This goes to show that some people perform better at the operational and strategic level rather than the tactical level. Colin Powell never commanded a division, and Eisenhower did not command above battalion.

The Warren Moon / Joe Montana Division. Both of these quarterbacks had hall of fame careers. They put up statistics unmatched in their respective eras. However, critical to their success was the offensive system they led. Warren Moon played in the Run and Shoot Offense, Montana in the West Coast Offense. Over the years, our military produced numerous systems generals who could succeed in one type of warfare but could not prove their worth in others. Some do very well in maneuver warfare, but fail in a counterinsurgency environment. The talents required in one do not always apply to another. Further, as General Petraeus discovered, what works in Iraq does not translate to success in Afghanistan.    

The Vince Young Division. Vince Young earned the Heisman and won a national championship while playing for Texas. However, his professional success would never match what he acheived in college (Ditto for his Rose Bowl opponent Matt Leinart). These are the generals that succeeded at the lower ranks, and enjoyed some success as junior general officers, but failed spectacularly at the highest level of command. Think General Hooker at Chancellorsville, or Westmoreland in Vietnam.

Clausewitz and Football

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Any serious discussion of strategy necessarily begins with Carl Von Clausewitz. Indeed, Clausewitz along with his western contemporaries identify with a western and American way of war. While eastern concepts of warfare focus on defeating an adversary through deception, and winning without fighting,[i] Clausewitz and western theories of war recognize the inevitability of battle. Eventually military forces will fight on the battlefield and influence the outcome of war to the advantage of one side. Football, unlike Weiqi or Go, follows the western way of war. While the eastern way of war highlights winning without bloodshed as the highest form of skill, the western way emphasizes violence. Teams or armies meet on the field to determine the outcome.

            In his seminal work On War, Clausewitz compared war to a wrestling contest where two opponents grappled and maneuvered to get the other to submit. Had he been a 21st Century American, and not a 19th Century Prussian, Clausewitz would have made the football analogy in lieu of wrestling. The analogy works as in war, one does not plan or fight against an inanimate object. Rather, one plans and fights against a living and thinking adversary. Clausewitz termed this reciprocal action.[ii] Both military leaders and football coaches and players must constantly adapt to conditions on the battlefield and football field respectively. 

            Relying on the weakness, incompetence, or lack of preparation of an enemy team or force is a quick path to failure. No matter how well prepared a team may have been on the practice field, or in the gym, there is an adversary doing the same thing. Adversaries plan to win, put in time at the gym, and adjust their game plan on every series. Success belongs to those who can stay one-step ahead. In a similar vein, understanding that adversaries adapt leads to the wisdom of never underestimating an opponent. A head coach may watch all the game film he wants, but there is another head coach on the other sideline developing a strategy of his own. Perhaps it is a trick play, or the exposure of a weakness on a team that never knew it existed.

            Identifying an opponent’s source of strength and exploiting an opponent’s weakness stems of the Clausewitzian concept of the center of gravity. A center of gravity, according to Clausewitz is the “the hub of all power and movement, on which everything depends. That is the point which all our energies should be directed.”[iii] American military doctrine defines it as “the source of power that provides moral or physical strength, freedom of action, or will to act.”[iv] Military planners spend countless hours analyzing and identifying enemy COGs. Further, military planners devise strategies and plans to expose and attack what they believe are an enemy’s center of gravity.[v] Witness the opening strike in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, where the U.S. Air Force attempted (and failed) to kill Saddam Hussain on the opening night of the war. Planners believed Hussain was the Center of Gravity of the Iraqi Government. As the war evolved into an insurgency, the center of gravity switched to the will and support of the population.

            Football games and the game planning beforehand use the same center of gravity concepts found in U.S. military doctrine. Coaches and teams continually attempt to identify what an opposing team does best, and take that capability away. Indeed, this concept is central to coaching great Bill Belichick’s coaching philosophy.[vi] This can be done through pressure on the quarterback or overloading an area of the field with defenders to take away parts of the run game. On offense, teams look to limit the opponents best pass rushers through blocking schemes, or expose weak pass coverage by continually passing in the direction of a lesser talented cornerbacks.

            Clausewitz defined war and broke it down into its sub-units for the great captains of history. The old Prussian’s thoughts on fog, friction, and chance are among the most useful takeaways from his Magnum Opus. Fog is the uncertainty in war, friction is the countless minor incidents that make the simple very difficult, and chance is the unpredictable circumstances that consistently occur in war.[vii] This concept easily translates to the gridiron. The outcome of a football game and war are dependent on the interplay of skill and luck.

            The fog in a football game is the uncertainty of an opposing teams play call, or when a quarterback is blindsided during the chaos of blitzing safeties. We see friction when a head coach’s headset loses communications with the quarterback, or when a referee makes a bad call. And we see chance when a 70-yard scoring play gets called back due to a holding penalty on the opposite side of the field, wholly unrelated to the play. We see chance in who is sitting on the injured reserve list. Each game, indeed each play (not to mention off-field events) has the potential to eliminate the essential players of a team.

