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Thread: Debate over The Generations of War.

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    Council Member Cavguy's Avatar
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    Default Debate over The Generations of War

    Having now dissected EBO, Maneuver Warfare (MW), and Boyd, I wanted to start the discussion on another question that I have been bouncing back and forth with.

    I first encountered "4GW" as a term when reading TX Hammes' "The Sling and The Stone" a few years ago, which is an excellent intro into the "flattening" of warfare.

    Even then, I was uneasy in the breakdown of the 1/2/3/4th Generation of war, how they were defined, and utilized as a construct.

    Looking back, the history dates to 1989 and this article.

    At the most simplistic level, I acknowledge 4GW has become a useful 'catch all' for just about any non-conventional, non state based conflict environment. Part of that is that our current (some call 'hybrid') wars don't fit easily into traditional descripive boxes, and thus in many casual conversations people often talk about "4GW".

    Having now read much more in the field, including this critique, I have come to view the whole "GW" construct with some measure of derision from a theoretical standpoint. It seems really the 2d/3d GW model was developed for the maneuver war theorists to justify the superiority of their theory rather than a rigorously developed time line of warfare. In fact, it kind of falls apart when you take it beyond the PowerPoint deep nature of the theory and start analyzing against history.

    Quite simply, 4GW has been going on long before the proponents state (you can find biblical '4GW' conflicts). Also the idea that maneuver warfare is an evolution past attritional (2GW) warfare troubles me more after the above referenced threads.

    I am now seeing "4GW" propped up as a term in more than a few papers and articles in leading journals, often as a throwaway. A large part of this is because the community, military, and academics can't decide what to call these asymmetric/hybrid/4GW/COIN/Stability conflicts.

    Is the "generations of war" construct useful, and does it help us in defining and understanding conflict?

    * One final note, I sense another argument coming from the MW crew - that it was "justified" despite being a poorly devised construct to bring people to address MW and '4GW'. (the same argument was made about MW as a construct and the sainthood of Boyd) Did the ends justify the means if we accept it as a poor construct?

    Let the discussion begin.
    Last edited by Cavguy; 09-29-2008 at 12:32 AM.
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    i pwnd ur ooda loop selil's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cavguy View Post
    Having now dissected EBO, Maneuver Warfare (MW), and Boyd, I wanted to start the discussion on another question that I have been bouncing back and forth with.
    Even though when I wrote this article I was sure that there was something there (and the literature shows it) I am now thinking "generational" warfare is a misleading term. It isn't that the authors are not discovering different modes of war and applying techniques and tactics to those specific modes, but using generations to discuss them applies a time component that doesn't exist. As you said there are 4th generation conflicts in the biblical age. If it is simply technologies then you might have something, but even then technologies are only analogies/metaphors for other elements.
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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default I agree with Sam, the generational tag is of limited, if any, utility.

    Some people live for arcane terms; in some cases, the more arcane the better. Some people want such terminology, some actually need it -- for most it simply becomes a limiting device unless great care is taken.

    While some use of terminolgy is necessary for discussion and instructional purposes, attempts to rigorously dictate a lexicon are counterproductive.

    War is war, period. Warfare, however, is infinitely and subtly variable and examples of 'multi-generation' warfare throughout history abound -- one adopts limiting terminology at some risk of inducing a mind set or target fixation. In fighting, the only thing in mind should be alertness to what the opponent is doing and development of a counter to that with a goal of preempting him so that you are initiating the action that will remove him as a problem...
    Last edited by Ken White; 09-29-2008 at 01:07 AM.

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    See the discussion generated in this thread early last year in response to the posting of Fourth-Generation War and Other Myths.

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    Default 5gw

    Hey, does this mean you don't want to hear my theory on 5th Generation Wafare?

    In all seriousness I agree, the terms then to create more confusion than clarity.

    In general, there are a few broad categories of war (different doctrines, different equipment, different ways to get to the same objective). I hate all the terms, and still blame Clausewitz for the lack of evolutionary military thought. His writings were superb, but that shouldn't have equated to freezing the study of war in time. Instead we have some half baked ideas now like generational warfare, asymmetrical warfare, etc.

