The View From Olympus: SOF and the Operational Level of War

I recently enjoyed a three-day visit by two very bright Special Operations Forces (SOF) officers.  One had already read the whole of the canon, and the other was working on it.  That meant they were familiar with the operational level of war, and one of our topics of conversation was the need to employ SOF at the operational, not the tactical, level.  I have touched on that subject in previous columns, but one of the officers said it would be helpful to his unit if I addressed it again, hence this column.

In the German understanding of the operational level (the Russians, who have a long tradition of operational art, understand it somewhat differently), it is not a “thing” like tactics and strategy but a linkage between those two.  In essence, it is how to think about what to do tactically and how to use tactical events, battles, and refusals of battle, victories and sometimes defeats, to strike as directly as possible at the enemy’s strategic hinge, that which, when struck, collapses his strategy.  Operations are designed to achieve a strategic decision as quickly as possible and with as little battle as possible, because battle costs both casualties and time. Operations can be thought of as meta-level economy of force measures.

SOF, by their very name, should be employed at the operational level.  If used (and used up) at the tactical level, they will contribute little to strategic victory; they are simply too small to matter if used in classic attrition warfare fashion, where strategic victory is supposed to come from accumulating tactical victories.  Conversely, when used at the operational level in the context of maneuver warfare, they have a history of decisive success.  Perhaps the best example is the German special operation to take Fort Eben Emael in Belgium in 1940.  An action by a single company that landed on top of the fort, something the Belgians had not imagined, opened the door to Army Group B’s thrust into Belgium.  The 1940 campaign is itself a brilliant example of thinking and acting on the operational level, not just the tactical, especially in XIX Panzer Corps’ thrust north to the Channel after crossing the Meuse at Sedan.  Other examples of strategically important special operations, using the term correctly, are Skorzeny’s rescue of Mussolini and abduction of Admiral Horthy, the regent of Hungary.

Not surprisingly, most American headquarters do not understand the operational level of war; they practice Second Generation, attrition warfare where the operational level is not important if it is even recognized.  This puts an unrecognized burden on American SOF.  Not only must they be highly proficient tactically and technically, they must themselves grasp the operational level and be able to think operationally.  Why?  Because if they do not tell the headquarters employing them how to use them at the operational level, they will be frittered away tactically with little impact on the strategic outcome–impact they could have had if they had been used right.  Few feelings are more bitter than those suffered when, after taking heavy casualties, you know your efforts were wasted.

The two young officers who visited me are both highly intelligent and could be educated to guide their unit’s employment at the operational level.  That does not mean sending them to the Army Command and Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth to be taught some absurd “method”.  It means copying the way the German Army taught its officers at the Kriegsakademie, with case studies, war games, map problems, and the like.

As General Balck said, only a few can do it; most can never learn.  These two guys could, and I am sure there are more.  Unfortunately, at present, there is no effort to identify and educate such people in the SOF community, because the assumption is that higher headquarters will employ them properly.  They won’t, and the fruit of that assumption will be bitter.

Why the Right Should Never Fight or Hurt Cops

I have made the point before that the political Right, which obviously includes me, should never injure police officers.  This should be self-evident–it is the Left that hates cops, while we on the Right like them–but some elements on the Right are now calling for violence against police.  This is a mistake of strategic importance, and the purpose of this column is to explain why.  It is not just a matter of “being nice”; it is central to winning.

To understand why, we need to look at “the grid”.  Found on page 13 of the Fourth Generation Warfare Handbook, the grid has three elements across and three down, creating nine boxes.  The three down represent the three classical levels of war: tactical, operational, and strategic.  The three across are John Boyd’s three new levels: physical, mental, and moral.  To use the grid, you need to know two other things.  First, a higher level of war trumps a lower, e.g., no matter how good you are at the tactical and operational levels, if you are beaten at the strategic level, you lose–Germany’s fate in two world wars.  Second, the weakest box is the tactical/physical and the most powerful is the strategic/moral.  The U.S. armed forces usually lose because, although they dominate the tactical/physical box, they are beaten at the strategic/moral levels.

Interestingly, some police departments are now using the grid.  They have come to realize that by militarizing, they have become dominant at the tactical/physical levels, but at the price of defeating themselves at the operational, strategic, mental, and moral levels.  This is, if I may say so, typically American, and it lies behind much of the bad relationship some departments have with the press, politicians, and public.  Some now get it, and they are finding the grid gets them out of the tactical/physical victory but strategic/moral defeat cycle.  At a Boyd conference, some cops told me their department now uses the grid for almost every operation, thereby anticipating and avoiding undesirable secondary effects.

For the Right, there are at least three reasons why we need to avoid fighting and hurting cops if we want to win, all of them in boxes beyond the tactical/physical.  First, most people line up mentally and morally with the cops.  Every time the Left hurts cops, it loses public support.  This is a gut issue for most people, with good reason: we all depend on the police.  We want to leverage this issue against the Left, but we cannot do so if some people on the Right fight police.  Calls for violence by the Right against the police will lead directly to our defeat in the court of public opinion, that is to say, at the most powerful levels of war, the moral/strategic.

