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Thread: Evolution Vs. Revolution

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    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    Default Evolution Vs. Revolution

    I originally put this on the SWJ Blog under the debate about FM 3-0 - Revolution or Evolution - looks like a fit here under "theory" - Best Rob

    Revolution vs. Evolution

    We often try to classify events in military affairs across the DOTLMPF spectrum in terms of “evolution” or “revolution”, but the results are often disputed, why is that? It may be worth considering the two classifications as terms, the ways in which we normally employ them, and their historical uses in order facilitate discussions on the matter.

    Evolution has a biological feel to it. For me, it immediately brings to mind Charles Darwin & the Origin of Species. Evolution also has the mark of change over time, a kind of gradual adaptation of something to the environment (or changes within the environment) which allows it to succeed where others may not. Its presence is probably not immediately felt, and the exact causal nature is often blurred by the non-linear nature of its change. Certainly we have some cases where a species makes an evolutionary leap in a great enough magnitude, and in a manner that seems absent from other causal relationships that we think we can attribute it to specific events, but I think this is the exception and not the rule. Most evolution would seem more “geologic” on its time scale to us with our linear framing of time, seasonal rotations and relatively short life (and professional and political life) spans.

    Revolution has a political feel to it. It goes to the notion of “upset” by the group of the accepted status quo. It plays to the idea of abrupt change, “the new sheriff in town” to the concept of youthful values taking hold in a “cultural revolution”. It has also been used in a business sense, “this product will revolutionize “X” – which is often reduced – either when its introduction is tempered by other less malleable environmental factors, or over time as the environment adapts and the product is reduced to evolving in conjunction with its environment. It would seem that while an act or event may be seen as revolutionary, it must also be considered within the greater context of its environment.

    Compare the verb forms of the two words: “to revolt” vs. “to evolve”. The former seems very active, while the latter seems more passive. Revolution raises images of abrupt and often violent change to something, while evolution seems far less risky, almost congruent with events. I think evolution gets to the concept of the golden mean – the idea that by maintaining balance and consistency, you don’t get it “too far” wrong so fast you can’t recover from it – or risk that you make change at such a pace that you inadvertently break things unknowingly that played an important but unpublicized role; but you also probably don’t get them too far right either – meaning the optimal solution would be reached in optimal time. There are advantages and disadvantages to both I think.
    Consider the historical ideas of revolution and evolution where policy objectives have called for the use of military force to achieve them, its hard to make sense of them if isolated from the broader themes in History.

    Would the “American Revolution” make sense divorced from the context of Neo-Classicism & the philosophy of Hume, Locke, Smith and others, the literature of Swift, or the science of Newton? What foundations did the Founding Fathers draw upon for the rationale for a new form of government? What is the political context of the use of military force by the American Colonies to achieve independence from England?

    What about the Civil War, WWI, WWII and other “large” wars that have long standing significance on our historical self-image? What about the Small Wars: the Banana Wars, our involvement in the Philippines, Punitive expeditions – what is their legacy and why? What about the ones not so easy to classify such as Korea and Vietnam? How do these wars look divorced of their political context? How does the course of military affairs look different under the context of its use to achieve the respective political objectives? While our use of military force may be more broad along the “small wars” spectrum, how do you weigh it against the deeper channels of use of military force in “big wars”? Does the political objective (real or perceived) define the classification of the use of military force from small to big, or is it the size of the sacrifice? Do the two go hand in hand?

    How about 9/11? How does 9/11 differ from say Pearl Harbor? What was it about the Japanese and Nazi Germany that galvanized the United States populace and made them largely unswerving in the war’s prosecution? We often point to the promotion of many a new WWII general and the dismissal of many others – what made that possible – there had to be a political context to it. While consideration of the inter-war period generally points toward an evolution (see Murray & Millet’s Military Innovation in the Inter-War Period) of military affairs – the political event of replacing a chunk of the General Officer corps could be seen as revolutionary.