    Some broad categories of war are:

    Conventional Warfare:

    Irregular Warfare/Low Intensity Warfare:

    Nuclear Warfare:

    Less than war: (Punitive missions such as our air strike on Libya, and our air strikes on Iraq in 98).

    With the exception of the "less than war" category, we used all them simultaneously during WWII. We used conventional and irregular simultaneously in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    The bottom line is that anyone will fight the way that is advantageous to them. If you're really silly, you will get together with a much of like minded westerners in Genova and codify war, so everyone will have to fight the way you want them to fight, then assume that is the way that war will be fought. If they do something different, well that can't be war, it says so right here in this convention we signed. That must be that asymmetrical stuff.

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    Council Member Ron Humphrey's Avatar
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    Question Although I'm going to look back at the thread from last year and Sams article

    I would like to say that from the time I first started really looking into the various forms, levels, whatever one wants to call them it always struck me as somewhat odd. They are approached and discussed as totally different types of warfare while for the life of me I can't get out of my head that the real truth is each and every one of these approaches would be more akin to parallel dimensions of one another. Each has its points at which it is successful or at least makes sense but none can really stand on their own as a whole.

    Perhaps if they are taken as pieces of the whole and then the linkages between them are established then discussions might actually be able to draw out the key differences be it key differences, strengths, or weaknesses?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Moore View Post
    Hey, does this mean you don't want to hear my theory on 5th Generation Warfare?
    Actually, 5GW has been postulated in an article - the super-empowered individual waging conflict.

    Kinda like the plot of the last "Die Hard" movie or "The Dark Knight".

    Now '6 minute abs' er... 6GW ... then you'd be onto something.
    Last edited by Cavguy; 09-29-2008 at 04:29 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jedburgh View Post
    See the discussion generated in this thread early last year in response to the posting of Fourth-Generation War and Other Myths.
    Ahhh ... I committed the sin of not looking for old thread. Perused it and found this gem ...

    Quote Originally Posted by Hawkwood
    We ignore the fact that Martin van Creveld and Bill Lind, the ideological fathers of the 4GW mafia and seemingly in competion to be known as the grumpiest military historian on the planet, have consistently been more correct than the pack in predicting how military events would unfold over the last 15 years. Wishing that they weren't just dosen't cut it, just as wishing that western forces with massive capability overmatch weren't strategically all at sea in the Middle East. The core point in the 4GW argument is that it is the collapse of the moral and legal construct of the state that gives the opponent their strength and that trying to put the state back together militarily won't work, the issues of info and lethality proliferation are second tier issues that support this anomaly.

    Agree or not with the 4GW construct no one can argue that Armd Divisions, DDGX and F22 Wings, the ultimate evolutionary tools of western warfare, have much utility for the fight we face. Sure we can smash states but we are yet to prove we have the capability or will to build a state. The 4GW argument that it is our inability to conceptualise the issues rather than our military capabilities needs to be considered deeply rather than rejected because its advocates have the personaility of a wire brush.
    My major beef isn't the construct so far, it's the linear progression of it - 2/3/4, that I don't buy. I especially don't buy the distinction between 2d and 3d GW. 1GW is also pretty irrelevant. Really all debate is centering around 3d/4th GW, although Bill Lind constantly calls the army a 2GW force.
    Last edited by Cavguy; 09-29-2008 at 03:57 AM.
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    Council Member zenpundit's Avatar
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    Default Linearity

    I agree that that seeing "Generations" of warfare in strict linearity is very problematic. IMHO it's better as a simple taxonomy than a chronology.

    OTOH, mainstream historians other than those associated with 4GW have also made the argument the the adoption of disciplined formations armed with smoothbore muskets (1GW) constituted a "military revolution" rooted in a particular time and place.

    http://www.amazon.com/Military-Revol.../dp/0521479584

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    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    I have huge problems with 4GW, and laid them all out before Lind and TX when I met them earlier this year. I basically said that not one area of 4GW withstood scrutiny. TX told me that that does not matter!

    It's aim is to get people to think - so just like Manoeuvre Warfare. The facts are irrelevant to the greater aim of getting people to think in a different way, and thus just like EBO.

    All of these concepts are aimed at the altering of mindset, seemingly in preference to an approach that goes for empirically based education.

