On Tactics by B. A. FriedmanPosted: February 15, 2019 Filed under: America Since 1945, war, writing Leave a comment
This book is an excellent size and weight. Small, portable, yet solid. It’s published by the Naval Institute Press, they who took a chance on an unknown insurance man named Tom Clancy who’d written a thriller called The Hunt For Red October.
Amazon suggested this book to me as I was browsing translations of Sun Tzu. Military history has interested me since I was a boy, maybe because 1) the stakes are so high and 2) the stories are so vivid. Metaphors and similes drawn from famous war events are powerful and stark. Consider for example Friedman’s description of the Battle of the Bulge:
… Although the Germans had caught the Allies at their culminating point, the Germans reached their own far too early. Newly created infantry units were filled with hastily trained and inexperienced conscripts. These green units could not effectively hold the territory gained by the leading panzer units. On 22 December the fog cleared and Allied air units hammered the German formations from the skies. Despite the prestaged fuel reserves, panzer units still ran out of fuel, just when they needed it to escape the Allied aerial counterattack.
Buried in there is a tactical lesson, and also an intense story about some poor children getting blown up right before Christmas.
The author was a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. If I understand right, might make this book the equivalent of a book called like Writing A Hit TV Show by a staff writer. But Friedman seems like he’s gone deep on the knowledge, and there’s a quote from Gen. Anthony Zinni on the back. Good enough for me.
Alexander The Great would not be in the least bit perplexed by the enemy that we face right now in Iraq, and our leaders going into this fight do their troops a disservice by not studying — studying, vice just reading – the men who have gone before us. We have been fighting on this planet for 5,000 years and we should take advantage of their experience.
So goes a quote from James Mattis that opens this book. Friedman cites the example of Cortes in 1520 CE, referring to written accounts of Alexander’s battle at Gaugamela eighteen hundred years before to design his tactics against the Mexica/Aztec.
What is strategy? What is tactics? Where do they divide? Friedman summarizes Clausewitz:
Clausewitz divided warfare into tactics, actual combat between opposed military forces, and strategy, the latter being the overarching plan for using tactical engagements to achieve the ends as set forth by policy… The strategy acts as a bridge between the tactical actors (military forces) and the desired political end state of the entity those forces serve.
Much of this book is summaries of Clausewitz, really and Sun Tzu as well. How could it not be?
What I thought I remembered most of all from Clausewitz is the concept of Fingerspitzengefühl, fingertips-feel, a sensing of what’s going on, and where. But I don’t have my copy of Vom Kriege at hand, and searching for fingerspitzengefühl it seems possible the term may be of later origin. Maybe it was discussed in the introduction.
Clausewitz is very concerned with will, the imposing of one’s will on the enemy, breaking the will of the enemy. Given the time and place where Clausewitz was coming from, 1800s what’s now-Germany, I can’t help but think this idea of will was connected to other philosophers like Kant who were pondering the meanings and dimensions of will around then.
Friedman picks up on the idea of will, or what he refers to as moral cohesion. He digs in on the idea of destroying the enemy’s moral cohesion.
Clausewitz defined the destruction of an enemy as “they must be put in such a condition that they can no longer carry on the fight” (emphasis added). This does not mean that the enemy force must be totally destroyed. Indeed, he went on to say, “when we speak of destroying the enemy’s forces we must emphasize that nothing obliges us to limit this idea to physical forces: the moral element must be considered. In other words, breaking the moral cohesion of the opposing force is destruction of that force as an effective unit and the true goal of tactics.
In a whole chapter on moral cohesion, Friedman quotes Marine Major Earl “Pete” Ellis speaking of how important it was to marines fighting insurgents in the Philippines to believe that the United States was acting from “purely altruistic motives.” Jim Storr’s The Human Face of War is quoted as well: “In general, defeat occurs when the enemy believes he is beaten… Defeat is a psychological state.”
Friedman brings out Clausewitz’s concept of “the center of gravity,” too, and points out, in a thought-provoking way that it’s not totally clear what Clausewitz meant or understood by “gravity,” and what Clausewitz understood about physics. Clausewitz died in 1831 — have we even figured out gravity now? Clausewitz noted that the center of gravity could be a capital city, an ally, the shared interests of an alliance, particular leaders, or popular opinion. The North Vietnamese correctly located the center of gravity of the US in the Vietnam War as American political will. They destroyed our moral cohesion.
Friedman is tough on the U.S war in Iraq, which he says is “a glaring example of tactics, strategy, and policy in disarray.” We need to maintain our sense of moral cohesion. It’s slipping away from us.