Second, as readers of Thomas Hobbes’ Victoria know, police are natural and potentially very valuable allies of the Right.  Most cops are cultural conservatives.  They loathe the cultural Marxists just as we do.  In Victoria, cops at all levels, federal, state, and local, provide critically important intelligence to the people trying to rescue our country from cultural Marxism.  That intel is important at every traditional level of war, tactical, operational, and strategic.  If some elements on the Right start hurting cops, that scenario from Victoria will be short-circuited, leading to the Right fighting blind.

Third, neither the Left nor the Right has sufficient strength to take on the state and its armed forces.  That route leads straight to defeat.  The way to destroy any regime is to take it from the inside.  The Left has done that by co-opting politicians, professors, entertainers, educators (so-called) etc.  The Right’s path to victory runs through taking the element all those things depend on, the state’s security forces, from within.  A regime is finished when its security forces, police and military, go over to the opposition.  Again, both police officers and the men in our armed forces are mostly cultural conservatives, natural allies.  But they cannot ally with the Right if elements on the Right are fighting and hurting them.  That is potentially decisive at the strategic levels, i.e., game over.

So powerful is the moral level in this kind of war that you win not by inflicting casualties but by suffering them.  This is nowhere more true for the Right than in its relations with police (and National Guard or other U.S. military).  If someone is to suffer casualties (cameras rolling), it needs to be people on the Right, not cops getting hurt by the Right.  Fighting Leftists who attack us first is fine.  Fighting cops will lead directly to disaster.

Interested in what Fourth Generation war in America might look like? Read Thomas Hobbes’ new future history, Victoria.


As  expected, the main theme of President Joe Biden’s Inaugural Address–and yes, he is legally the President, because the Electoral College gave him a majority–was unity.  He returned to the theme many times, perhaps most powerfully in these words:

Today, on this January day, my whole soul is in this: Bringing America together.  Uniting our people.  Uniting our nation. . .

We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban or conservative against liberal.  We can do this, if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts.  If we show a little tolerance and humility.  And if we’re willing to stand in the other person’s shoes. . .

The question is, is this a real opening to the concerns of the Right or just feel-good rhetoric?  The rest of the speech regrettably suggests the latter.  Biden took repeated pot-shots at the Right and addressed the Left’s issues but had nothing to say about the issues that drive the Right. 

What might he have said about the latter?  How about:

I respect and will defend the right of all Americans to freedom of thought, speech, and other expressions of their views, liberals and conservatives alike, and yes, people who are sometimes labelled “racists”, “sexists”, and “fascists”.  I disagree with their views with all my soul, but as Americans they have the right to state them.

I will respect and defend the right of all Americans to live according to their religious beliefs, including beliefs contrary to my own, such as opposition to abortion and gay marriage.  A baker should not lose his livelihood for refusing to bake a cake.

I oppose “cancelling” people, which is just a new name for blacklisting.  No one should lose his job or be forced out of his field of work because he or she refuses to say what an ideology commands.  I will ban such actions for all federal employees and federal contractors, and I will order my administration to look skeptically at any institution, including colleges and universities, that practice “cancelling” while receiving federal funds.

I will respect the Second Amendment as I do all the Constitution and I will defend Americans’ right to keep and bear arms.

Such words would at least have opened the door to Right and Left working out a modus vivendi, a way we can live together in one country despite fundamental disagreements.  But even if President Biden had said them, unity would have faced enormous roadblocks.

Perhaps the most important comes from the internet and the devices that deliver it, such as computers and cell phones.  The internet allows people to construct and live in their own little world, one where whatever they think–that America is afflicted with “systemic racism”, that men and women are interchangeable, that the moon is made of green cheese–is affirmed to them over and over, where they are connected to other people with the same worldview and where they never see or hear contrary evidence.  The internet is atomizing.  How can anyone bring unity to 330 million separate and often clashing worlds?

Another obstacle is the fact that the American Left is no longer liberal, in any sense of the word.  It has become ideological, built upon the ideology of cultural Marxism, aka Political Correctness or “wokeness”.  All ideologies tend toward puritanism, and cultural Marxism is no exception.  For such ideologies, any compromise with the Right, any modus vivendi, makes them “impure” and vulnerable on their own Left to those even more extreme.  Eventually, ideologies suffer an internal “coup of Thermidor” a la the Brinton thesis and move back toward the center, but it looks unlikely the American Left will see that soon.

The upshot of all this is that President Biden’s call for unity will probably be seen by history as just another vanity.  It will have had no effect on events, which will take what now seems their inevitable course into widespread Fourth Generation war on American soil and a break-up of the American state–the Victoria scenario.  While President Trump was outwardly a polarizing figure, he did more to preserve unity than President Biden is likely to because he offered a voice and a place within the political system to the people on the Right.  Under Biden they will have no such voice, despite his stated intention to be “a President for all Americans–all Americans.”  On the contrary, they will become the targets for a cultural Marxism backed by the full power of the federal government.  And, as the world saw on January 6, they will fight back.

If President Biden needs a call sign, I suggest Romulus Augustulus.

His Majesty’s Birthday

Preparing to congratulate His Majesty Kaiser Wilhelm ll, Germany’s last legitimate ruler and my reporting senior, on his birthday on January 27, I made a rough winter crossing of the North Atlantic on the splendid liner Vaterland.  I usually telephone, but something in the air–the voice of the people, coming from the U.S. Capitol where it is almost never heard of–led me to call in person.  I hoped His Majesty could offer a useful perspective.