    There are also two differing forms of 4GW - Lind and Hammes, do not agree, but exactly where, I am not sure, as I can get past the basic flaws.
    Last edited by William F. Owen; 09-29-2008 at 06:41 AM.
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    Default Timeless Theories of War

    Here were my thoughts on this subject in 2005.

    This article was published in the October 2005 volume of the SWJ Magazine.
    Timeless Theories of War in the 21st Century
    http://smallwarsjournal.com/documents/swjmag/v3/maxwell.htm

    Colonel David S. Maxwell, USA

    "War is a matter of vital importance to the State; the province of life or death; the road to survival or ruin. It is mandatory that it be thoroughly studied.”

    - Sun Tzu, The Art of War[1]

    Warfare must be thoroughly studied. That was as true in the day of Sun Tzu as it is today. Thorough study leads to understanding the nature of war and with that understanding comes the ability to fight a war efficiently and effectively (or sometimes to not have to fight one at all). This will lead to the survival of the nation. Many say that the world is experiencing new threats and new forms of warfare. Fourth Generation Warfare, Unconventional Warfare, Insurgency/Counter Insurgency, Terrorism, and Asymmetric Warfare are some of the terminology being used to describe conflict and war in the 21st Century. To many theorists they describe the way of the future of warfare and the threats and conditions for which the United States military must prepare. Two logical questions arise from thinking about these terms. First, are these conditions and threats really new and different? Second, what do strategists need to know to be able to operate in these supposedly new conditions?

    This paper argues that the nature of war has not significantly changed with the arrival of the 21st Century. True, there appear to be new tactics, techniques, and procedures as evidenced by the tragedy of 9-11. The likelihood of direct nation-state to nation-state conflict seems to be declining with the rise of non-state actors such as transnational terrorists and due somewhat to the massive firepower and destructive capabilities available to state supported military forces. However, regardless of the threat and its tactics there remains a fundamental foundation of conflict and this is an enduring immutable truth: “War is thus an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will.”[2] This applies across the spectrum of conflict from the lowest intensity levels through terrorism and insurgency to large scale conventional war. Clausewitz understood this fundamental principle and this maxim is as true today as it was in the 19th Century.

    Furthermore, this paper will not focus on the traditional principles of war as outlined in U.S. joint doctrine.[3] While still relevant in many situations of conventional war and at the tactical and operational level, they are not as useful for leaders today as are the theories set down by the two true great masters of war: Sun Tzu and Clausewitz. In fact, the fundamental thesis of this paper is that the solution to any political-military problem can be found by studying the works of the great masters. Warfare today, as in the centuries past, is a complex form of human interaction that is nearly unpredictable in that there are myriad of factors that can affect the outcome. Because of this there is no prescription that can be followed that will ensure a successful outcome. Simply applying the traditional principles of war, or combinations thereof to every situation is not useful. What is required for successful military operations are leaders that possess coup d’oeil which Clausewitz defined as the “inward eye” and described the concept simply as the “quick recognition of a truth that the mind would ordinarily miss or would perceive only after long study and reflection.”[4] Strategists, whether political or military, must strive to attain this core attribute and the only way it can be attained is through thorough study of the nature of war and the theories of the great masters and with experience. With that foundation, leaders can develop and execute effective strategies to ensure the survival of the nation. Following a brief discussion of the apparent conditions of war in the 21st Century, this paper will examine five enduring principles or concepts from Clausewitz and Sun Tzu and demonstrate that they remain timeless and relevant in the 21st Century. These principles form the basis for the development of strategy regardless of the type of conflict that a nation faces. These concepts themselves provide no answers. It is only through intensive and critical study that they can become ingrained into the strategist’s analytical framework so that complex political- military problems can be solved. Again, these principles provide no answers in and of themselves. The solutions are found through study and the development of Clausewitz’ coup d’oiel. Who thinks wins![5]
    David S. Maxwell
    "Irregular warfare is far more intellectual than a bayonet charge." T.E. Lawrence

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    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cavguy View Post
    Having now dissected EBO, Maneuver Warfare (MW), and Boyd, I wanted to start the discussion on another question that I have been bouncing back and forth with.