We get some Boyd, too, a favorite here at HelyTimes. As a bottom line lesson on tactics, this is pretty clear and cool:
Boyd says if you move and decide faster than your enemy, you will win.
Friedman concludes by pointing out that tactics are subordinate to strategy.
The tactician employs tactics that will best serve the strategy, but he must also know when a flawed strategy cannot be achieved with reasonable tactics. Duty might still demand that he try to accomplish the mission, but he will need to inform the strategist that his aims are improbable.
Taking on a big concept like tactics and attempting to codify and create a short, comprehensible theory or unified system is a nobel mission. I found On Tactics profitable to read and full of stimulating ideas and examples.
On Operations by B. A. FriedmanPosted: September 7, 2022 Filed under: America Since 1945, war Leave a comment
During the American Civil War, Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Valley Campaign is frequently pointed to as an example of expert maneuver. In fact, Jackson’s success was due more to excellent information. His small Confederate army was weak in everything except information. Jackson had lived in the Shenandoah Valley before the war and knew the ground. He also employed on his staff a local civilian mapmaker, Jedediah Hotchkiss. Finally, he had an excellent, if undisciplined cavalry commander who understood reconnaissance. Jackson’s ability to rapidly outmaneuver Union forces was grounded in his more accurate understanding of his opponent and the environment.
B. A. Friedman’s book On Operations is sort of sequel to his book On Tactics, which we reviewed here (a surprisingly popular post, actually). The subject is operations: planning, preparing, conducting and sustaining campaigns to accomplish strategic objectives. This lies somewhere in between tactics and strategy. Friedman’s book comes out of Clausewitz’s On War. For Clausewitz,
the logic of tactics is to gain battlefield victory; the logic of strategy is to use those victories for the purpose of the war.
Operations then lies somewhere in between:
operational art comprises the disciplines requires to place military forces in an advantageous position to employ tactics to achieve strategic effect
Some excerpts from the table of contents provide some sub-topics: Administration, Information, Operations, Fire Support, Logistics, Command and Control. Within a pretty technical discussion of these topics are interesting insights. Friedman says that the study of
operational art became the safe space in which Soviet officers could discuss their trade.
You couldn’t talk “strategy,” that was Stalin’s job. However, even operations turned out not to be quite safe:
By the 1930s, Svechin and Tukhachevsky were rivals. Tukhachevsky’s ideas won out in part because he denounced Svechin as a traitor to the Marxist-Leninist cause, whereupon Svechin was arrested. As adept as he was at playing Stalin’s games, Tukhachevsky was not adept enough. Neither he nor Svechin would live to see either the outbreak of the war they were preparing for the Red Army’s eventual victory, as Stalin had both men executed.
Friedman goes through some history of military administration, noting that the Prussian army had a system where a commander would have an Ia, whose job was running the general’s staff, handling communications, and serving as a principal advisor. Sometimes the Ia and the commander would rise in the ranks as a team. There’s some discussion of Boyd’s OODA loop idea. Throughout the book there are some case studies of operational success and failure, and a section of five detailed case studies as a sort of appendix. These were all pretty interesting, but into that stuff. I liked learning, for instance, that Carlson organized his Raiders using ideas he learned as an observer with Chinese Communist guerrillas.
This quote jumped out at me:
British general Nick Carter, who has had extensive experience in command in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan has observed, “As a commander you now live in a fish bowl; war is a theater and you are a producer of a spectacle that must appeal to a range of audiences. For success is invariably defined by the triumph of the narrative.
Anyone aspiring to manage complex operations or human organizations could probably benefit from examples in this book. And in the US, where we have civilian control of the military, good for all of us to think about some of these topics.
Too often, the US officer corps uses the operational level as a shield behind which it deploys “best military advice. But no military advice can be beneficial if stripped of its inherent political nature.
If I can get in touch with B. A. Friedman I’m gonna see if he’ll endure an interview with Helytimes on how deep military thinking can be applied in civilian life. It’s a pleasure to take advantage of the work of someone who’s studied deeply on such a topic.
Here’s a Hotchkiss map:
PipelinesPosted: February 24, 2022 Filed under: business Leave a comment
To understand the Kremlin’s motivations in regard to its smaller, and relatively impoverished, neighbor, the key fact to know is that Russia supplies 40% of Europe’s heating-fuel supplies — namely, natural gas.
To get it there, Russia relies mostly on two aging pipeline networks, one of which runs through Belarus and the other through Ukraine. For this, Russia pays Ukraine around $2 billion a year in transit fees.
Russia is a petrostate and relies on oil and natural-gas sales for about 60% of its export revenue and 40% of its total budget expenditures. Any crimp on Russia’s ability to access the European market is a threat to its economic security.
so writes Lukas I. Alpert in Marketwatch. Samuel Bailey is credited for the below map, found on the Wikipedia page, “Pipeline Transport.”