    Consider the Clausewitzian observation that War Is Never an Isolated Act (section 7, Ch. 1, Book 1 – Howard & Paret ed.), “War never breaks out wholly unexpectedly, nor can it be spread instantaneously. Each side can therefore gauge the other by large extent by what he is and does, instead of judging him by what he, strictly speaking, ought to be or do.” Later in Section 23, Clausewitz considers the evolutionary nature of the policy objective in relation to the means which are available to carry it through, “If we keep in mind that war springs from some political, it is natural that the prime cause of its existence will remain the supreme consideration in conducting it. That, however, does not imply the political objective is a tyrant. It must adapt itself to its chosen means (Rob’s note- I think he means the use of war and the consequences and non-linear effects that accompany it as a chosen means to achieve the political objective), a process that can radically change it; yet the political aim must remain the first consideration.

    I chose these two pieces from “On War” because they offer some insight into how military affairs change. If you consider the political context of change – which some event creates a policy objective, or emphasizes it because enmity (political reason in a pragmatic sense – or interest) is overrun by passion (the domestic call for action due to fear, honor ref. Thucydides) it is still constrained by the lack of commensurate change in the realm of military affairs – the DOTMLPF arena. So while policy might call for strategic options, and may broaden the range of what is suitable the strategy itself must be feasible based on the means and ways available. In this model, military affairs must evolve to meet its new environment.

    This takes you down the path of accepting risk in terms of understanding the changes in the environment – are they both broad and deep so as to be enduring and on a scale that requires large scale change, or does it only appear to be broad and is actually shallow so as to be temporary and potentially a diversion from the more pressing threats. Certainly, this is a question we see theorists, planners and leaders wrestling with – how many F-22s, CBGs, submarines or BCTs? How much GPF (General Purpose Forces) and how much specialization? How much do we turn the rest of our DOTMLPF gears to produce evolutionary change that matches our perception of the environment?

    These last two questions are also subjective, because the answers are not so clear cut as they might seem – technology and a professional volunteer military have changed perceptions about the requirements for certain tasks, and how much additional investment is justified.

    I think although the important ideas we’ve come upon may seem revolutionary in scope and potential, the actual implementation of these ideas will be evolutionary. First I’d say from a broad historical perspective, conditions, along with problems and solutions may have called for similar revolutions/evolutions not only in our own military past, but within the greater human military history. I’d add that what may be unique is the context of where we are along our own political development and the consequences (could be good, could be not so good) of the adaptation of these ideas in the long run – the only thing certain in my opinion is that where there is political interaction there are degrees of instability and there is change. Second, because of the nature of change – and the resistance to it (the fear of deviation fro the golden mean due to the real possibility of getting it too far wrong), change will evolutionary where we have the ability to make it so – meaning that divorced from irresistible outside stimuli- there is what the Prussian referred to a “natural tendency toward moderation”.

    Best Regards, Rob

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    Council Member Ron Humphrey's Avatar
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    Wink Right on

    What does not evolve, revolves

    There really is nothing new under the sun, Just different people

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    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob Thornton View Post
    Consider the Clausewitzian observation that War Is Never an Isolated Act (section 7, Ch. 1, Book 1 – Howard & Paret ed.), “War never breaks out wholly unexpectedly, nor can it be spread instantaneously. Each side can therefore gauge the other by large extent by what he is and does, instead of judging him by what he, strictly speaking, ought to be or do.” Later in Section 23, Clausewitz considers the evolutionary nature of the policy objective in relation to the means which are available to carry it through, “If we keep in mind that war springs from some political, it is natural that the prime cause of its existence will remain the supreme consideration in conducting it. That, however, does not imply the political objective is a tyrant. It must adapt itself to its chosen means (Rob’s note- I think he means the use of war and the consequences and non-linear effects that accompany it as a chosen means to achieve the political objective), a process that can radically change it; yet the political aim must remain the first consideration.
    Firstly, I am a confirmed Clauswitian, so I really applaud your use of his work. 99% of people who say they have read Clausewitz, simply have not. I am currently reading the 1873 translation (available online) having read the excellent Howard Paret translation for about the 3rd time late last year. Von C rocks!!

    I take CvC to mean that a rational examination of your enemies' "ways and means" will give you a sound insight into his capability, as well as his vulnerability, be they destruction or exhaustion, or both. CvC would have been very at home in the Lebanon in 2006. It is just crying shame few IDF officers have ever read him, I think, thanks to Van Creveld constantly doing him down.

