Generational regression

Prince_Laqroix had an interesting follow-up question to my latest, rather grouchy, take on the Joint Strike Flying Piano:
Perhaps I must have missed it.. I'm new to this and my knowledge is extremely limited, but does Lind mention or do you have any thoughts on what the cause of this regressive trend from 3GW to 2GW is? Is it something as simple as human capacity for complacency, greed and all that other stuff? or is it something more complicated?
This is an excellent question, and it does not have any comfortable answers. The reality is that no 3rd-Generation military that has come into being, has- to date- managed to stay as such. The causes for this are many and complex. It is no easy matter to maintain the levels of tactical, operational, and strategic skill that a 3rd-Generation military requires. A full explanation as to why this is the case is far beyond my skills or knowledge, but I can at least provide a rough overview of the problem and its root causes.

There have been painfully few examples of 3rd-Generation militaries that have come into being over the last four centuries. You could probably count them on the fingers of one hand. In his outstanding collection of columns, On War- a book that Prince_Laqroix has clearly read, and references in his query- William S. Lind at various points outlines what he considers to be "3rd-Generation" military forces.

Perhaps the first among them was the Royal Navy, during Lord Nelson's time. That incarnation of the Royal Navy was outwardly-focused, willing to take tremendous risks for equally great rewards, and capable of adapting rapidly to changing circumstances on the battlefield. Morale and esprit de corps were kept high and maintained by an officer corps that fundamentally understood the dreadful business of war itself.

Yet, despite all of this, HM Navy quickly regressed into line-and-artillery tactics within just a generation of the Napoleonic Wars. By the time the Battle of Jutland rolled around in WWI, the Royal Navy was back to being a 2nd-Generation, inwardly focused, hierarchical military that prized conformity and order over flexibility and initiative.

The Prussians, after their catastrophic defeat at the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt, developed over the course of over a hundred years the kinds of highly mobile, outwardly-oriented, innovative tactics that eventually became the German panzerkampf and jaeger styles of warfare that made their blitzkrieg so terrifyingly effective in WWII. Indeed, as Mr. Lind pointed out in his columns, the Germans had actually figured out the basics of blitzkrieg as early as 1917; the reason they could not put their innovations into practice is because their technology hadn't caught up with their tactics. At the end of WWI, the Germans had significantly less mechanised transport capacity than the Allies- but when WWII started, that shortcoming had been overcome and a truly mechanised, mobile army where the line infantry were capable of sustaining a march rate of up to 40km per day.

Yet, after Germany's utter defeat in WWII, that outwardly-oriented style of warfare was lost, and the German Bundeswehr lost all of the great gifts that its Wehrmacht predecessor had built up so painstakingly. Part of this is understandable; the Allies had won, and it was their doctrines, predicated as they were on overwhelming firepower and attrition rather than manoeuvre and tactical finesse, that prevailed.

About the only other major example of a 3rd-Generation military that we have seen in the last century is Israel's IDF. During the Suez Crisis and in particular during the magnificent victory in the Six-Day War of 1967, the Israeli Army and Air Force repeatedly made their numerically and, at times, technologically superior enemies look slow, stupid, and inbred by comparison. (Which, as far as Arabs are concerned, is in fact a set of literal truths in many, but not all, cases.)

Yet, in the last ten years, every time Israel has had to fight a war in Gaza, their operational doctrine has focused overwhelmingly on force-on-target, rather than on manoeuvre and outwardly-oriented decision making. They, too, have relapsed into a 2nd-Generation military.

The fact is that a 3rd-Generation military is extremely difficult to put together- we know this from the Marine Corps' own abortive experiment in the subject back when General Al Gray was Commandant of the Corps. We know this because 3rd-Generation militaries are, by definition, so radically different from 2nd-Generation ones. To understand why it is so difficult to keep a 3rd-Generation military, we first must understand precisely what it is that separates the 2nd-Generation from the 3rd. And for that, we must turn to Mr. Lind himself:
Developed by the French Army during and after World War I, [Second Generation warfare] sought a solution [to the problem of the contradiction between the military culture of order and the chaotic disorder of the battlefield] in mass firepower, most of which was indirect artillery fire. The goal was attrition, and the doctrine was summed up by the French as, "The artillery conquers, the infantry occupies." Centrally-controlled firepower was carefully synchronized, using detailed, specific plans and orders, for the infantry, tanks, and artillery, in a "conducted battle" where the commander was in effect the conductor of an orchestra. 
Second Generation warfare came as a great relief to soldiers (or at least their officers) because it preserved the culture of order. The focus was inward on rules, processes and procedures. Obedience was more important than initiative (in fact, initiative was not wanted, because it endangered synchronization), and discipline was top-down and imposed. 
Second Generation warfare is relevant to us today because the United States Army and Marine Corps learned Second Generation warfare from the French during and after World War I. It remains the American way of war, as we are seeing in Afghanistan and Iraq: to Americans, war means "putting steel on target." Aviation has replaced artillery as the source of most firepower, but otherwise, (and despite the Marine's formal doctrine, which is Third Generation maneuver warfare) the American military today is as French as white wine and brie. At the Marine Corps' desert warfare training center at 29 Palms, California, the only thing missing is the tricolor and a picture of General Gamelin in the headquarters. The same is true at the Army's Armor School at Fort Knox, where one instructor recently began his class by saying, "I don't know why I have to teach you all this old French crap, but I do." 