    I first encountered "4GW" as a term when reading TX Hammes' "The Sling and The Stone" a few years ago, which is an excellent intro into the "flattening" of warfare.

    Even then, I was uneasy in the breakdown of the 1/2/3/4th Generation of war, how they were defined, and utilized as a construct.

    Looking back, the history dates to 1989 and this article.

    At the most simplistic level, I acknowledge 4GW has become a useful 'catch all' for just about any non-conventional, non state based conflict environment. Part of that is that our current (some call 'hybrid') wars don't fit easily into traditional descripive boxes, and thus in many casual conversations people often talk about "4GW".

    Having now read much more in the field, including this critique, I have come to view the whole "GW" construct with some measure of derision from a theoretical standpoint. It seems really the 2d/3d GW model was developed for the maneuver war theorists to justify the superiority of their theory rather than a rigorously developed time line of warfare. In fact, it kind of falls apart when you take it beyond the PowerPoint deep nature of the theory and start analyzing against history.

    Quite simply, 4GW has been going on long before the proponents state (you can find biblical '4GW' conflicts). Also the idea that maneuver warfare is an evolution past attritional (2GW) warfare troubles me more after the above referenced threads.

    I am now seeing "4GW" propped up as a term in more than a few papers and articles in leading journals, often as a throwaway. A large part of this is because the community, military, and academics can't decide what to call these asymmetric/hybrid/4GW/COIN/Stability conflicts.

    Is the "generations of war" construct useful, and does it help us in defining and understanding conflict?

    * One final note, I sense another argument coming from the MW crew - that it was "justified" despite being a poorly devised construct to bring people to address MW and '4GW'. (the same argument was made about MW as a construct and the sainthood of Boyd) Did the ends justify the means if we accept it as a poor construct?

    Let the discussion begin.
    Agree 100% and have for years.

    Tom

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    Default This is theory?

    Again, these principles provide no answers in and of themselves. The solutions are found through study and the development of Clausewitz’ coup d’oiel. Who thinks wins![5]
    These quotes in my opinion illustrate the problem with Clausewitz and Sun Tzu. They are philosophical comments, sometimes so obvious in their truth that they are of little value.

    The issue of strategy is more than philosophy (which I think we confuse with principles in the case of Sun Tzu), it is the art of providing direction to accomplish objectives. All the Clausewitz and Sun Tzu quotes in the world won't help Officers conceive a strategy for defeating Al Qaeda and other irregular threats.

    The so called theories of asymmetrical warafare, 4GW, etc., are an attempt to fill an identified gap in our doctrinal knowledge. They fall way short, but the fact remains there is a gap, and all the answers to today's problems are NOT in the classic texts.
    Last edited by Bill Moore; 09-30-2008 at 07:32 AM. Reason: forgot a key NOT

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    Default Wilf's points

    It's aim is to get people to think - so just like Manoeuvre Warfare. The facts are irrelevant to the greater aim of getting people to think in a different way, and thus just like EBO.

    All of these concepts are aimed at the altering of mindset, seemingly in preference to an approach that goes for empirically based education.


    I can't really agree.

    My reading of Lind would be that, among other points, he's making an argument regarding the political and moral effect of using military force in the context of the late nation-state period. I'm not sure if Lind being Lind is engaging in a pure critical thinking exercise. I think he's wrong regarding the absolutist nature of the position he takes ( "everywhere the state is in decline") but he's making a substantive argument, not offering up hypotheticals or red herrings.

    Secondly, what evidence is there that there is much of a culture of empiricism operating on the "other side" of the non-theoretical, operational, pragmatists? We all watched an American military and political leadership proceed for years with an occupation in Iraq that was clearly not working until a political crisis at home forced a change of strategy. Absent 2006 election results, would anything have changed ?