            Football can bring in all three elements of fog, friction, and chance, often on the same play. In this sense, football offers a glimpse into complexity. A missed block or coverage assignment can lead to a sack and fumble or a 90-yard touchdown. On the other hand, a blown coverage may have zero impact on the game if the quarterback overthrows, or simply fails to recognize an open receiver. The outcome of every play and every game is dependent on the interaction of all 22 players on the field, and like war, uncertain in outcome.

[i] Sun Zsu. 2007. The Art of War. Filiquarian Publishing. Las Vegas NV.

[ii] Carl von Clausewitz, On War, eds. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), 3.

[iii] Carl von Clausewitz, On War, eds. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), 595-596.

[iv] Joint Publication 5-0: Joint Planning. 16 June 2017. Washington, DC: The Joint Staff. Pg GL-6.

[v] In U.S. military doctrine, a Center of Gravity contains subordinate elements of Critical Capabilities, Critical Requirements, and Critical Vulnerabilities. After identifying an enemy and friendly COG, planners look for these elements to attack the enemy COG and protect their own COG.

[vi] Ron Jaworski. 2010. The Games that Changed the Game. ESPN books. New York.

[vii] Carl von Clausewitz, On War, eds. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), 6.

Evolution in Thought; Football and War

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A revolution in military affairs (RMA) is “the transformation of a military establishment’s strategies, doctrines, training, education, organization, equipment, and operations and tactics to achieve decisive military results in fundamentally new ways.”[i] Military history provides multiple examples of these RMAs. These examples include the development and use of the English Armies six-foot-long bow and the use of gun powder artillery in the 14th Century. The French use of levee en masse[ii] during the Napoleonic Wars, the German development of combined arms in the form of blitzkrieg during the Second World War, and the advent of nuclear weapons provide further examples.[iii] More recently, the development of precision guided munitions enables by military capabilities in space, stealth technology, and unmanned and autonomous systems serve as modern day examples.   

The concept of a revolution in military affairs easily translates to football. The past 70 years witnessed the development of new offensive and defensive systems (operations and tactics) that transformed the character of the game. These transformations began with the development and implementation of the forward pass, whose first large scale use enabled the Pennsylvania’s Carlisle Indian Industrial School coached by Pop Warner to defeat the University of Pennsylvania in 1907. Six years later, in 1913, the forward pass helped Notre Dame defeat highly favored Army.[iv]

Other offensive innovations throughout the years include the West coast Offense, the Run-and-Shoot, the K-Gun Offense, and the read-option employed by the Super Bowl winning 2017 Philadelphia Eagles. Nevertheless, football has a lesson to teach concerning rapid changes that provide an advantage to one side of the field. Opponents quickly adapt to counter, or limit the advantages posed by new schemes.

Just as one nation transforms the character of their military and warfighting, other nations will respond with changes to counter said advantages. In football, rapid changes in offensive concepts drove changes to defensive systems. One example is Buddy Ryan’s ferocious 46 defense.[v] This was defensive system employed by both the 1985 Chicago Bears and 2000 Baltimore Ravens, two of the greatest defenses of all time. A second example of defensive innovation is the zone blitz, designed to counter the Run-and-Shoot.  

The constant evolution and innovation swaying back and forth between offense and defense is similar to how the United States, and in large measure, the West thinks about military innovation. One side develops a new technology, weapon, or tactic, and the other side develops a counter technology to offset any tactical, operational, or strategic advantage. Indeed, this continual back and forth resembles chess more so than Eastern culture type games such as Wei. Teams consistently try to stay one-step ahead, on the field and off.[vi] Promises of technology or ideas that will change the nature of warfare and provide one nation a permanent advantage are often noting more than a fantasy.  

The U.S. military looks for advantages in more ways than technology alone. Improvements to training method and physical fitness are a cornerstone to combat preparedness. Changes to the football occur off the field too. Long gone are the days when professional athletes use training camp and the pre-season to get in shape. The advancement of fitness methods and technologies allow players to train throughout the year. Coinciding with fitness training is new understanding of diet combined with the use of supplements. The Steelers Dynasty of the 1970s had zero players over 300 pounds.[vii] Today, 300 pounds is the minimum weight to play as a lineman in the NFL.

From a military strategist perspective, the American military can learn a ton through the study on how the game of football evolved and transformed from the forward pass through today’s run pass option designs. The evolution in the game informs us how a culture rewards innovative thinkers whose concepts come into fruition on the football field.

[i] Michael Keane. 2005. Dictionary of Modern Strategy and Tactics. Naval Institute Press. Annapolis, MD.

[ii] Levee en masse is the practice of universal conscription. First established in 1793, this method enabled France to fight 14 armies, an unheard of number at the time.

