Zen Pundit on American Spartan

Mark Safranski has posted his review of American Spartan, Ann Scott Tyson’s story of US Army Special Forces Major Jim Gant in Afghanistan. Read it.

Here’s my review of Mark’s review.

As Mark notes, the strategy of supporting local insurgents goes way back, and it can be highly successful — the United States wouldn’t be here if the French hadn’t taken this approach. But it’s also true, as he notes, that if you create a monster to fight a monster, you have, in fact, created a monster. You’d think we might have learned this from our first Afghan adventure. So I certainly agree with Mark when he says that “It should only be done with eyes wide open as to the potential drawbacks (numerous) and it won’t always work but the militia option works often enough historically that it should be carefully considered,” but “eyes wide open” is easier after the fact. Even a mechanical system of three or more parts can become complex and therefore unpredictable. So we have, at the very least, the US forces, the various tribes and militias, and the government. You see where I’m going with this, and that’s before we consider that the players are hardly mechanical parts whose behavior can be predicted over any length of time. Continue reading

Alternatives to EBFAS?

Boyd’s organizational climate stokes up creativity and initiative throughout the organization and harmonizes them to accomplish the purposes of the organization. Examples run throughout his work:

Without a common outlook superiors cannot give subordinates freedom-of-action and maintain coherency of ongoing action. Patterns 74

… exploit lower-level initiative yet realize higher-level intent, thereby diminish friction and reduce time, hence gain both quickness and security. Patterns 79, repeated on Organic Design 18

How do we generate harmony/initiative so that we can exploit variety/rapidity? Organic Design 9

A similar implicit orientation for commanders and subordinates alike will allow them to diminish their friction and reduce time, thereby permit them to exploit variety/rapidity while maintaining harmony/initiative Organic Design 23

The EBFAS climate is designed to do just this: With a basis of Einheit, intuitive skill, and mental agility, it employs the Schwerpunkt concept to focus the efforts of the entire team and the Auftragstaktik device to assign missions to individuals.

Sounds awfully militaristic. Are there alternatives? Continue reading

Fingerspitzengefuhl: How long does it take?

Although Fingerspitzengefühl is one of the core concepts of Boyd’s organizational climate, the others being Einheit, Schwerpunkt, Auftragstaktik, and Behendigkeit (as I’m sure you’re aware …) Boyd only uses the term once in the Discourse on Winning and Losing;

We can’t just look at our own personal experiences or use the same mental recipes over and over again; we’ve got to look at other disciplines and activities and relate or connect them to what we know from our experiences and the strategic world we live in.

if we can do this

We will be able to surface new repertoires and (hopefully) develop a Fingerspitzengefühl for folding our adversaries back inside themselves, morally-mentally-physically—so that they can neither appreciate nor cope with what’s happening—without suffering the same fate ourselves. Strategic Game, 45

[When I'm discussing this, I omit the "a" before Fingerspitzengefühl because I think it reads better. Some day in the future, wars will be fought over this point, complete with burnings at the stake. So choose your side carefully.] Continue reading

Diseases of Orientation, II

In this case, the danger of an inward focus, particularly in groups. As Boyd explained, this something you want to do to your competition. No reason to do their jobs for them. Let’s start with this quote from Strategic Game, which I also used last week:

Mentally we can isolate our adversaries by presenting them with ambiguous, deceptive, or novel situations, as well as by operating at a tempo or rhythm they can neither make out nor keep up with. Operating inside their O-O-D-A loops will accomplish just this by disorienting or twisting their mental images so that they can neither appreciate nor cope with what’s really going on. (emphasis added) SG 47

What does it look like from the inside? It can be hard to detect because for most people trapped in such an environment, inside is their world, it is what’s really going on. Continue reading

Irregular warfare

As Boyd would say, “Why would you fight any other way?”

Here’s a quote from a review in today’s WSJ [paywall]:

[Charles] Lee was awarded the honorary rank of major general in the Polish army and observed the Russians campaigning against the Ottoman Turks and Polish rebels, witnessing how small bands of irregular fighters could seriously disrupt and impede unwieldy regular forces. Combined with what he had already seen of frontier warfare in America, this experience did much to convince him of the superiority of guerrilla tactics over conventional ones.  “Book Review: ‘Renegade Revolutionary’ by Phillip Papas & ‘Charles Lee’ by Dominick Mazzagetti” by Stephen Brumwell.

Continue reading

Diseases of orientation

In Boyd’s grand scheme of things, Orientation drives action. The easiest and most reliable way to defeat opponents is to mess with their orientations so that the resulting actions are ineffective, late, or missing altogether.

It’s an ancient idea, all the way back to Sun Tzu (“All warfare is based upon deception.”), and that’s just what we have in writing. We can be sure the idea itself dates way before Sun Tzu.

In any case, a few thousand years later, Boyd added the idea of operating inside the OODA loop:

Mentally we can isolate our adversaries by presenting them with ambiguous, deceptive, or novel situations, as well as by operating at a tempo or rhythm they can neither make out nor keep up with. Operating inside their O-O-D-A loops will accomplish just this by disorienting or twisting their mental images so that they can neither appreciate nor cope with what’s really going on. Strategic Game, 47

Continue reading

Islamic “Fundamentalism”

If your conception of ISIS imagines illiterate fanatics making suicidal charges in pickup trucks and are confused about how a glorified motorcycle gang could conquer half of Iraq and Syria, wiping out a $25 BN US investment in the Iraqi army in the process, you might want to learn more about the roots of the movement and how it is trained and led today. Such an understanding may come in handy in the future.

For background, try William R. Polk’s article, Understanding Islamic Fundamentalism, on consortiumnews.com. As he explains:

Some of [Sayyid Qutub's] writings bear comparison to the Islamic legal classics. As a group, they have attracted a mass readership — believed to be in the tens of millions — throughout the Islamic world and have apparently influenced men as opposed to one another as the leaders of the Taliban, the Saudi Royal Establishment, al-Qaida, the Iranian and Iraqi clerics [Arabic: ulema] and now the various and competing groups of Syrian militants. Sayyid Qutub is the philosopher of the Islamic revolution.

Implicit in his writings was the idea that Islam is under attack and therefore must defend itself because failure to do so would be to contravene the intention of God. Continue reading

Fastest way to kill a company?

I don’t know, but an effective way is to move your Schwerpunkt off of cheng / chi. When this happens, your ability to generate chi will atrophy (it’s hard enough to keep it going, anyway), and eventually cheng will follow. Here’s an example.

From an article in Monday’s Wall St. J. (subscription required) on recent problems at Target:

Creative leeway—once the DNA of the chain affectionately dubbed ‘Tar-zhay’—took a back seat to rigid performance metrics.

Auftragstaktik (as we might describe it) was replaced with control:

Initiatives once left to divisional leaders to execute on their own became subject to consensus and extensive testing, say former executives. Even small projects, like a mobile app, became bogged under the weight of giant teams.

What happened out in the marketplace, what customers experienced, was predictable:

The chain “lost a lot of what used to make it unique,” says Barclays analyst Matthew McClintock. “There haven’t been exciting reasons to shop at Target in recent years.” (emphasis added)

Kill creativity and you kill agility and then … Continue reading

Is blitzkrieg enough?

Did the Germans win WW II?

Maneuver warfare, a modern updating of the infiltration tactics that led to the stunning German successes in 1939 through late 1941, is a better way to fight opposing military forces: Create a gap in the enemy defenses, penetrate into his rear areas, cause panic and chaos, and exploit before he can figure out what’s going on. Numbers become irrelevant and can even be a vulnerability once panic sets in. Continue reading