    In my teaching/doctrine/ideas the conduct of war can only ever be seen as a the product of adaptation - thus evolutionary. RMA's are myths.
    Infinity Journal "I don't care if this works in practice. I want to see it work in theory!"

    - The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
    - If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
    Sir Gerald Templer, foreword to the "Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya," 1958 Edition

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    Well said my old friend/neighbor. Hope the Family is well.

    Rob, you know me and you know my background thus I don't claim to be any expert. I am neither Clausewitzian nor am I Jomni but a hybrid of both as like the enemy we too must adapt. When you discuss evolution vs. revolution I think some times we might have to simplify and de-evolutionize ourselves in order to defeat the enemy at their own game. I believe this as I look through history and see evidence in this. Look at the development of guerilla warfare. The Revolutionary War we were able to defeat an organized army many times over by these small non-traditional tactics (simplicity) learned from the back-woodsmen who survived from fighting Indians and hunting daily. During the Civil War the education of in ranks fighting was taught and instituted into doctrine (not leaving out the tactics of the wagon wheel and others). The numbers of casualties are drastically different as the militia demonstrated a better or more effective survivability. Now look forward to today. We have the best technology in the world but I sometimes feel that this technology clouds our views on DOTLMPF. In Iraq I have seen units come in and set up these most elaborate digitized TOCs for the simplest missions. You and I both remember leaning on a tree writing OPORDs. Is this not true? We need to step back without having to rely on gadgets and gewiz stuff to view it in the eye of our enemy. They are utilizing the simplest items to get to our Soldiers. Do we need to evolve? Or de-evolutionize ourselves in order to clear away some of the technology fog? Like the gentleman earlier states "What does not evolve, revolves." Thoughts?

    Second reason for writing is or should I say, the main, is to get back in touch with you. I ran across your picture and name on this sight.

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    Council Member reed11b's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by HaloRanger View Post
    Well Look at the development of guerilla warfare. The Revolutionary War we were able to defeat an organized army many times over by these small non-traditional tactics (simplicity) learned from the back-woodsmen who survived from fighting Indians and hunting daily.
    I would argue that these tactics allowed us to inflict unanswered casualties on the British, but very few actual victories. Point in fact that the Continental Army (and French assistance) was required to secure final victory. The Urban vs. Rural soldier myth has been disproven multiple times.
    Also welcome to the forum, please introduce yourself formaly here.
    Reed

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    Default Evolution vs. Revolution

    Rob. I agree. The theory of evolutionary vs. revolutionary warfare can be argued from either standpoint. The key is how you define them. I think warfare is evolutionary, and in some instances, can be revolutionary. This is based on my interpretation of their definitions. Warfare is evolutionary when the military adapts and implements changes. These can be changes in doctrine, organization or the integration of technological advances on the battlefield. I think revolutionary changes take place when an outside organization or agency (congress) “assists” or forces the military to adapt or change how it fights.

    An example of this is what some people consider the U.S. technological revolution. Since we were outnumbered by Soviet forces, we developed new technologies and gradually implemented them into the services (precision guided munitions, ISR platforms, stealth technology etc). But the U.S. Military didn’t make the leap to a revolutionary change in warfare until Congress passed the Goldwater-Nichols act. The military had already implemented many of these technologies and had used them to some success in previous operations. But when Congress forced the services to create joint doctrine, empower COCOM Commanders and fight in a Joint environment, the result was a military organization that effectively incorporated new technology, organizational structure and doctrine on the battlefield (Panama, Desert Storm, Bosnia/Kosovo etc).

    I also think Al Qaeda conducted a revolution in warfare. (If revolutions and evolutions apply to us, they also apply to the enemy.) They use multidimensional warfare (land, sea, air, cyber space) with a non-hierarchical organization and existing technologies to gain the advantage. As a result of globalization, the terrorist threat is no longer determined by geography and Al Qaeda can target anyone or anything in one or all dimensions of warfare. The originator of an event does not need to initiate the attack, only set it in motion. Since Al Qaeda believes civilian targets and infrastructure are legitimate, there are an infinite number of high value targets. When everything is a target, you can’t defend or prevent all attacks.
    Al Qaeda’s version of Goldwater-Nichols is in the form of fatwa’s and religious edicts. They direct radical Muslims worldwide to plan and implement terrorist activities. Al Qaeda has always been at a military disadvantage, so they developed an organizational structure, TTP’s and violent doctrine to facilitate decentralized planning and execution. Since the U.S. Military and Intel organizations had little focus on non-state actors, Al Qaeda was able to gain the advantage and revolutionize terrorist warfare.

