View Full Version : Future small wars

04-30-2007, 06:37 PM
"small wars" ( defined as conflicts in which regulare forces engage in a struggle against " irregulars", paramilitary militias, etc.), the question is do these conflicts inform our thinking about future small wars, and if so how? if not, why not?

04-30-2007, 06:54 PM
I would expect that, from our membership, the answer will be a resounding YES.

However, the simplicity of "yes, history informs us" belies the cursed complexity of applying lessons of the past to the challenges of today. Some rudimentary applied history unfortunately amounts to little more than "they did X and Y happened, we want Y, so let's do X." It is only through a thorough understanding of the past situation of the historical case(s), the current situation, and the differences in the dynamics and interactions underlying the two that one can hope to get a few hints to either inform estimates of the outcomes of considered actions, or to come up with new ideas.

If you want a new idea, read an old book. And don't expect to find the answer, as much as some darn good questions. Which you usually hit around the 5th or 6th "why?"

Steve Blair
04-30-2007, 07:02 PM
Of course they do, but I'd also echo the old saw that if you go looking to history for answers you'll only find more questions.

That said, I also don't think that it's useless to look to history for ideas when dealing with Small Wars. You won't a "one size fits all" answer (as SWCAdmin points out well), but you can find bits of an answer, or examples of things that didn't work in one context but did in another. It's best here to consider history as a series of huge jigsaw puzzles; puzzles that have pieces that will fit into more than one puzzle and a few that just don't fit at all.

04-30-2007, 07:14 PM
If nothing else, they provide "issues for consideration" that can be applied to future scenarios and threats. These issues usually transcend time anyway, but the past has a peculiar way of reminding us when we are in the first stage of the OODA cycle, and information is coming in quickly and is difficult to process.

On a related note, too many people make the comment (in discussions about going to war in Iraq) that it's pointless to debate how we got to war, why the intel was wrong etc. These points of debate are even more relevant in the aftermath, so we can be a bit more thoughtful when future similar situations arise.

Tom Odom
04-30-2007, 07:40 PM

Assuming of course, one is first willing to read, second capable of reading, and third capable of understanding...

If that sounds cynical it is admittedly so...a close friend of mine remarked to me Friday, too many confuse opinion with actual knowledge these days

then again being the eternal optimist (or perhaps the stubborn SOB) that I am, I still believe that if I can open one mind out of ten with a history lesson, I am decimating the ranks of the ignorant :wry:

That is why I push SWJ; I figure if I can at least get some to look at the site, some will stay and actually learn. Too bad we cannot send invitations out like Don Corleon offered on his deals, those which could not be refused.:eek:


04-30-2007, 08:42 PM
If that sounds cynical it is admittedly so...a close friend of mine remarked to me Friday, too many confuse opinion with actual knowledge these days

I'll offer that too many confuse knowledge with understanding. It's sort of like the difference between a buck MBA at the age of 25, and a buck sergeant (also 25) who's working on his fourth Anbar deploy and understands the harsh economic forces at work in a COIN environment.

To echo further on what Tom said, understanding what you see has been discussed in warfighting circles as the coup d'oeil, or "stroke of the eye." To borrow from Major Dominic J. Caraccilo and Major John L. Pothin, Clausewitz called this quick recognition of the truth the commander’s coup d’oeil or intuition. Call it situational awareness too, but reading through the depth of literature about small wars, or economics, or fashion, will always pay dividends in the future.

Where the past does not necessarily inform is in those cases when service parochialism drives thoughts to the point that we develop mantras, like "death before dismount".

04-30-2007, 09:40 PM
Yes and no... 'Our thinking', as in the small wars council and the more thoughtful and professional type of military thinker, a resounding yes. But, for folks who are reluctant to move outside their comfort zone (be it the Soviet era doctrine, the beltway political circles, a specific subdiscipline within the military, etc) probably not. Even if a senior leader comes out of a fairly well defined, traditional military subculture, if that leader is anything more than use as an expendable item, they'll read and be influenced by earlier Small Wars.

British accounts of operations north of the Hindu Kush a century and a half ago became very popular several years ago, just as Blackhawk Down could see a renewed interest in another century should some advanced nation get draw into the Horn Of Africa again (bold assumption here; that most advanced nations will be out of the HOA for most of the next hundred years...).

History won't give us all the answers, but will help focus the search for answers, eliminate tempting but unrealistic answers, and will help us frame the best questions with which to pursue answers.

04-30-2007, 10:02 PM
To truly understand the situation at hand, requires an appreciation of the society in which it occurs.

An analysis from a DIA employee and real application from an officer named Tom:

"Those who become involved in a tribal conflict without knowing its history are headed for trouble."

Regards, Stan