I arrived in Potsdam three days early, to find, unsurprisingly, that His Majesty was traveling.  He wasn’t called der Reisekaiser for nothing.  I was surprised when, on the 25th, he arrived by sleigh instead of on the Imperial train at his private railway station.  Recognizing me in the welcoming crowd, he beckoned me over and said, “Get in!”

“I’m just back from St. Petersburg.  Did the whole trip by sleigh!  Splendid time!  How the Russian people love their Tsar!  Damn cossacks in my escort stole my cuirass, though.  I felt half-naked at the balls.”

“You know cossacks are going to steal something, Your Majesty,” I said.  “Last time I visited Stavka with von Seekt they stole his monocle!  Talk about feeling naked.  The man was so shocked his face actually showed expression.”

“Seekt?  I don’t believe it,” replied the Kaiser.

“But I’m not surprised the Russian people love their monarch.  Almost a century of Bolshevism taught them that much,”  I said.

“It’s not just the Russian people,” His Majesty declared.  “It’s happening everywhere.  The Reichsburger movement in Germany is growing by leaps and bounds.  It’s made up of Germans who know I was their last legitimate government.  That’s why I was in St. Petersburg.  Tsar Nicholas called a conference to work out how we could best meet our peoples’ desire for legitimate governments.  Everybody came–the Bourbons, the Hapsburgs, the Vasas, the Ming, and of course lots of my Saxe-Gotha-Coburg cousins, who’re always hoping an empty throne will turn up.”

“I think everyone who has eyes and can see know so-called ‘democracies’ have run their course,” I replied to His Majesty.  “In America, ordinary people recently occupied the Capitol building in Washington, because they know they have no voice there.  If they aren’t members of some ‘victims’ group, if they just live on what they can earn and pay their taxes and help their neighbors, they are told by the high and mighty that they are evil ‘oppressors’ who should apologize endlessly to whatever floats down society’s gutter.  And their ‘democratic, elected’ government is now trying to arrest all of them who dared make their voice heard.  If we could put good King George III back on the ballot as a replacement for the whole current Washington lot, he’d win in a landslide.”

“It’s the same in Germany,” the Kaiser said.  “That wretched hausfrau they jokingly call ‘chancellor’ flooded Germany with dirt, more than a million Arabs, and Germans don’t like seeing their country all schmutzig.  Turks are one thing, but Arabs quite another.  They will never become Germans, not in ten generations.  Now the people learn the hard way why I said women were only for ‘Kinder, Kirche, und Kuche‘.  That woman dirtied up Germany, and it will take a Hohenzollern to clean it again.”

“Where will this return to monarchy come from, Your Majesty,” I asked.  “From the people?”

“From the people?  No, of course not.  I thought a General Staff officer knew better than that.  ‘From the people’, democracy, always results in what you have now, oligarchies of low-class graspers and climbers, false aristocrats who think only of themselves.  Prussian aristocrats ploughed their own land.  Monarchs come from God.  That is why only monarchy offers legitimate government.  The people want legitimacy, but only God can provide.”

“So how does this come about?  On the surface of things, it seems so unlikely,” I said wonderingly.

“God acts in His own time, my friend,” His Majesty said with a kindly voice.  “But there are things you can do.  You can attend church regularly and pray for monarchy.  You can govern yourself as a Godly monarch would govern all.  And you can come together and support one another, as the good Reichsburger are doing in Germany.  Remember, the King returns like a thief in the night.  Trim your lamps and keep watch.”

“And now I must let you go to lighten the sleigh, for I lead the hussars!  It’s time to partition Poland again!” And off flew our good Kaiser for another year, leaving me to watch, wait, and try to remember what kielbasa is called in German.  Schnittwurst?

The View From Olympus: The China Threat

The December 4 Wall Street Journal’s op ed page headlined a piece by John Ratcliffe, U.S. Director of National Intelligence, titled “China is National Security Threat No. 1”.  Mr. Ratcliffe concluded his op ed by writing,

This is a once-in-a-generation challenge.  Americans have always risen to the moment, from defeating the scourge of fascism to bringing down the Iron Curtain.  This generation will be judged by its response to China’s effort to reshape the world in its own image and replace America as the dominant superpower.  The intelligence is clear.  Our response must be as well.

As is usually the case with op eds signed by prominent federal officeholders, the purpose of this piece is budget justification: intelligence agencies recently received a big budget boost for spying on China.  And Mr. Ratcliffe is right with respect to some aspects of our relationship with China.  It is an economic competitor, one that has pitted the enriching economics of mercantilism against the impoverishing economics of free trade.  More the fools us for allowing it to do so.

But on the whole, Mr. Ratcliffe and the rest of the dragon puffers are wrong.  They are wrong not because of bad intelligence about China, but because they miss the fact that for all Great Power rivalries, the context has changed.  Contests between Great Powers are no longer the primary force shaping the world.  Rather, what now shapes the world is the growing weakness of most states as the state itself faces a crisis of legitimacy.  Great Power contests now take place within this context, which means such contests are themselves counter-productive to all involved because they further weaken states, certainly the loser and often the winner too.  In effect, victories in state vs. state contests will henceforth almost always be Pyrrhic.