Third Generation warfare, like Second, was a product of World War I. It was developed by the German Army, and is commonly known as Blitzkrieg or maneuver warfare.

Third Generation warfare is based not on firepower and attrition but speed, surprise, and mental as well as physical dislocation. Tactically, in the attack a Third Generation military seeks to get into the enemy's rear and collapse him from the rear forward: instead of "close with and destroy," the motto is "bypass and collapse." In the defense, it attempts to draw the enemy in, then cut him off. War ceases to be a shoving contest, where forces attempt to hold or advance a "line;" Third Generation warfare is non-linear. 
Not only do tactics change in the Third Generation, so does the military culture. A Third Generation military focuses outward, on the situation, the enemy, and the result the situation requires, not inward on process and method (in war games in the 19th Century, German junior officers were routinely given problems that could only be solved by disobeying orders). Orders themselves specify the result to be achieved, but never the method ("Auftragstaktik"). Initiative is more important than obedience (mistakes are tolerated, so long as they come from too much initiative rather than too little), and it all depends on self-discipline, not imposed discipline. The Kaiserheer and the Wehrmacht could put on great parades, but in reality they had broken with the culture of order.
This is about as good a summary as one can find. And it offers an important set of clues as to why 3rd-Generation militaries regress so quickly into 2nd-Generation ones if they are not extremely careful.

To get to the full answer, though, we need to look more closely at the third example I provided above, of a military that was once outwardly focused on results and initiative, rather than inwardly focused on hierarchy and obedience.

Mr. Lind wrote a column in his On War collection on this very subject, after Israel's last painful defeat in Lebanon in 2006, and offers another key clue as to why maintaining a 3rd-Generation military is so hard:
When I was in Israel several years ago, I said to my host, a retired Israeli general with several interesting books to his credit, that I thought the IDF had begun to regress to the Second Generation after the 1973 war. He told me I was wrong; the regression had begun after the war in 1967. 
The question of how it happened, and why maintaining the culture of a Third Generation military is so difficult even for armed services that have attained it—the Royal Navy lost it after the Napoleonic Wars, for reasons brilliantly set forth in Andrew Gordon’s The Rules of the Game, and the German Army lost it when the Bundeswehr was created, for political reasons—is of interest far beyond Israel. A number of Israelis have traced it in their case to the development of a large weapons R&D and procurement establishment, and I think there is a lot to that argument. 
The virtues required in military officers involved in weapons development and procurement are the virtues of the bureaucrat: careful, even obsessive attention to process; avoiding risky decisions, and whenever possible making decisions by committee; avoiding responsibility; careerism, because success is measured by career progression; and generally shining up the handle on the big front door. Time is not very important, while dotting every i and crossing every t is vital, since at some point the auditors will be coming, and the politicians and the press will be waiting eagerly for their reports. Remunerative careers in the defense industry await those officers who know how to go along to get along. While the Israeli defense industry has produced some remarkably good products, such as the Merkava tank, getting the program funded still tends to be more important than making sure the weapon will work in combat. As time goes on, efficiency tends to become more important than effectiveness; not surprisingly, the simpler and more effective Israeli weapon systems came earlier, and more recent ones tend to reflect the American tendency toward complex and expensive ineffectiveness. 
The Israeli inquiry into the Lebanon fiasco is unlikely to address this issue for the same reason it is not addressed in the United States: too much money is at stake. The R&D and procurement tail now wags the combat arms dog. Nor is the question of how to reverse the process and restore the virtues a Third Generation military requires in its officers an easy one. Those virtues—eagerness to make decisions and take responsibility, boldness, broad-mindedness and a spirit of intellectual inquiry, contempt for careerism and careerists—are not wanted in Second Generation militaries, and officers who demonstrate them are usually weeded out early. A Third Generation culture is difficult to maintain, and even more—impossible perhaps?—to restore once lost.
I have no doubt that the Israelis themselves would contend that their action in Lebanon in 2006 was, at worst, inconclusive, not a defeat. But, with all due respect to my Israeli friends, I must say that they are wrong.