Ironically the cost for Russia will be “decertification” of Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
Closer to home: big news came from the Supreme Court today re: the Dakota Access Pipeline. The court declined to hear Energy Transfer’s plea to avoid a legally mandated environmental review.
The ruling is a huge victory for North Dakota tribes including the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe which rallied support from across the world and sued the US government in a campaign to stop the environmentally risky pipeline being built on tribal lands.
It signals the end of the litigation road for the Texan energy company, but the pipeline, known as DAPL and open since 2017, will continue to operate as the review is carried out.
You gotta be on the side of the tribes here, they don’t want a pipeline under their lake. But on the other hand, aren’t pipelines a pretty good way to transport oil? What’s better, trucks? Trains?
Oil and gas is extracted in inconvenient places and is messy to move. The limited pipelines create chokepoints. Remember when “hackers” shut down Colonial? 45% of all the fuel consumed on the East Coast comes through that one pipeline.
A map of US pipelines made using a tool at FracTracker.
Here in greater Los Angeles we have refineries, so several pipelines flow out. If I understand right, just two pipelines, one from here and one from Utah, bring all the necessary jet fuel, heating oil, and gasoline to Las Vegas.
You’d think there’d be one of those books called like Invisible Veins: How Pipelines Run Our Lives but I couldn’t find one. If you look up “pipeline” in books on Amazon, you get a graphic novel, some books about metaphorical “pipelines” like in education and income, and this one:
Beautiful cover. The target audience for that one seems to be those involved in legal matters:
In this edition of Oil and Gas Pipelines in Nontechnical Language, Tom Miesner and Bill Leffler leverage the hundreds of courses they have taught in the past decade, along with the interaction with their audiences, clients, and opposing attorneys to present a totally understandable view of pipeline inception, planning, construction, start-up, and operation. Those experiences allowed them to expand but simplify the complexities of pipelines, including a totally revised chapter on equipment that provides a complete view of pipeline components. A separate chapter on control systems updates this technology.
At over $100 that’s too expensive for a probably very boring book right now, but we did get this one:
and will report
In this lyrical manifesto, noted climate scholar (and saboteur of SUV tires and coal mines) Andreas Malm makes an impassioned call for the climate movement to escalate its tactics in the face of ecological collapse. We need, he argues, to force fossil fuel extraction to stop–with our actions, with our bodies, and by defusing and destroying its tools. We need, in short, to start blowing up some oil pipelines.
Haven’t read it yet, but blowing up an oil pipeline seems like one of the messiest things you could possibly do! You really gotta believe in the ends justifying the means etc. if you’re blowing up pipelines to help reverse ecological collapse.
I wonder if we ought instead to say a prayer for the health and safety of all pipelines!
We’ll let Malm make his case.
Grant’s MemoirsPosted: November 3, 2019 Filed under: America, war Leave a comment
“Man proposes and God disposes.” There are but few important events in the affairs of men brought about by their own choice.
So Grant begins his memoirs. Grant’s voice is clear and unashamed and humble. The role of chance, fate, circumstance, God in determining the course of events, and the much smaller role played by character or our actions, is a key theme.
Grant never would’ve gotten to West Point if not for what happened to young Bartlett Bailey:
Finding before the January examination following that he could not pass, he resigned and went to a private school, and remained there until the following year when he was reappointed. Before the next examination he was dismissed. Dr. Bailey [his father] was a proud and sensitive man, and felt the failure of his son so keenly that he forbade his return home. There were no telegraphs in those days to disseminate news rapidly, no railroads west of the Alleghenies, and but few east; and above all, there were no reporters prying into other people’s private affairs. Consequently it did not become generally known that there was a vacancy at West Point from our district until I was appointed. I presume Mrs. Bailey confided to my mother the fact that Bartlett had been dismissed, and that the doctor had forbidden his son’s return home.
Grant later notes:
Major Bailey was the cadet who had preceded me at West Point. He was killed in West Virginia, in his first engagement.
A poignant family story between these lines.
Maybe it’s no surprise that Grant is an excellent, understated writer. Much of his job as a general was to communicate clear, succinct orders and directives under stressful conditions. Many written orders are included in the book. Compact expression of clear meaning must’ve been a key skill to a Civil War general. Probably a military commander in any era.
Then again I tried to read Sherman’s memoirs and can’t recommend them.
Grant didn’t really want to be a soldier.
Going to West Point would give me the opportunity of visiting the two great cities of the continent, Philadelphia and New York. This was enough.