Just as Washington does not get this change in strategic context, neither does Beijing.  For China, which is, as Mr. Ratcliffe writes, attempting to become the top Great Power, the new context has at least three major implications:

  • First, as it penetrates other parts of the globe through initiatives such as its “Belt and Road” project, it will find its presence there undermined and its goals blocked by increasing disorder.  As states weaken, Fourth Generation war spreads, and Chinese efforts in the face of constant attacks by non-state elements will simply become unprofitable.  This mirrors the European colonial experience but will occur much faster.  In fact, it is occurring now, as China’s penetration into much of sub-Saharan Africa finds its efforts swallowed by spreading disorder.  Where states are weak or merely fictions, one gang among many, efforts by outside powers will produce only a bottomless investment pit.  The cost/benefit calculation will be as red as the east.
  • Second, where states are struggling to hold on to at least some shreds of legitimacy, an increasingly obvious Chinese role will threaten that legitimacy.  This, again, is already happening, especially in Africa.  Because one of the main factors driving Chinese expansionism is the need to provide jobs for Chinese people, Chinese projects hire little local labor.  That, plus a general resentment against outsiders, will also bog down, then reverse Chinese penetration.  The ugly Chinaman will get booted out, just as were the ugly American and ugly European.
  • Third, because the legitimacy of rule by the Chinese Communist Party depends on rapid economic growth in China, China too may suffer a crisis of legitimacy of the state.  Like most authoritarian regimes, China’s Communist government is strong but rigid.  It will seem impervious to disorder right up to the point where it collapses.  China seems to think it has tamed the business cycle, but neither it nor anyone else has done so.  History’s rule seems to be that if a government can prevent frequent, fairly small economic downturns, it gets less frequent but larger ones instead.  Anyone looking at the house of cards that is China’s public and private debt can see what is coming.  And China has a long history of internal fractioning.  No Chinese state can assume it will always hold together.  Were the Chinese state to fracture, that would not only be a disaster for China but for the rest of the world as well, including the United States.  Once again, the new context touches and changes everything.

China appears to be repeating the mistake Japan made in the 1930s.  Japan attempted to build an empire just as European states had done, by conquest, but that era had passed.  China now seeks in similar fashion to become the top Great Power when that position has lost much of its meaning and will soon lose the rest.  Spreading state failure endangers the state system itself, and a successful defense of that system requires an alliance of all states, an alliance that must begin with the three current Great Powers, the United States, China, and Russia.  Russia acts as if it may have at least some understanding this is the case, while Washington and Beijing show none.  Nor does Mr. Ratcliffe, the Director of U.S. National Intelligence.  Is there in fact any intelligence in U.S. National Intelligence?

January 6: A Strategic Analysis

Despite all the howling of the mainstream media, the Republicrat Party, and the chattering class, the events in Washington on January 6, 2021, were a strategic victory for the political Right, and a big one.  Why?  Because the Right showed it could fight back.

Last summer, the Left rioted, looted, and burned in many of our cities, and in most cases the charges against those doing the looting and burning were dropped.  Conservatives have looked on, mute, as the Left ripped down statues of their ancestors and banned their symbols.  The “woke” crowd was praised as it condemned whites, men, and straights and demanded they grovel in the dirt or be “cancelled”, losing their jobs.

On January 6, that came to an end.  The Right not only called the Left, it raised it by all the gold in Ft. Knox.  The Left looted and burned small businesses; the Right took the Capitol in Washington, D.C.  Put that in your pot pipe and smoke it, said the Right to the Left.

The Establishment is calling the events of January 6 an “insurrection”.  A more accurate term is a “revolt”.  The oppressed majority revolted against an elite that simultaneously despises them and lives off their tax money.  The “makers” revolted against the “takers”.  Whites, males, non-feminist women (one of whom gave her life) and straights revolted against the cultural Marxism that condemns them as evil regardless of what individuals do.

The Biden transition team gave dramatic evidence of why that revolt came about.  Last week it announced the “anti-racism” training cancelled by President Trump will be re-installed for all federal workers and contractors.  These are Maoist “self-criticism” sessions in which whites must proclaim their “racism”, apologize to blacks and other non-whites and learn to mouth the lies cultural Marxism demands.  Anyone who doesn’t follow the script gets fired and blackballed.

Another strategic victory for the Right, still playing out, is that the two parties that rule Washington came together so openly that even the dullest civics teacher must acknowledge we live in a one-party state.  That fact legitimizes revolt: in a one-party state, revolt is the only way dissidents can affect the political process.  They are otherwise without representation.  President Trump did represent them, which is why the Establishment so hates him and will continue to persecute him even after he leaves office. 

Despite its overall strategic victory, the Right needs to draw some lessons from the events of January 6.  The most important is, keep it peaceful.  If a crowd is big enough, it can push its way into buildings without offering violence to persons or property.  In this kind of war, the way you win is by suffering casualties, not by inflicting them.  Every casualty becomes a martyr, and you win by accumulating martyrs.  That is how Christianity conquered the Roman Empire, it is how the civil rights movement won in the 1950s and ‘60s and it is how the Left is trying to win the culture war now.  They get this, and the Right must learn it or lose.