I quite like and admire Jews in general, and Israelis in particular. Jews- at least, the ones that actually take their religion seriously- are an upstanding and morally decent people; after all, they were given the Ten Commandments first, and they have upheld them as the cornerstone of Man's moral existence ever since. The Israelis have created a magnificent country in the middle of a giant spread of sod-all in the Middle East, surrounded by, basically, howling savages who are utterly unable to maintain or develop any of the gifts that more advanced civilisations have given them.

But the Israelis, for all of their many virtues and talents, fail to understand is that, when fighting against 4th-Generation opponents, a stalemate is as good as a defeat.

When all your enemy has to do is outlast you, by being more flexible and tactically innovative than you are, all of the mighty tanks and fearsome bombers in the world will not avail you in the field of battle. It is a fact of military history that, in battles between Davids and Goliaths, it is always the Davids who are remembered, even when they lose horribly.

Just ask the shades of the 300 who died at Thermopylae, fighting until the end against perhaps one thousand to one odds.

Or, if you are American and prefer an example closer to home, just go to the hallowed grounds of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas- God love Texans!- and see what kind of mythology has sprung up around what was, quite clearly, a massive defeat for the Republic of Texas (as it was known at the time).

Prince_Laqroix in many ways answers his own question- the human frailties of greed and complacency are very much part of the problem. It is all too easy for military officers to become comfortable where they are, to stop learning and to seek out the easiest paths to promotion and power. This tendency is extremely hard to stave off; it can only be done through conscious and constant reinforcement of the hard lessons of war, and that has to happen through commanders leading by example.

By definition, finding commanders who will risk themselves, and their careers, repeatedly and without thought of reward, is a stupefyingly difficult task. Try doing it in a time of constant, protracted, low-level war- as America finds itself in now- and you will see just how hard it is to fight human nature.

To understand just how contrary to human nature the 3rd-Generation way of thinking is, you first have to understand how real 3GW militaries think.

Here's an example of what a true 3rd-Generation military response to a resounding victory looks like. Look at what the Wehrmacht did after its crushing victories over the French and the Poles in 1939 and 1940.

The Wehrmacht High Command did not waste any more time than was necessary to celebrate their devastating and brilliantly executed victories. Instead, the commanders and generals, both in the field and back at GHQ, were relentless in trying to find out what went wrong. They held their own officers accountable for their mistakes; by the same token, the GHQ was fulsome in its praise for those commanders in the field who had adapted, reacted, and overcome. This was particularly true of their victory over the Poles, who put up a fierce, if doomed, resistance against an enemy that was technologically and tactically vastly better. It is part of the reason why the blitzkrieg tactics of the Wehrmacht were such a massive shock to the system for the French and, eventually, the British.

And now we see, at least in part, why 3rd-Generation militaries regress so easily. Such militaries have a unique and highly fragile culture. It is extraordinarily difficult to maintain a culture that is outwardly-focused, that rewards individual initiative over conformity with the group, and that prioritises learning from mistakes over celebrating triumphs.

In order to create such a culture, you have to have officers who think for themselves- in and of itself an extraordinarily difficult task. Not for nothing did Bertrand Russell once (supposedly) say that "Most men would rather die than think. Many do." You have to avoid the very human tendency to go for the shiniest new toy rather than the absolutely reliable but boring old one that simply gets the job done. You have to have officers willing to do whatever is necessary to achieve the objective- even against orders, if necessary. And above all, you have to avoid the trap of letting your senior Colonels and Generals retire, only to become well-paid consultants for defence contractors who then turn around and sell you the latest toys that look truly amazing, but can't actually do a damned thing against a 4th-Generation enemy.

In a nutshell, at every step you have to fight against the dictates of human nature and of the very culture of military order that every generation of military systemology seeks to create. Military order, by its very nature, is hierarchical and inward-looking. It focuses on the clear identification of "us" versus "them"- hence why militaries spend such vast amounts of time on uniforms, the Laws of War, and trying to figure out appropriate Rules of Engagement.

But all of this is for nought when facing an enemy that recognises no uniform, no law of war, and no distinction between combatant and civilian.