    The American ppl may have been empiricists but their leaders sure weren't.
    Last edited by zenpundit; 09-29-2008 at 07:26 PM. Reason: spelling/grammar

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    Is the "generations of war" construct useful, and does it help us in defining and understanding conflict?
    This is the biggest complaint I have against the XGW warfare concept. Most of what is postulated as 4GW is not new, though certain aspects have been enabled and accelerated through technology beyond what was possible in the past. But these elements of 4GW do not, ISTM, require such technology:

    * Complex and long term
    * Terrorism
    * A non-national or transnational base
    * A direct attack on the enemy's culture
    * Highly sophisticated psychological warfare, especially through manipulation of the media
    * All available networks are used - political, economic, social and military
    * Occurs in low-intensity conflict, involving actors from all networks
    * Non-combatants become tactical dilemmas

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    Quote Originally Posted by Entropy View Post
    This is the biggest complaint I have against the XGW warfare concept. Most of what is postulated as 4GW is not new, though certain aspects have been enabled and accelerated through technology beyond what was possible in the past. But these elements of 4GW do not, ISTM, require such technology:
    * Complex and long term
    * Terrorism
    * A non-national or transnational base
    * A direct attack on the enemy's culture
    * Highly sophisticated psychological warfare, especially through manipulation of the media
    * All available networks are used - political, economic, social and military
    * Occurs in low-intensity conflict, involving actors from all networks
    * Non-combatants become tactical dilemmas
    Seems to me that both the 30 Years War and the 100 Years War meet all of the criteria above. anyone want to call them 4GW struggles?
    Oh wait, I forgot, 4GW only became possible after the Peace of Westphalia introduced the conditions that made 3GW possible.

    4GW reminds me of the Ptolemaic geocentric view of the universe. They both require wheels within wheels within wheels to explain the data. I also just love the claim that the 4GW construct is simply a "heuristic" to stimulate discussion. Being exposed to that kind of stimulus makes me want to shout, "Don't taz me bro!"
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    Default Yet more previous discussion on 4GW....

    ..is interspersed amongst with discussion of Man Warfare, on the 'Boyd and Lind Rebuttal' thread located at

    http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/...ead.php?t=4534

    IIRC, many of the issues raised above are addressed in this in places in this thread.

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    Default 4GW--A Concept Never Intended For The Uses Some Attribute To It

    And I thought I was going to get my thread started on the OODA Loop, but this distracted me. Okay, here goes.

    Most of the criticism about 4GW revolves around it's extremely shaky foundations as a theoretical construct, an analytical lens, or any number of uses as tool for understanding military history. Okay, ALL OF THESE CRITICISMS ARE VALID. But the 4GW characterization was never intended for the uses that so many appear to attribute to it.

    Look, if this was a serious historical construct, it would not have been published in the Marine Corps Gazette. It would have shown up in a scholarly journal.

    Okay, I was pretty much in thick with John Schmitt and Bill Lind at the time the original 4GW article was published and got to know G.I. Wilson and Keith Nightengale much later. So let me provide some context so you can understand the purposes of the original authors, at least from my perspective.

    First of all, the "three generations of war" was pretty slick shorthand for charaterizing tactics and command and control. In other words, they were intended as labels. Extremely simplistic labels. But using them, one could describe what one saw on the battlefield. For example, The ROK Marines are a first generation ground force. Tactics of line and column, culture of control, extreme hierarchical command on the Frederickan mold. Discipline enforced by liberal doses of corporal punishment. I say "first generation" and everybody understands--I don't have to describe much more of the basics but can then dive into the details.

    Regarding the so-called "linear progression" of the generations, it's true--it's doesn't work. Bruce Gudmudsson calls the development of 2nd and 3rd Generation warfare as "the fork in the road" in his book, On Infantry (Revised Edition). He was doing this pretty early on as I recall him saying this when Bill, Bruce, and I were doing the "Modern War" television show in the Spring of 1994. When "first generation" wasn't working due to the requirement for open order tactics, you saw this split--a focus on firepower at the expense of maneuver and still the rigid culture of order left from the first generation (this is 2nd Gen)...and then what we term as MW (3GW). Lord knows, it's a terrible labeling scheme. Just like the term "maneuver warfare." It was a bumper sticker, and it stuck, showing up in Marine Corps correspondence courses like MCI 7400 WARFIGHING SKILLS PROGRAM.

    But I need to emphasize--these generational characterizations were labels applied to descriptions of tactics and C2. It took TX Hammes to flesh them out a great deal in The Sling and Stone and put the historical backdrop behind them and provide an air of historical/analytical basis where none existed before. Should he have done this? I'll let you debate it. We in the field Marine units could have given a rat's *ss. We liked the shorthand labels.