Under no circumstances should the Right vandalize, loot, or burn.  The point here is to offer a contrast with the Left.  Those actions, which they cannot control because of the nature of their forces, hurt the Left.  We should respond with positive actions, e.g. if they tear down a statue of one of our heroes, we should put a new one up in a place we control.

Under no circumstances should the Right injure police.  The death of a Capitol Police officer on January 6 was a crime, a tragedy, and a blunder.  Most cops are on our side in the culture war.  Because the Left hates them, we should support and protect them.  In any mass action, the Right should have leaders in the crowd whose job it is to prevent face-offs with the police.  Mass action is possible without violence, especially violence against the cops.  They don’t want to hurt us, and we should never hurt them, even if that means we get hurt ourselves. Those who have read Thomas Hobbes’ book Victoria were not surprised by the events on January 6.  In Victoria the federal government’s attempts to force cultural Marxism down the throat of every American undermine its legitimacy to the point where the state itself disintegrates.  If America is to avoid that fate, the Establishment needs to read the handwriting left on the walls of the Capitol on January 6.

The Fall of a Dynasty

On Wednesday, January 6, 2021, the Marxists’ dream came true.  A vast mob stormed and occupied the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Ordinary Americans sat in seats reserved for the rich and powerful.  But instead of carrying banners saying “Marx, Mao, and Marcuse,” the flags of the people bore only one name: Trump.  Oops.

As usual, the Left forgot the old rule that what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.  After watching Leftist mobs riot, loot, and burn in too many of our cities last summer, the Right decided to play by the same rules, except that we did not loot or commit arson.  The single party, the Republicrat Establishment party, rose as one to condemn the violence.  In doing so, they revealed why the dynasty they represent is falling: it is caught up in a crisis of legitimacy it cannot even acknowledge much less understand.

The root cause of the crisis of legitimacy is the Establishment’s attempt to use the power of the state to force cultural Marxism, a.k.a. political correctness or “wokeism”, down every American’s throat.  Since cultural Marxism seeks to destroy the Christian religion, Western culture, and the white race, it is not surprising ordinary Americans are not going along.  The battle is, for us, existential: cultural Marxism wants to make us choose between groveling before its “victim” groups or getting sent to a concentration camp.

From this perspective, the occupation of the Capitol is less important than the unbelievable, schoolboy error of a Capitol Hill pro, Senator Mitch McConnell, in allowing Republican Senators to become the only obstacle standing between most Americans and a check for $2000.  Of course the Republican Party lost both Georgia Senate races.  What else do you expect when people see their choice as between getting $2000 instead of $600, McConnell had no choice but to go along.  His refusal to do so was so dumb one has to wonder whether it was typical Republican stupidity or calculation.  Was he willing to lose control of the Senate to the Democrats just to besmirch President Trump’s legacy?  Stranger things have happened in Washington.

The effect of handing the Senate to the Democrats is to put the Left in a position to enact its radical agenda, which will push the system’s crisis of legitimacy to the breaking point and probably beyond it.  If they vote to end the filibuster, then ram through statehood for the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico on bare majority votes, the Senate will lose what legitimacy it has left in the eyes of conservatives.  If they then use the larger majority four new Democratic Senators will give them to pack the Supreme Court, all three branches of the federal government will be widely seen as illegitimate.  At that juncture, what happened at the Capitol on January 6 will seem like a tea party.

All this now lands in the lap of President Joe Biden.  His instinct will be to govern from the center, but without a Republican Senate he will be hard-pressed to explain to the “woke” crowd why he is not enacting their agenda.  If he yields to their demands, he stokes the system’s crisis of legitimacy.

All this mess and more, including an overextended foreign policy, armed services that usually lose, institutions that require vast inputs for very small outputs and ever-looser and more valueless money are classic signs of the end of a dynasty.  In our case, the dynasty is a Washington-Wall Street-Hollywood oligarchy coupled to a vastly more powerful federal government than the one envisioned in our Constitution.  What will replace it I do not know, but it will not be cultural Marxism.  We are waiting either for our Augustus or our Hitler.

Merry Apocalypse!

It is traditional at Christmas for columnists, preachers, politicians, and pig farmers to lay back, smile, and talk about all the good things we should be thankful for.  Children sing, plastic cherubs circle overhead and we all remember the old hymn, “Angels we have heard on high, telling us to go out and buy.”  The fire is warm, the toddy is hot and all is right in the world.  

“Bah.  Humbug!” as one of my favorite people used to say.  A short piece by Rob Dreher in the “Review” section of the December 12-13 Wall Street Journal puts this year’s Christmas crap in perspective.  “We have gotten used to a world that past generations would have called the Apocalypse, said Solzhenitsyn,” Dreher wrote.

I think those past generations had it right.  This year’s Christmas is Christ’s Mass celebrated amid the Apocalypse. 

We tend to think of the Apocalypse as something sudden.  When it happens, everybody will know it because it will be the biggest bang since the Big Bang.  But what if that isn’t how it works?

We read repeatedly in Scripture passages that suggest Jesus and the authors of the Gospels had a sense of time different from ours.  When Christ says “This generation shall not pass away . . .” He uses “generation” differently from the way we use it.  We sing, “A thousand ages in thy sight are like an evening gone. . .”  The Jews of Jesus’s time expected the Messiah to lead a victorious war against the Romans and restore the kingdom of Israel.  Rome did not fall until AD 476, or AD 1453 depending on how you define Rome.  Israel was not re-established until 1915 years after Christ’s death and resurrection.

