Humor Magazine

"War, War, War . . . "

By Davidduff

". . . all you gentlemen ever talk of is war!"  Thus spake, not Zarathustra, but the truly beautiful Vivien Leigh in her opening lines as Scarlett O'Hara - and I surely do not need to tell you the name of the film even if next year marks its 75th anniversary!  Anyway, all of that, in my usual rambling way, is by way of telling you about a new book just published on military philosophy.  In a review in the TLS, Michael Howard (and military historian/philosophers do not come much more distinguished than him) places it up there alongside Clauswitz, no less, which is some compliment given that the writer, Emile Simpson, was recently a junior officer serving with the Gurkhas in Afghanistan.

Even an old ex-corporal like me has gradually become aware that the nature of warfare has changed since the days of the 18th/19th century.  There are now aspects to war which were never a consideration for Frederick the Great and Napoleon Bonaparte, although the first inklings were discernible during 'Boney's' adventures when an army's ranks began to be filled by civilians, not just professional soldiers, and the sheer size spelled the end of command and control by a single commander however large his genius.  The young Prussian officers who rebelled ('viz absolute korrectness, natürlich!) against the stultifying control of their king after their defeats by Napoleon, saw the changes that would be needed in an age of 'the nation in arms' and invented what became the German General Staff.

But in the 20th century a new element entered warfare - public opinion.  The 20th century saw the culmination of 'the nations in arms' and the colossal struggles that ensued and it became glaringly apparent that the correct message be relayed to the people to keep them involved - a national narrative was required:

The narrative must not only be persuasive in rational terms. It also needs drama
to appeal to the emotions. Above all, it needs an ethical foundation. Not only
one’s own people, but the wider “strategic audience” must believe that one is
fighting a “good” war. The genius of Winston Churchill in 1940 was to devise a
strategic narrative that not only inspired his own people, but enlisted the
support of the United States: indeed, most of British military operations in the
early years of the war were planned with an eye on that strategic audience. The
great shortcoming of Hitler’s strategy was his failure to create a strategic
narrative that appealed to anyone apart from his own people – and a rapidly
decreasing number of them.

But today, even that is not enough because modern communications means that everyone from those in the the high command bunkers down to the 'Tom' in the foxhole and 'the man in the street/bazaar/jungle/desert/shanty town is bang up to date with the latest news.  What you do and what you say must be crafted with a world-wide audience in mind.

The paradigm (still largely accepted by Clausewitz) of “bipolar” wars fought
between discrete states enjoying the support of their peoples has now been
shattered by globalization. Popular support can no longer be taken for granted.
“The people” are no longer homogeneous and the enemy is no longer a single
entity. Further, “the enemy” is no longer the only actor to be taken into
account. The information revolution means that every aspect, every incident of
the conflict can be instantly broadcast throughout the world in width and in
depth, and received by anyone with access to the internet; including the men in
foxholes fighting it.

Off the top of my head I would suggest that we, meaning 'the West', have lost every war(*) since WWII with the exception of the one that evicted  Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.  In all cases the 'narrative' was confused and stood no chance against the multitude of contrary opinion available round the globe.  It seems ot me that Mr. Simpson's book is required reading - 'SoD', please take note and remember it's my birthday next month!

(*) Of course, the 'officer class' tend to trot out the post-WWII Malaya campaign as an example of how we won but they forget that what won it was our surrender!  In other words, as soon as we acknowledged that Malaya would be granted independence at the conclusion then the insurgency lost its main raison d'être

WAR FROM THE GROUND UP: Twenty-first-century combat as politics

by Emile Simpson

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