[iii] Ibid

[iv] Jim Morrison. 2010. “The Early History of Football’s Forward Pass.” Smithsonian Magazine. Accessed 23 October 2018. (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-early-history-of-footballs-forward-pass-78015237/)

[v] The 46 defense was named for the jersey number of Chicago Bears safety Doug Plank, and has nothing to do with the number of linemen, linebackers, or defensive backs on the field.

[vi] Ron Jaworski. 2010. The Games that Changed the Game. Random House Inc. New York. 

[vii] According to Pro Football Reference, the heaviest player on the 1976 Steelers was Joe Greene, who stood 6’4” and weighed 275 pounds. Compare to the 2018 New England Patriots Left Tackle, Trent Brown who stand 6”8” and weighs 380 pounds. (https://www.pro-football-reference.com/)

Thoughts on the NY Times At War Discussion

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25 September, 2018

This evening I had the pleasure to sit in the audience of the NY Times A Generation At War panel. This included author C.J. Chivers, Senator Tammy Duckworth, Bonnie Carroll, and Steve Schmidt of the New York Times. The discussion ranged from the disconnect between civilians and military veterans to sharing experiences with PTSD, to thoughts on the current Authorization for the Use of Force, and bringing back a draft. There were parts of the discussion I agreed with, others I disagreed with, and other parts gave me a new perspective. Here are my thoughts:

We are all influenced by our experience, but we should never be captured by our experience. As the panel talked, it was clear that they viewed their own experience with war and their views as though every veteran has a similar experience. This was clear when Chivers spoke about his early field reporting focused strictly in lower tactical level units.

Another example occurred when Senator Duckworth talked about how her promotion to Major was held up because the position was filled by another officer back in the States. She then commented that this was how it worked in the military. While this is true for the National Guard, it is not true for active duty.

Each of the panel members spoke fondly of a return to the draft, or some form of national service, although Chivers was more reserved. I could not disagree more. To me, one of the greatest freedoms we have as Americans is the freedom not to serve. Forced patriotism is phony patriotism. On the positive side, Senator Duckworth had the quote of the night when discussing the divide between the civilian population and the military. “More people in our country will argue about NFL athlete than why we are in Afghanistan, and when we will be leaving.”

Multiple times the members of the panel talked about the “two wars we have been fighting.” Of course they meant Afghanistan and Iraq, with the common perception that we have been fighting these two wars for 17 years now, all under the same AUMF. At this point, I think anyone who uses says “two wars” is low balling it. Besides Iraq and Afghanistan, we have been killing people all over the Middle East and North Africa. This includes Libya, Yemen, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, as well as Afghanistan, and Iraq. Moreover, we can divide combat in Iraq to two or three separate and distinct wars. We should be honest in our language and talk about the 7-10 wars we are fighting.

The panel ended with a question and answer session. None of the questions came from an active duty military member, which was a pleasant surprise. One member was a former CIA member who asked how the country should honor the service of those who serve/fight overseas but in a different capacity (CIA, USAID, State, etc..). There was no clear answer, but general agreement that we should do more.

An international relations student at George Washington asked about the concept of our foreign military sales (FMS) program. The question was a bit naive, as were the answers, which all focused on the idea that we should end these programs. No thought was given to the assumptions of 1) if we end FMS, other nations such as China, or Russia will happily step in to fill the void and 2) we gain leverage over nations should they turn against U.S. interests. In the latter, the US can end the sales of items such as spare parts, and upgrades to electronic systems, putting said nation at a military disadvantage.

Finally, one young women began her question with a short anecdote about her father. She began to cry while asking her question. Although I can’t recall the actual question, she brought attention to how war affects entire families, not just the service member. Whether it’s the prolonged deployments, or dealing with PTSD, the wives, husbands, daughters, and sons all bear the load of these wars.

Levels of Orders

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A chief complaint that circles around the military is the length and detail of operations orders (OPORDs). These criticisms range from orders having too much detail, with the effect of subordinate commanders and leaders suffer in their own professional development.  

In thinking about how the military writes and publishes orders, it is worth the time to look through the lens of each level of war. Further, the military should look at changing the construct of orders at the strategic and institutional levels of war by ways of replacing mission statements with vision statements. 

Orders are the method by which commanders and leaders communicate to their subordinate leaders. Orders translate decisions and guidance made throughout planning and execution of an operation. The orders reflect a leader's personality and should never betray their command philosophy. Understanding orders at each level of war (tactical, operational, strategic, and institutional) is critical for any military profesional. 

Orders at the Tactical Level

Orders at the tactical level of war tend to be short, direct, and to the point. Starting at the platoon level, orders typically follow the five-paragraph Operations Order format found in U.S. military doctrine. Up through the battalion level, orders rarely include annexes and appendixes. Moreover, at the platoon and company level, orders are less formal, often coming in the form of a briefing. On any given day there is a second lieutenant briefing an order off index cards to his or her squad leaders.