    Then came 4GW. It was Bill's label. And the paradox of it was that it didn't describe a tactical or command and control method at all. It described social conditions leading to the value systems of the warriors and explained how traditional operational art and military strategy wasn't going to be sufficient against these people. So why did Bill label it this way? I can only guess--because as soon as you describe 4GW in response to a question, the next question is what are the other three generations. And then you get the short course in the development of MW.

    I'm not defending this. It's just how I perceived it at the time.

    Now, the caveat. I'm a believer in the concept, although I agree with Echevarria that the term has become too synonymous with the idea of insurgency in general (blame TX Hammes in The Sling and the Stone which changed the original meaning of 4GW) and Iraq in particular (and Lind's "On War' columns in Military.com may have had something to do with that). I still adhere to the original conceptions as outlined in the earlier articles. Hammes' 5GW is more akin to what the original authors envisioned, although they didn't see the potential for "super-empowerment" as we now conceive of it.

    But 4GW was still a label to describe a condition. It wasn't intended for the historians. It wasn't created for the defense analysts. It wasn't meant for the academics. It was for the field Marines who needed a shorthand term to describe the Cartels, the Somalia clans, the warring tribes and families, etc. To basically mean that pure military force wasn't going work against these characters. In that sense this bumper sticker label still works, even though the numbering system is misleading and the idea of "generations" just doesn't hold throughout under any serious historical investigation or analysis. Remember, this is the Marine Corps. "It's easy to be hard, and hard to be smart." And the corollary: "I'm not smart, and you can't make me." I'll just leave it at that. I'm not defending it, but I'm explaining it.

    So, the bottom line up front for you non-jarhead types: This was never intended for you. Not really. Not originally.

    Of course, the proponents--Bill Lind among them--were only too happy to see this particular genie escape the lamp and cause all kinds of debate and rhetorical havoc. And I think it's been a good thing for all the reasons we've seen in other threads about MW. People have to ask questions and defend their points of view...and constantly rethink their assumptions.

    This is no doubt a gross summary/oversimplification of nearly twenty years of serious thought and discussion, but I thought I'd open up this particular Pandora's Box since CavGuy started this thread.

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    Council Member zenpundit's Avatar
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    Default Historical methodology & an idea

    I'd like to add a few comments to those of Col. Walters.

    There's a difference between using correct historical methodology - something I was trained to do - where you seek to explain causation of events and engaging in strategic sudies or some other social science. In history, you do not begin with a conclusion and use that as a prism with which to interpret events or attempt to justify it by gathering evidence that suits the model. Or rather you are not supposed to do that.

    Strategic theories, like 4GW or IR theories in Poli Sci or economic models are useful only to the extent that they are explanatory and almost always that means that successful theories will fit a few scenarios very well, fit many adequately or partially and others not at all. Expressing the theory in quantitative terms instead of qualitative terms does not change that limitation, it just tells you with greater specifity how well your theory is matching or missing reality.

    Is 4GW a useful theory? The best test of that would be how predictive it proves to be in "the real world".

    The Small Wars Council could run an informal test pretty easily. At the next outbreak of serious conflict - the next Georgia or Somalia or whatever scenario we find agreeable we could have CavGuy, Wilf Owen, WM or whomever offer their analytical predictions of the outcome based upon whatever yardstick they think serves best and then a 4GW "Red Team" offering their set of predictions - say myself, Ski, Selil, Eric Walters. Then we can see where the chips fall and evaluate accordingly. Dave Dilegge can be our referee.

    Any interest gentlemen ?

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    Quote Originally Posted by William F. Owen View Post
    I have huge problems with 4GW, and laid them all out before Lind and TX when I met them earlier this year. I basically said that not one area of 4GW withstood scrutiny. TX told me that that does not matter!

    It's aim is to get people to think - so just like Manoeuvre Warfare. The facts are irrelevant to the greater aim of getting people to think in a different way, and thus just like EBO.

    All of these concepts are aimed at the altering of mindset, seemingly in preference to an approach that goes for empirically based education.
    Be curious where Lind stood, in contrast, if you had the chance to talk to him about it.

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