If we think of the Apocalypse playing out in Biblical time, it has been welling up all around us without our noticing.  The latest start date I would give would be 1914, when the Christian West put a gun to its head and blew its brains out.  A better date would be 1789, the year of the French Revolution.  The Whig interpretation of history welcomes that fell event as a triumph of democracy over absolute monarchy (that wasn’t absolute; good King Louis XVI called the Estates General because he could not raise taxes without their approval).  They pass over the vicious assault the Jacobins launched on Christianity and those who profess it; the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris was spiritually burned then, not last year, when the Revolutionaries turned it into the “Temple of Reason.”  The blood of Christian martyrs flowed liberally from the guillotine.

The three great Christian, conservative monarchies of Russia, Prussia, and Austria put the Jacobin furies back in the bottle for the century, but World War I swept them all from the board.  The whole political/cultural spectrum shifted sharply to the Left.  And the Apocalypse welled up and submerged everything good, everything beautiful, everything holy.

Step back from your day-to-day concerns and look around you.  Your fellow voyagers on this planet fall into every ditch, their eyes glued to an electronic screen on which images dance out every sin.  The war on God intensifies as cultural Marxists, aka “the Progressives,” demand He be first silenced, then banned.  Nietzsche’s “Transvaluation of all values” turns every sin into a virtue and every virtue into a sin.  President-elect Biden chooses as his Secretary for Health and Human Services a man whose personal objective seems to be aborting every baby conceived in America.  That’s quite a definition of “health” and “human services”–an Apocalyptic definition, in fact.  A growing number of prominent cultural Marxists are calling for anyone who opposes them to be sent to “Re-Education Camps”.  I wonder what gas they will use this time?

The grim fact is, there is little to be joyful about this Christmas.  Except–this is how Christians have always expected history to unroll.  We lose, we lose, and we lose, until almost no one and nothing is left.  And then, suddenly, we win.

Come, Lord Jesus.  Merry Christmas.

The View From Olympus: A Response to a Critique of MCDP 1, Warfighting

The October issue of the Marine Corps Gazette published a thoughtful, challenging, and important critique of the Corps’ doctrine of maneuver warfare and its primary official statement, MCDP 1, Warfighting.  Since I started the debate over maneuver warfare with a paper I wrote in 1976 and I was heavily involved in writing Warfighting, it is appropriate that I respond.

The Gazette article, “The Fantasy of MCDP 1” by Lt. Col. Thaddeus Drake, Jr., USMC, states its challenge up front:

Our doctrine, Warfighting, has transcended the generally recognized purpose of standard military doctrine and no longer provides a useful guide to Marine Corps operations in the 21st century.

Yet this is no ignorant dismissal of maneuver doctrine, of which I have seen too many over the years:

There is nonetheless much to love about MCDP 1.  Indeed, it is probably the most effective military doctrinal publication since the Wehrmacht’s Truppenführung.

Lt. Col. Drake offers three objections to Warfighting.  The first is that it does not meet traditional definitions of military doctrine:

The most essential issue around our doctrine remains the tension between the overall purpose of military doctrine: the aspirational versus the practical. . . In the Marine Corps, the commonly accepted understanding of doctrine is that it represents a collection of best practices and broad guidelines–that may or may not be followed, depending on the situation.  In contrast, the most generally accepted definition of military doctrine is Barry Posen’s suggestion that doctrine describes “what means shall be employed and how shall they be employed. . .” MCDP 1, our foundational doctrinal definition, fits in neither of these definitions.

What Lt. Col. Drake misses is that the definition of doctrine changes between the Second and Third Generations of modern war, which is to say between the French and German ways of war, attrition warfare or maneuver warfare.  Second Generation doctrine tells soldiers what to do, similar to Posen’s definition.  Third Generation doctrine is about how to think.  As it should, MCDP 1 fits the latter definition.  It was clear from the beginning that Warfighting is aspirational because its purpose was and remains moving the Marine Corps from the Second to the Third Generation way of war.  That purpose remains valid because, as Lt. Col. Drake agrees, the Marine Corps has not yet made the transition in terms of institutional structure, behavior, or culture.

Lt. Col. Drake’s second criticism is directed at Warfighting’s focus on systemic collapse.  He writes,

In the 30-plus years since the development of this doctrine, there are scant examples that show success in this sort of systemic destruction–despite the fact that the Marine Corps has been involved in combat for at least 25 of those years!

An obvious response is to point to the first phase of the Second Gulf war, the phase where we were fighting the armed forces of the Iraqi state.  Here, Lt. Col. Drake hits on a major change in war but does not grasp what it is:

It is also accurate to say that the Marine and Army elements penetrated the (Iraqi) enemy system, causing it to break down, and then it subsequently reformed itself into a warfighting system far more resilient and effective against U.S. conventional forces. . .

By creating a doctrine where we deliberately focus on systemic disruption as the ultimate goal, it is possible that the Marine Corps has placed its leaders and planners in an impossible situation, where they attempt to disrupt complex enemy systems, and in doing so created an endless spiral of more complex problem sets.