It is at the battalion and brigade level where orders begin to appear in word documents, often with an accompanying OPORD PowerPoint briefing. It is at the battalion and brigade level where annexes and appendixes such as the intelligence Annex B or sustainment’s Annex D first make their appearances.

Given that a battalion commander and primary staff officers such as the operations officer (S3) are senior to company commanders, orders writing does not typically include representation from subordinate units. Further, given the pace of action at the tactical level, commanders and staffs (if there is a staff), have the least amount of time to plan. Indeed, decision cycles at the tactical level move at a rapid pace.

It is paramount to understand that at the tactical level of war, orders reflect the lowest common denominator. This is to say that a commander will write an order in enough detail to communicate with the subordinate who he or she trusts the least. This is a realty that some leaders can take broad guidance and run, while other leaders need excruciating detail before they feel comfortable to act. 

Commanders and leaders who issue tactical orders tend to have direct contact with their subordinates. This direct contact allows for adjustments of FRAGO's to the orders in real time. Squad leaders, platoon leaders, and to an extent company commanders can afford a modicum of vagueness in an order, s clarity can come rapidly from one who is physically close on the battlefield. Indeed, there is greater flexibility for an error in a tactical order than at higher levels of war.

Orders at the Operational Level

Orders in divisions, corps, joint task forces, and other operational level units expand in their length and in their detail. This includes longer situation and service and support paragraphs written by a dedicated intelligence and sustainment staff.

Although a commander’s intent is present in every operational order, it is at the operational level of war where the intent surpasses the mission statement in relevance. Commander’s at the operational level arrange and synchronize their forces in time and space. Time is longer, and space is wider at the operational level, thus the commander is linking multiple tactical actions.

With expanded time comes more detailed planning prior to the publication of orders. With more time comes more ways to think through mitigation measures where the commander assumes risk.

The expanded space at the operational level now means that actions occur in multiple domains. While tactical level commander are typically have control over one domain in rigidly defined area of operations (AO), operational commanders must account for multiple domains. Further, areas of operation can cover hundreds of miles, and be contiguous or non-contiguous. 

It is at the operational level where commanders tend to have more physical distance from their subordinates. The concept of both mission command and clarity of intent becomes paramount at the operational level and higher. According to Milan Vego, in his book Joint Operational Warfare, "clarity requires precise wording so that a directive (order) can not be misunderstood." 

Orders at the Theater Strategic and Strategic Levels of War

Orders tend to be long and detailed, but long and detailed for specific reasons. First, orders initiated at the strategic level become the necessary authorities required spending of money. This may range from an order to conduct a specific type of training, an order to attend a planning conference, or an order to move forces from one area of the world to another.

Second, orders at the strategic level assume the greatest risk should they fail. This is risk in both blood and treasure. Understanding the stakes at the strategic level mean that flag officers require detailed thought, planning, and risk analysis on all issues from command relationships to battlefield control measures. A well-written order will highlight what risk is acceptable, and what risk is not acceptable in the commander’s intent. 

Third, orders writing and publication at the strategic level of war is a dialogue. Orders conveyed to three and four-star level commands undergo a review multiple times.  Reviews of the order begin at the action officer level, continue at the O6/GS-15 level, and again at the GOFO level. During these reviews subordinate commands not only look at their tasks for concurrence, they often rewrite them. Moreover, subordinate commands, with an understanding of the higher commander’s intent will write in their own tasks. 

Within each round of review, subordinate commands have the opportunity to non-concur with an order. Non-concurs of orders can be emotional events. When officers work at strategic level staffs, they may not worship at the altar, but they certainly attend the church of consensus.

The multiple rounds of review should not be confused with time. At the strategic level orders production can take weeks and months to publish. Conversely, in times of crisis the creation, coordination, and publication of an order can occur in less than 24 hours.

It is at the theater strategic and strategic level where the complications of combined or multi-national headquarters arise. Staff officers and planners working at these levels must develop the skill of writing for review. Indeed, orders at the theater level often come in pairs, an order written for the alliance, and an order written only for a specific nation. Those with experience on U.S. military staffs understand the importance of a relationship with the foreign disclosure officer. 

Orders at the Institutional Level of War

Orders writing at the institutional level of war are similar to those at the strategic level. The chief difference in the development of orders. These differences are time and the level of coordination and consensus required to publish an order.

Writing an order at the service level is a long and arduous process. From conception to publication can last months. However, this time is necessary for a multitude of reasons. First, institutional orders tend to create DOTMLPF changes that have effects that last decades. This includes the development of doctrine or the acquisition of combat platforms. Second, orders at the institutional level often compete major commands to spend large portions of their budgets. 

Changes in Orders Writing

There is one major change that should occur within orders at the strategic and institutional level. Paragraph two of Operations and Execution Orders should expand to include a vision. A mission statement, while certainly applicable at the tactical and operational level of war is not sufficient at the strategic or institutional levels of war.  Joint and service doctrine should adapt the idea of a vision statement. Joint Publication 1-02 does not define the word vision, nor do the suite of service publications.