    Both of these examples are subject to interpretation and debate, and the debate about evolution vs. revolution depends on the definition of each. Our military evolves daily in response to innovations and enemy actions and Al Qaeda evolves in response to our actions. The big question is: What will be the next revolution in warfare and who will initiate it?

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    Default Evolution Vs. Revolution

    Excellent post Rob. I just finished a paper for the Army Command and General Staff College on this exact subject, and thought I would weigh in with my own thoughts.

    I agree that classifying the nature of military affairs as either "evolutionary" or "revolutionary" depends upon the definition one uses for either. But, if pressed for a definitive answer, I believe the nature of warfare is ultimately evolutionary.
    To define the nature of warfare through periods of marked by revolutionary changes, whether they are technological or tactical, oversimplifies the issue into a simple cause and effect relationship. The concept of evolution more accurately describes the complex nature of warfare and all the variables that impact changes and outcomes and force adaptation over time. From a scientific perspective, evolution is the change in the inherited traits of a population of organisms through successive generations. Using this definition, an analogy can be made to describe the military as a biological organism. Technology and tactics are merely two of the many variables in the aspects of this organism’s environment. The organism adapts in response to changes in its environment. The organism that quickly adapts to its environment gains a competitive edge over its competitors.

    The term Revolution in Military Affairs has been firmly embedded into the current military lexicon, earning its own widely accepted and commonly understood acronym-RMA. The concept of Revolution in Military Affairs is a theory about the impact of revolutionary technology on the nature of warfare, and it is often connected to the acquisition of technology and organizational changes in modern force management. RMA implies that quick wins and solutions with immediate effects exist. The popularity of RMA theory is a result of the modern captivation with acquiring and capitalizing upon “the next big thing.” Those who claim that the nature of warfare has been, and is characterized by a series of revolutionary changes, succumb to the same “the next big thing” syndrome.

    Thanks for hosting this forum.
    Major Shawn McMahon
    U.S. Army Command and General Staff College

    “The views expressed in this post do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.”

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    Default Does "Punctuated Equilibrium" Apply Here ?

    Hi Shawn,

    Welcome to SWC.

    Just a thought (writing with some BioChem background and a continued interest in the human genome), in considering genetic "evolution" vs genetic "revolution", where we find the concept of "Punctuated Equilibrium".

    Punctuated Equilibrium originally was the child of Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould (dec'd, unfortunately) - see the Unofficial SJG Archive, which has a couple of dozen references re: "Punctuated Equilibrium" linked.

    Punctuated Equilibrium, by Robyn Conder Broyles, briefly summarizes the concept in the field of population genetics (bold added):

    Summary

    All evolution, of course, must be gradual, in that each generation must not be too unlike the previous generation, or mating would be impossible. Punctuated equilibrium is not saltationism, a defunct theory that states that speciations occur in single large steps. Rather, punctuated equilibrium states that populations remain stable for long periods of time, evolving little or not at all; these periods of time are called stases. In the most common occurrence of speciation, according to punctuated equilibrium, small, isolated populations evolve rapidly, so that speciation takes place over about ten thousand to a million years. This period of time is a geological instant, but it still allows plenty of time for gradual change at a fast rate to produce a new species.

    Punctuated equilibrium explains how large, stable populations can produce new species: the large population itself doesn't change, but small isolated "pocket" populations might, resulting in branching rather than linear species histories. It also explains the relative scarcity of transitional forms, particularly between species (rather than between larger groups), in the fossil record. If transitional forms only exist for a few thousand years, often in a small geographical location different from its later range, then the odds are against fossils being formed, found, and described.
    Would this concept be useful in considering changes that have occured in the military ?

    Of course, a "Revolution in Military Affairs" has a far more dynamic ring to it than does a "Punctuated Equilibrium in Military Affairs".

    Regards

    Mike

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