As Mr. Lind has stated emphatically, and repeatedly, in his columns on the subject, and as I have come to accept and agree, no 2nd-Generation military on Earth has a snowball's chance in Hell of taking on and winning a real war against a 4th-Generation opponent. By definition, the two approaches to warfare are completely orthogonal. The first approach is attritional- it can be best summed up as "kill more of them than they kill of ours". It can work brilliantly- but only if you can actually figure out who is "us" and who is "them". The second approach, by contrast, is individual; it focuses instead on using the power of single actors, or small groups of them, to achieve maximum effect, and has no qualms about removing the distinction between those who fight, and those who do not.

That distinction has always been the key to maintaining order amidst the bloody chaos and carnage of the battlefield. When your enemy refuses to play by those rules, and your entire doctrine of war is predicated upon them, then your warfighting strategy will fail.


  1. So pretty much, 4GW is like Guerrilla warfare? That seems to be what Mel Gibson's band on THE PATRIOT movie did. The british there was more organized, 2GW. Could it be that 3GW have more of a chance if in smaller units, instead of a huge army group/institution?

    1. Close, but not exactly. Guerilla warfare has, historically, still come down to a matter of states. In the case of the American colonists, guerilla warfare was used to advance the interests of an American nation. Similarly, the Viet Cong were fighting for the establishment of a Communist state in South Vietnam.

      William S. Lind defines 4GW as follows:

      In Fourth Generation war, the state loses its monopoly on war. All over the world, state militaries find themselves fighting non-state opponents such as al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the FARC. Almost everywhere, the state is losing.

      Fourth Generation war is also marked by a return to a world of cultures, not merely states, in conflict. We now find ourselves facing the Christian West's oldest and most steadfast opponent, Islam. After about three centuries on the strategic defensive, following the failure of the second Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683, Islam has resumed the strategic offensive, expanding outward in every direction. In Third Generation war, invasion by immigration can be at least as dangerous as invasion by a state army.

      Nor is Fourth Generation warfare merely something we import, as we did on 9/11. At its core lies a universal crisis of legitimacy of the state, and that crisis means many countries will evolve Fourth Generation war on their soil. America, with a closed political system (regardless of which party wins, the Establishment remains in power and nothing really changes) and a poisonous ideology of "multiculturalism," is a prime candidate for the home-grown variety of Fourth Generation war – which is by far the most dangerous kind.

      Modern guerilla warfare is a subset of 4GW, as long as it is fought by non-state actors against state-led ones. Groups like Hamas, Al-Qaeda, and Hezbollah are not fighting for a clearly identified state; they are fighting instead for the ideology of Islam, which specifies as a high-level goal the establishment of dar al-Islam as the supreme governing principle of Mankind.

  2. So the tension in Europe may erupt into 4GW. Militias not belonging to any state or government banding together to remove the Islamic invasion. Likewise their opponents wont belong to any nation but will be bands of refugees.
    Of course the Socialist EU and likely UN will denounce such militias and band together with the invaders or rather EU backed allies.
    I mean during a peaceful rally in Manchester the cops put snipers on the roof. It was generally dismissed but i think it indicates the skewed view of the ruling socialists who wouldnt hesitate to eliminate their own people but bend over backwards for foreign criminals and still have the temerity to say thank you for the violation.
    The question is in such a situation where will the military and police give their allegiance. To the hopeless Government or to the marginalized people.

    1. So the tension in Europe may erupt into 4GW

      Already has, as far as I am concerned. The only bit that hasn't happened, yet, is an armed rising of the native white population of Europe against its invaders. But I'd say that's coming, and sooner rather than later.

  3. Hey Didact,

    Thanks for taking the time to devote and entire post to my questions. I appreciate it. I knew Mr. Lind discussed the answer to my question in his columns. I read On War in the Spring and it was a lot to take in. Such a book will demand multiple readings to fully grasp everything. This was an exceedingly illuminating post.

    It's funny because I remember taking an International Relations class back in community college back in 2008 and the class seemed to have a particular disdain for Samuel Huntington's book, The Clash of Civilizations. I had just graduated high school so I didn't care so much about that. However, having read Lind's columns, I've decided to put Huntington's book on my reading list. From what I hear, he practically predicted our current crises with Islamic invasion and 4GW war.

    1. No problem.

      I think you're going to like The Clash of Civilisations. I've read maybe 15% of that book, and already it's very clear that Samuel Huntington had some truly exceptional insights back then. His predictions of a multipolar world, of the relative decline of Western power, and of the rise of Islam as a political philosophy rather than a religion, were and remain spot-on.

      Sadly that book is a looooooong way down my reading list right now, but I'll get to it, eventually...


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