There are examples of published strategies such as the army’s Human Dimension Strategy that include a vision. However, the vision statements vary in ways from their nature to their length.

While a properly written mission statement includes the who, what, when, where, and why of a military operation,[i] those who work at the strategic level often find themselves veering away from doctrine to accommodate the desires of civilian leadership. Indeed, the higher level of command and staff, the less concern there is for sticking to doctrine, which often uses military jargon. Further, the mission statement often becomes a point for strategic messaging, turning what was meant to be a short sentence into a long run on sentence with multiple On Order tasks tacked onto the end.

As a mission statement focuses on the present, a vision looks forward, beyond the immediate task. In this aspect, a vision differs from a mission statement in the timeframe. It is here where strategic level documents such a combatant command’s campaign plan should move from a mission to a vision.  The timeframe of a vision can be five, ten, or even twenty years.

Opposed to mission statements which describe what the unit or organization will do, a vision describes what the future will look like. This is more than desired conditions or end state often found within an operational approach. Indeed, desired conditions and the endstate still fall within the confines of a specific mission or operation. A vision statement expands the perspective both in time and space.

As the joint force pivots to the idea of long-term competition with enemies and adversaries around the globe, often at a level below the threshold of conflict, OSD, the Joint Staff, and Combatant Commands should provide a vision on where they see themselves vis-à-vis their respective competitors.

While mission statements belong to commanders at each level of war, vision statements are the domain of strategic leaders (GOFOs) throughout the joint force. Moreover, while staffs can generate a mission statement during the planning process, the development and communication of a vision belongs to the strategic leader. A staff should not formulate or write out a strategic leader’s vision. Indeed, a person who can not conceptualize or formulate a vision for an organization should not be placed in charge of large organizations, nor in command at the highest levels in the military.

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There are a number of ways the joint force can adopt the idea of a vision. The first step is to define “vision” within joint doctrine. Second, strategic leaders throughout the joint force should replace mission statement with visions in published concepts and strategies. Moreover, documents originating from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in his role as the global integrator should provide a vision on what the future looks like. The vision would be paramount in any global plan or concept that integrates the actions of multiple combatant commands and the services.

Joint and service education should instruct rising field grade officers on the use and construction of a vision. This can start as early as the Command and Staff College, all the way through Capstone. Pushing senior leaders in the military to think, and to write at a higher level is paramount in communicating to members of a strategic organization.   

 

[i] From Joint Publication 1-02: Mission Statement: A short sentence or paragraph that describes the organization’s essential task(s), purpose, and action containing the elements of who, what, when, where, and why.

Levels of Intelligence

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According to U.S. joint doctrine, each level of war has a corresponding level of intelligence.[i] This enables the flow of information and intelligence to move up and down each level of command. Further, the levels of intelligence construct enables leaders at all levels of war to make decisions on the allocation of intelligence capabilities. However, the paradigm of tactical, operational, and strategic intelligence does not account for institutional intelligence, or how the services and the nation plan to defeat threats in the long-term future.

Figure       SEQ Figure \* ARABIC
   1     Levels of Intelligence per Joint Publication 2-0.  This fails to account for Institutional Intelligence

Figure 1 Levels of Intelligence per Joint Publication 2-0.  This fails to account for Institutional Intelligence

Tactical Intelligence

In U.S. joint doctrine, tactical intelligence is defined as “Tactical intelligence is used by commanders, planners, and operators for planning and conducting battles, engagements, and special missions.”[ii] Further, tactical intelligence centers on immediate threats faced by these respective commanders.

The consequences of tactical intelligence failure can lead to the loss of life, the loss of equipment, and the loss of battles. However, failure of tactical intelligence is not the cause for a nation losing a war. Further, investment in and success of tactical intelligence is not a panacea for failures at the operational, strategic, and institutional levels of war.

Operational Intelligence

Similar to operational level planning, operational intelligence occurs within joint commands such as Combatant Commands or subordinate joint force headquarters. Operational intelligence assists commanders of various service level units to act in unison.

When one nation achieves complete surprise at the onset of a war, the result is often characterized as strategic surprise, or a result of strategic intelligence failure. Examples include the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, and Egypt’s surprise attack in the Yom Kippur War of 1973. However, these attacks incurred a strictly military defeat, both of which the United States and Israel respectively overcame. Indeed, no matter how many ships the Japanese were able to sink on December 7th, the United States possessed the institutional capacity to produce more ships and sailors than the Japanese could ever throw into the Pacific.

The consequences of operational intelligence failures range from the defeat of tactical units on the battlefield to the loss of theater level campaigns. However, in a similar manner to the tactical level, strategic success can overcome operational failure.

Strategic Intelligence

U.S. Joint doctrine looks to strategic intelligence to assist in the development of weapon system and force structure requirements.[iii] While this may be true for short term changes to force structure, the long-term changes to force structure and capabilities development falls under the new concept of institutional intelligence.