What happened in Iraq was that in collapsing the Iraqi armed forces we destroyed the state itself.  Welcome to Fourth Generation war.

Warfighting was written for a world in which war was fought between states.  That had been true for more than 300 years, despite occasional challenges from non-state elements such as tribes that always lost.  It is true no longer.  What happened is that, in the Second Gulf war, maneuver warfare worked perfectly until U.S. forces faced non-state opponents.

Does this call for revision of MCDP 1?  Absolutely.  Unfortunately, like the rest of the U.S. military, the Marine Corps refuses to think about Fourth Generation war.  It has chosen to live instead in a fantasy world where the main threat we face is China instead of spreading state disintegration.  Puffing the dragon is much more useful for padding budgets and seemingly requires little institutional change.

To fill the void, Lt. Col. Greg Thiele USMC and I wrote the Fourth Generation Warfare Handbook.  Until the Marine Corps wakes up and rejoins the real world, all I can do is recommend the Handbook to Lt. Col. Drake and other Marines who see Fourth Generation war raises challenges that cannot be addressed by maneuver warfare alone, as important as the culture of the latter remains.

Lt. Col. Drake’s third objection is that mission order tactics, Auftragstaktik, which are central to maneuver warfare, are not possible for today’s Marines, for two reasons.  First, neither contemporary American national culture nor the culture of the Marine Corps permit them:

Rarely have we addressed the difficulty and general inability of our culture to integrate the concept of Auftragstaktik wholesale.  Nationally, American culture may simply not support the idea of mission tactics.  Since militaries are necessarily the products of their larger society, the basic culture of that society will also be a part of its military. . .

The institutional Marine Corps also has a number of cultural characteristics that prevent the wholesale importation of mission tactics.  Compared to the originators of the concept, we are overly hierarchical, bureaucratic, and resistant to developing cohesive elements through deliberate manpower management strategies.  Indeed, since the inception of Warfighting, we have increased the bureaucratic complexity of our force. . .

I do not concur that broad American culture makes Auftragstaktik impossible.  German culture also presented obstacles to the concept, which the German military overcame through training.  For them, the problem was that broader German culture did not reward or (often) even tolerate initiative.  For us, it is the other cultural requirement of Auftragstaktik that poses a challenge: self-discipline.  But here again, the right training can deal with the problem.  Even with the Corps’ current process-oriented, Second Generation training, I have repeatedly seen enlisted Marines operate successfully with mission orders.  When has that happened?  When they were told they were aggressors.  From almost 50 years of observing Marine Corps training, I would argue that both the ability and the desire for Auftragstaktik live right below the surface of most enlisted Marines.  Their great frustration is that, even with Warfighting as the Corps’ capstone doctrinal statement, they almost never get the chance to show what they can do.

Lt. Col. Drake’s second reason for believing mission tactics are impractical is changes in communications technology:

Finally, technology has a crucial part to play in the discussion regarding the efficacy of mission command.  In the modern world, where wireless communications and computer technologies enable the collection, transmission, and analysis of massive amounts of information, instant, ubiquitous, and constant communication is the norm. .  .  One of the fundamental reasons for the employment of mission tactics as a command style is to minimize the requirement for constant instruction from higher headquarters–originally designed this way because constant instruction was impossible. . .  This is no longer the case; worse. . . the society we live in has inculcated young men and women with an expectation of constant connection.  It is pure fantasy to believe we will be able to break our young Marines and Sailors of a literal lifetime of training with connected devices to instead execute mission tactics with no communications.

This challenge to Auftragstaktik is not new.  The German Army faced the same issue between the wars because of the advent of voice radio coupled with small radio sets that could be acquired in large numbers and carried virtually anywhere.  The debate was resolved then in favor of mission tactics in part because many German officers recognized that there are two problems with centralized control.  The first is that centralization can slow tempo even with modern communications technology.  The second, which Lt. Col. Drake overlooks, is that the picture of events at the front becomes more and more distorted as it moves up the chain of command.  This means decision-makers develop false orientations, which is a long standing and serious military problem.  Col. John Boyd said orientation was the most important element in the OODA Loop, because if you get that wrong, everything else will be wrong too.  Far from reducing this problem, computer technologies worsen it because computer graphics make the false picture transmitted up the chain seem even more real.

At the same time, I think Lt. Col. Drake is correct that the young people the Marine Corps takes in are accustomed to being in communication all the time, thanks to various mobile devices.  Indeed, many are addicted to these technologies.  Training can help diminish this dependence but it is unlikely to go away–even though, as Lt. Col. Drake acknowledges, in a war with a major power all communications may be shut down almost from the outset.

This situation must be addressed by advocates of Auftragstaktik.  My own solution would be not to drop mission tactics but to expand them.  They should be re-defined to allow Marines at every level, down to the greenest rifleman, to use their devices as they see fit to obtain the information they want from an open-architecture system.  That system would feed them very little, only what mission tactics have always required: the commander’s intent, the Schwerpunkt and their unit’s mission within the context created by the other two elements.  Beyond that, they would search on their own for what they want, within and beyond information provided by the Marine Corps.  At headquarters, commanders and operations officers would similarly take the information they want from the constantly changing, open-architecture network.  Headquarters should seldom need to ask subordinates for information because the connected generation will constantly be telling everyone who cares to listen what they are doing.  What if the enemy listens in?  The technologies easily adopt encryption, and because in maneuver warfare the tactical situation changes rapidly, by the time the enemy has processed information it will usually be outdated.  Obviously, more security is required at the operational and strategic levels, but few Marines will have to deal with that.

