The View From Olympus: The Moral Level

John Boyd argued that the three traditional levels of war, strategic, operational, and tactical, intersect with three previously unrecognized levels of war, the physical, the mental, and the moral. Of these, the physical level was the weakest and the moral level the most powerful. I would add that, just as with the three traditional levels, a higher trumps a lower. In other words, if you win at the physical level but lose at the mental or moral, you lose. We have seen this truth play out in most of America’s recent wars.

Boyd’s theoretical work applies not just to war, but to conflict of all sorts. Much work has been done to apply his lessons to business. Obviously, they apply to politics as well.

All this was illustrated in events in this country over the past few weeks. After the moron Dylan Roof murdered nine black Christians who were met in a church for Bible study, he thought he had scored a victory in his quest to start  a race war. But he considered only the physical level. At the moral level, his action was a catastrophe for everything he said he represents. Why? Because Charleston’s black Christians replied at the moral level, as Christians should. Instead of rioting or making demands, they forgave the murderer and mourned their dead, knowing they still live in a better place. Instead of sharpening racial antagonisms as Roof wanted, their response drew massive white support, within and beyond Charleston. The moral level trumped the physical level.

Another situation made the same point. Again, the blacks’ response in Charleston gave them huge moral capital. In contrast, the reply of Baltimore’s blacks to what was in comparison a minor situation drove a wedge between blacks and whites, diminished the blacks’ moral capital, and, in the end, hurt themselves. Whites saw the riots there as just one more iteration of the usual black act, i.e., looking for any excuse to loot and make “demands”.

Like Roof, Baltimore’s blacks thought of conflict as just physical action. They had no concept of the mental and moral levels. Those who make that mistake lose, regardless of what color they are or what side they are on.

Ironically, the best way to learn this fact may be to look at the U.S. military. Having now been beaten four times by Fourth Generation opponents, its usual comment is that it did not lose, because it could take any piece of ground it wanted to in any of those wars. That is true. But what it shows is the weakness of the physical level of war, exactly as Boyd postulated. We were beaten at the higher mental and moral levels, and a higher level trumps a lower.

I suspect we will shortly see this reality play itself out again in the offensive to retake Ramadi. As usual, we will be relying heavily on air power against opponents who have none, giving them a large moral advantage. We are making the Iraqis follow our rules, which means their one effective ground force, the Shiite militias, will not take part. The Iraqi state armed forces know that once again they are being bossed by the Americans, who they hate. They will have all the fight in them most Quisling armies have. While our side will have all the advantages physically, the moral balance, as calculated not by Washington but by the locals, will favor ISIS. Light cavalry armies such as ISIS are more capable on the offensive than on the defensive, but even so, the moral imbalance may give ISIS another win.

Meanwhile, a suggestion to all those, left and right, black and white, who seek to disrupt the order the American state provides (such as it is): if you fail to think your actions through on all three of Boyd’s levels, understanding that the physical level is the weakest and the moral level the most powerful, you will get results opposite to those you intend. Of course, as a conservative, I would like to see the American state restore its own moral authority and do what the state arose to do, provide order. With cultural Marxism dominating both political parties, there is little chance that will happen. favicon