The consequences of strategic level failure are dire, but not necessarily a threat to the existence of a nation. At times, strategic level failure is simply the inability to predict global events. For example, the collapse of the Soviet Union surprised intelligence professionals around the globe.

U.S. Joint doctrine offers up assistance in determining major weapons systems and force structure requirements as an aspect of strategic intelligence.[iv] This is where current joint doctrine misses the boat. Joint intelligence doctrine lumps capabilities development in the same bin as strategy and policy development. In doing so, the doctrine conflates two distinct skill sets of intelligence professionals, and passes on the opportunity to recognize the unique talents of intelligence personnel who can look  not only at a map, but into the far and distant future.

Institutional Intelligence

Institutional Intelligence is a combination of how the services develop planning scenarios that enable capability development for the mid to long-range future, and how the services understand the domestic environment to enable the manning, equipping, and training of the joint force.  

Institutional intelligence relies on assumptions more than any other level of war. In the development of scenarios, services must consider the future combat capabilities of foreign adversaries as well as the potential capabilities of our own, and allied nations. This could include advancements in weapons technology such as artillery that can shoot further, or rotary wing aviation that can fly greater distances on less fuel.

More than assuming future technologies, institutional intelligence must look at possible enemies and adversaries in the distant future. While it can be safe to assume that some competitors in today’s world will be the same three decades from now, it is also possible for friendly nations to turn based on their domestic politics, as in the case of Iran in 1979. Moreover, enemies and adversaries can quickly turn into allies, as in the case of Eastern European Warsaw Pact nations following the demise of the Soviet Union.

Much of institutional intelligence occurs in the unclassified domain. Documents such as the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends Report emphasize this need.[v] Indeed, developing a picture of the future involves various research agencies, businesses, and other organizations outside of government.

One of the best examples of institutional intelligence is the development of the various Army College War Games in the inter-war period. Students attending the Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania planned against potential conflicts against a variety of nations. These scenarios led to the development of War Plan Orange, the plan to defeat Japan, which was, conceptualized prior the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

The consequences of institutional level intelligence failure can damage the nation. The effects of preparing for the wrong war, or entering the next war with the wrong capabilities can lead to strategic or national level defeat. The failure of the German Air force to develop the proper capabilities to conduct strategic bombing directly led to its defeat in the Battle of London.[vi]  

Understanding the Domestic Enviornment

Tactical, Operational, and Strategic Intelligence tend to focus on the operational environment overseas. Any intelligence shop of value to a commander visualizes aspects of the terrain, the population, and enemy forces. Institutional intelligence is paramount in how the military prepares for the next war. Operational and Strategic leaders must know and understand the domestic environment as a way of understanding the capabilities of their own service.

Institutional intelligence should focus on domestic conditions. Leaders responsible for manning, equipping, and training the force must understand domestic demographics and trends. This aids in decisions such as where and how to focus recruitment efforts, and how to encourage career service members to stay in the force.

Military strategists and those responsible for raising a force should understand the domestic economy and its impact on recruitment and retention of service members. Unlike intelligence focused on the enemy, institutional intelligence should provide leaders with an understanding of high tech corporations as a competitor for human capital. When China or Russia implements a new military or economic policy, hordes of analysts study the impacts it may have in the event of a conflict. The US military should do the same as domestic policy changes in line with election cycles.

Knowing oneself has long been mantra of wise advice. The Oracle at Delphi, Sun Tzu, and Army doctrine on leadership have all advocated for understanding yourself before fighting an adversary. Nations across the globe spend enormous amount of resources on understanding foreign nations and the likelihood of future conflict. The United States invests in the study of nations like Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, China, and Russia to gain an understanding on how they may conduct warfare in the future. Indeed, the United States Army has an entire functional area of foreign affairs officers who serve commanders and US embassies as experts on various nations and regions across the globe.

The nation that has the most impact on the nature of a conflict is our own. The enemy does get a vote, but our vote still counts. Understanding our own nation’s demographics and culture to build an Army around it is equally if not more paramount for success in future conflict.

 

[i] Joint Publication 2-0. Joint Intelligence. 22 October 2013.

[ii] Joint Publication 2-0. Joint Intelligence. 22 October 2013.

[iii] Joint Publication 2-0. Joint Intelligence. 22 October 2013. Pg. I-24

[iv] ibid

[v] Letter from the NIC Chairman https://www.dni.gov/index.php/global-trends/letter-nic-chairman

[vi] Williamson Murray. 1983. Strategy For Defeat The Luftwaffe 1933-1945. Air University Press. Maxwell Airforce Base, Alabama.

OPT Composition

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The OPT Lead

Operational Planning Team leaders typically come from either the J5 or the J35 on a joint staff. However, an OPT lead can come from any part of a staff. OPTs that stand up to solve logistical problems may have a leader from the J4, while OPTs solving force protection related issues may come from the protection cell, or J34.