In addressing what is to be done about the problems with Warfighting Lt. Col. Drake perceives, he calls for eliminating a “false dichotomy” between attrition warfare and maneuver warfare.  He notes that Warfighting says attrition and maneuver exist on a spectrum, which is correct in a narrow context.  However, in a broader context it is not because when the terms are used to describe two different approaches to war, they refer to the Second and Third Generations, with the radical institutional and cultural differences between the two.  Of crucial importance is the fact that while a Third Generation military can do attrition warfare, a Second Generation armed service cannot do maneuver warfare once events outrun its initial plan.

Lt. Col. Drake identifies what is perhaps the central doctrinal issues facing the Marine Corps as he concludes his highly important article, which justly won the 2020 Chase Prize Essay Contest, the contradiction between what the Marine Corps says in Warfighting and what it does:

The contrast between what MCDP 1 states and the micromanagement that most Marines experience on a daily basis creates a massive say-do gap that undermines leadership and creates an enormous amount of disillusion throughout the force.

Col. Boyd argued that no institution can indefinitely survive such a say-do gap.  I agree.  Either the Marine Corps should make the changes in its personnel system, education, and training a Third Generation military requires or it should adopt doctrine that reduces war to merely putting ordinance on targets.  The former approach is what the Commandant called for in his initial guidance.  So far, no progress is evident, continuing a failure that has now lasted thirty years.  The second choice dooms the Marine Corps to failure against Third and Fourth Generation opponents; we have watched the latter failure unfold over the last twenty years. What it comes down to is simple: change or die.  If the Corps cannot learn how to win future wars, which requires it actually doing what Warfighting says, then the future Marine Corps will be one battalion of embassy guards.  As things now stand, that is where it is heading.

No Bended Knee?

Shortly after the end of World War II, there was a movement to unify the U. S. military services.  Perhaps the most salient point in this discussion was that the continued existence of the Marine Corps was called into question.  In a now-famous speech (at least among Marines) before the Senate Committee on Naval Affairs, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Alexander A. Vandegrift, proclaimed, “The bended knee is not a tradition of our Corps.  If the Marine as a fighting man has not made a case for himself after 170 years of service, he must go.”  At the time, Vandegrift was asking Congress to save the Marine Corps from bureaucratic dismemberment.  Today, the effectiveness of the Corps is being sapped by the very Congress which once provided it support.  Perhaps worse still, no recent Commandant has even had the courage to offer a dissenting military opinion.  The bended knee actually does seem to be a new tradition among the Corps’ senior leadership.  Perhaps it is time to consider casing the colors and letting the Corps slip into history with its proud legacy intact, rather than wait for the current rot to run its full course.

For the last several decades, warfighting capability and effectiveness have slowly lost out to budgets and politics as key considerations for senior Marines.  An unmistakable sign of this transition came when Headquarters, Marine Corps moved from the Naval Annex to the Pentagon.  The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq added massive infusions of cash which contributed little to the Corps’ combat capability and may have actually hastened the decay by accustoming several generations of Marines to large budgets (and saddling them with equipment and physical infrastructure which now must be maintained).

Senior Marines, rather than remaining politically neutral and offering their best military advice, tacked with the shifting political winds in an effort to ensure they were on the “right side of history”.  No matter how destructive to combat effectiveness, there seemed to be no idea Marine generals would balk at so long as it meant political favor and a continued flow of money.

For example, opening all combat arms jobs in the Marine Corps to women passed almost unremarked.  Never mind that the Marine Corps had commissioned an experiment which had demonstrated that integrated units did not perform as well as non-integrated units.  This information was politically undesirable and was therefore ignored by Marine generals who did not want to raise a fuss over something which their political leadership had clearly signaled they desired.  It seems strange that not a single senior Marine (or, to my knowledge, senior officer from any service) has offered a protest or threatened to resign over something as important as the continued combat effectiveness of the units they command.  Why not?  The reasons are complex.  Many senior officers convince themselves that resigning would do nothing; someone else would quickly be found to carry out the desired policy.  It is an unfortunate fact that this is probably true, but it does not absolve those who implement such destructive policies of responsibility.  

I have serious concerns about the Marine Corps’ ability to fight a tenacious, determined, and resourceful enemy – to say nothing of a Fourth Generation Warfare opponent for which the Corps is entirely unprepared and unsuited.  I do not believe I am alone in my views.  There are still a lot of great Marines serving today, but their efforts are being undermined by leaders whose primary qualification for their role is their willingness to nod vigorously whenever a politician speaks.  

Given such circumstances, perhaps it would be better for the Corps to fade away or be dissolved into the other services than to continue its sad decline.  Perhaps it would be a better fate for the Marine Corps to cease its existence on its own terms rather than to come to an ignominious end after demonstrating a lack of capability.  This may well one day be the Corps’ fate unless a future Commandant can find the strength and relearn the lesson that the bended knee should not be an acceptable pose for a Marine.