The best analogy for the role of an OPT leader is that of a head coach in professional sports. OPT leads must understand the planning process to guide their team through planning. They must understand the rules that govern planning, and ensure the team follows them at every step. Further, much like athletic coaches, OPT leaders must manage the wide range of personalities on their team. Just as commanders are responsible for unit cohesion, OPT leads are responsible for the cohesion and teamwork within their OPT.  

Formal duties of the OPT leader include establishing the OPT’s battle-rhythm, and integrating it into the broader staff’s battle rhythm. Further, the OPT leader communicates the commander’s intent to the planning team, ensuring each step of the planning process is in line with said intent. Third, the OPT leader is responsible for every product the OPT produces, or fails to produce. This includes briefings, orders, commander’s estimates, or any other product sent to the commander and subordinate units. OPT leaders must be prepared to answer for anything the OPT does or fails to do. This latter aspect demands that the OPT leaders continually communicate with the Chief of Plans and other senior leaders on the staff.

The least important aspect of an OPT leader is rank. OPT leaders normally range from Majors to Colonels. However, for an OPT lead, rank is of less significance than influence. Indeed, a young major running an OPT may have officers senior in rank on his team. When rank becomes an issue, the OPT lead must leverage the senior officers in the room to get through the problem. OPT leaders must be comfortable with this paradigm.

The Deputy

Much like an executive officer, the first responsibility of an OPT deputy is to lead the planning team when the OPT leader is not present. In this aspect, the selection of an OPT deputy is one of the most important decisions leaders on staff can make. An OPT leader must have confidence in his or her deputy that work will carry on, and products will continue in their progression when they are away from the team.

More than serve as the head of an OPT in the leader’s absence, an OPT deputy is the enforcer of the OPTs rules. In this aspect, the OPT deputy is similar to a Chief of Staff. The deputy must enforce timelines, ensuring that the mission analysis, course of action development, or other step of the planning process is complete, with respective products prepared for presentation to senior leaders and decision makers. Moreover, the deputy enforces the OPT Leader’s battle rhythm and ensures all personnel participate in the process at the proper time.

Other responsibilities of the OPT deputy include ensuring attendance at critical meetings, and representation of the OPT in other battle rhythm events. The OPT deputy must enforce a process where attendees at other events (CUB, Rules of Engagement Working Group, etc..) share their information with the entirety of the OPT. Indeed, updates from OPT members and subject matter experts should be a part of the OPT’s internal battle rhythm.

Liaison Officers (LNOs) 

All planning involves organizations above, below, and parallel to the team conducing the planning. Combatant Commands have supporting commands, subordinate service components, and answer to OSD and Joint Staff. Liaison Officers ensure the smooth communication between various organizations who have a role in high-level problem solving.

The Operational Planning Team must ensure respective LNOs are present at key briefings and meetings. However, OPT leads should understand that LNOs are one deep. Often, they are expected to attend other meetings occurring within the command’s battle rhythm. OPT leaders should clearly communicate when the attendance of an LNO is necessary to continue planning.

It is important to understand that LNOs do now work for the OPT leader; rather they work for their parent command. As such, LNOs should be knowledgeable in their parent organization’s capabilities and limitations and be familiar with their commander’s intent and concept of operations. Just as LNOs communicate with their respective commands, they must continually answer requests for information from the planning team.

Knowledge Management, IT, and Adminstration

Every planning team needs a person to serve in an administrative role. This person will ensure that the planning team compiles, organizes and posts information in a logical manner to aid the planning process and to preserve information for future reference. This may mean posting documents on a portal page, or compiling read-ahead binders for leadership prior to a briefing. The planner serving in the administration role should also capture any lessons learned or key insights that pop up throughout planning.

The Red Team

Every planner should have a fair level of skepticism. However, full time skeptics, devil’s advocates, or red team members are essential to the development of every plan. Indeed, the joint military community now emphasizes the importance of Red Teams through an entire appendix in the 2017 version of Joint Publication 5-0, Joint Planning. 

A quality Red Team will help the planning team identify areas of risk within their respective plan. This may be through challenging planning assumptions, or though the pre-mortem analysis method. A quality red team will force the rest of the OPT to think critically and to consider alternative points of view. Understanding points of possible failure, and mitigating those points enhances the viability of a plan. This translates into saved lives.

The Night Shift

When planning teams move to a 24-hour cycle, it is the night shift that will make or break the OPT. OPT leaders must carefully select who will work at night, carefully avoiding the temptation to stack the deck with the best planners on day shift. As the battle-rhythm tends to slow at night, the night shift is often responsible for the improvement and finalization of the morning briefings. Further, OPT leaders should consider putting their best writers on the night shift. These writers can take the time at night to develop the word products such as the Commander’s Estimate, Warning Orders, and Operations Orders. Orders are the ways in which military organizations communicate with one another, and serve as the primary means for tasking subordinate units. The night shift requires smart planners who are familiar with doctrine to produce these documents for the command.

Functional Experts

OPTs perform at a high level when every element of the staff shows up. Every J-Code (J1-J9) and special staff (e.g. Public Affairs, Legal) should contribute to the problem solving that takes place within an OPT. More than providing deep knowledge within their respective areas, functional experts are responsible for keeping leaders in their J-Codes and staff sections up to date on the work of the planning team.

Subject Matter Experts

It would be hard to take a planning team planning an operation against Russia without representation and participation from the local Russian expert. It is incumbent upon the OPT leader to ensure that experts on a country, or problem set offer their perspective. For example, when planning a humanitarian assistance mission, it is necessary to have the local USAID/OFDA staff member in the room.

Conclusion

Before work begins, it is paramount for operational planning team leaders to understand who need to be in the room. As I have mentioned in previous essays, nobody has a monopoly on knowledge. The ability for an OPT leader to look around the room and recognize human capital shortfalls is often the differnence between success and failure. 

War Is....

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The Dead Prussian is one of the best Podcasts going. At the end of each interview, the host, Mick Cook asks each guest to complete the following sentence; War is…  The answers vary, and range from Clausewitz’s “war is politics by other means” to creative answers such as “war is fashion by other means.” Here is my attempt to define war, with a deliberate attempt NOT to revert to Clausewitz’s definition. 

War is Ying and Yang.

War reveals. War exposes the best and worst of human beings. Famously there are the cases of My Lai and Lieutenant Calley and Private First Class Green in Yusifiyah. In these cases war exposed at the individual level the worst in mankind. War exposed the worst of American men and women at Abu Ghraib, who prior to serving at the prison were upstanding soldiers. War shows who should hold power and positions of responsibility, and who should never be in charge of another human being. Moreover, a simple review of history shows at the organizational level, the use of military force has enabled some of the worst atrocities of mankind.

With every ying there is a yang, and with the worst comes the best. While war exposed the worst of man at Mai Lai, it exposed heroic men who chose to stand against evil. The actions of Chief Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson Jr. gives hope to those who believe in the inherent good of our fellow human beings. 

Just as the use of military power enables evil, it is consistently a force of good. The good ranges from the liberation of European and Asian nations in the Second World War, to the scores of humanitarian assistance missions following natural disasters.

Revealing the best and worst of us happens in more cases than famous massacres and Medal of Honor earning moments. The ying and the yang of warfare reveals who can speak truth to power and those that serve as yes men to their commanders. In the latter, war exposes who will report up to higher authorities the information they want to hear. A short reading on the history of Vietnam exposes the latter.

War destroys. The violence of warfare destroys lives in savage ways. The destruction of lives occurs on a daily basis. Opposing sides in war aim to kill their enemies until their side has achieved its respective political aim. However, death and destruction is never limited to those who carry weapons and wear a uniform. Civilians and non-combatants often find themselves victims of fighting. War can destroy their property through an errant missile strike, and war can take an innocent’s life all the same.

Not only does war snuff out the literal lives of those fighting and caught in the crossfires, war can destroy the future. Illustrating how war can take away the future is a passage from Guy Sajer’s masterpiece The Forgotten Soldier.

“Paula, we’ll be married, I swear it. But the war prevented me from keeping my word, and the peace made it lose all its value…So please forgive me, Paula. It wasn’t my fault. You knew the misery of war too, and fear, and anguish. Perhaps – and I wish it with all my heart – perhaps you were also spared. That at least would allow us both to remember. The war destroyed Berlin, and Germany, and Killeringstrasse, and perhaps the Neubachs too, but not you, Paula…that would be too horrible. I have forgotten nothing.”

War took away the future. A marriage that never happened, kids that were never born, grandchildren that were never spoiled. They may have survived the war, but their dreams were gone.

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War creates. Out of the rubble of conflict emerge some of the most phenomenal aspects of mankind. In the arts, the First World War created the intellectual space for authors such as Remarque and Hemingway and poets like Owen and Sassoon to give the world the gift of their words. Ditto for Norman Mailer and his experience in the Second World War. Its not just writers and artists that war creates, out of war comes a generation of 

War creates leaders. In America alone national leaders emerged in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, the Spanish American War, and the two World Wars. There is no dearth of political leaders who earned their fame in conflict. Creating leadership is certainly a human aspect of war, but the ying and the yang apply equally to the unknown masses returning from a war 

War sends men and women back home from conflict. Soldiers return on airplanes, and other soldiers return in boxes. Of those that return alive, some come back physically and mentally stronger; others come home weaker than the day they

The ying and yang list can go on forever. War creates and war destroys; war exposes the best and exposes the worst; war reveals the truth tellers and reveals the frauds, war strengthens and war weakens. As national leaders consider the use of military force to solve their nation’s problems, it is worth remembering that for every potential positive outcome, there is an equally potential disaster looming on the horizon.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Army, the DoD, or the U.S. Government