Later he mentions:
a military life had no charms for me, and I had not the faintest idea of staying in the army even I should be graduated, which I did not expect.
Grant says at this time, he hoped to become a math professor.
The Mexican War breaks out. Grant doesn’t approve, but there he is. He rides from Corpus Christi to San Antonio without seeing a single person until he’s within thirty miles of San Antonio. He joins the expedition to Mexico City.
Considering in tranquility some movements during the Mexican War:
It has always seemed to me that this northern route to the City of Mexico would have been the better one to have taken. But my later experience has taught me two lessons: first, that things are seen plainer after the events have occurred; second, that the most confident critics are generally those who know the least about the matter criticised.
Occupying Mexico City he sees a bullfight:
The sight to me was sickening. I could not see how human beings could enjoy the sufferings of beasts, and often of men, as they seemed to do on these occasions.
Grant is sent to California:
Many of the real scenes in early California life exceed in strangeness and interest any of the mere products of the brain of the novelist. Those early days in California brought out character.
He leaves the army. But the Civil War is approaching:
The great bulk of the legal voters of the South were men who owned no slaves; their homes were generally in the hills and poor country; their facilities for educating their children, even up to the point of reading and writing, were very limited; their interest in the contest was very meagre… Under the old regime they were looked down upon by those who controlled all the affairs in the interest of slave owners, as poor white trash who were allowed the ballot so long as they cast it according to direction.
Grant, quickly, is elevated to command, and starts marching down the Tennessee River, taking Forts Henry and Donelson along the way. But his army is almost driven back into the river on the first day at Shiloh.
Shiloh, as you’ve probably heard, was not a good scene. Two big armies ran into each other and murdered each other for pretty much an entire day. The night after the first day, Grant tries to sleep under a tree in pouring rain:
Some time after midnight, growing restive under the storm and the continuous pain, I moved back to the log-house under the bank. This had been taken as a hospital, and all night wounded men were being brought in, their wounds dressed, a leg or an arm amputated as the case might require, and everything being done to save life or alleviate suffering. The sight was more unendurable than encountering the enemy’s fire, and I returned to my tree in the rain.
Yet, he’s confident:
So confident was I before firing had ceased on the 6th that the next day would bring victory to our arms if we could only take the initiative, that I visited each division commander in person before any reinforcements had reached the field. I directed them to throw out heavy lines of skirmishers in the morning as soon as they could see, and push them forward until they found the enemy… To Sherman I told the story of the assault at Fort Donelson, and said the same tactics would win at Shiloh.
After day two:
I saw an open field, in our possession on the second day, over which the Confederates had made repeated charges the day before, so covered with dead that it would have been possible to walk across the clearing, in any direction, stepping on dead bodies, without a foot touching the ground.
Jason Robards read the Grant parts in Ken Burns Civil War
Every one has his superstitions. One of mine is that in positions of a great responsibility every one should do his duty to the best of his ability where assigned by competent authority, without application or use of influence to change his position.
After Vicksburg fell, Grant was almost killed in New Orleans by a horse that was scared by a locomotive and fell on him. But he makes it out, though he’s on crutches for a bit. Imagine all the times when Grant could’ve been killed, and it was a spooked horse in occupied New Orleans that almost got him.
During the movements around Chattanooga, Grant pauses to consider:
There was no time during the rebellion when I did not think, and often say, that the South was more to be benefited by its defeat than the North. The latter had the people, the institutions, and the territory to make a great and prosperous nation. The former was burdened with an institution abhorrent to all civilized people not brought up under it, and one which degraded labor, kept it in ignorance, and enervated the governing class. With the outside world at war with this institution, they could not have extended their territory. The labor of the country was not skilled, nor allowed to become so. The whites could not toil without becoming degraded, and those who did were denominated “poor white trash.” The system of labor would have soon exhausted the soil and left the people poor. The non-slaveholders would have left the country, and the small slaveholder must have sold out to his more fortunate neighbor. Soon the slaves would have outnumbered the masters, and, not being in sympathy with them, would have risen in their might and exterminated them. The was was expensive to the South as well as to the North, both in blood and treasure, but it was worth all the cost.
That’s enough of Grant’s memoirs for now.
Pretty Clear-Eyed About PowerPosted: March 27, 2018 Filed under: America Since 1945 Leave a comment
Horwitt says that, when Alinsky would ask new students why they wanted to organize, they would invariably respond with selfless bromides about wanting to help others. Alinsky would then scream back at them that there was a one-word answer: “You want to organize for power!“
This anecdote had stuck in my mind from whenever I had first read it. Found it in a March 2017 New Republic piece about then-Senator and candidate Obama.
Hillary wrote her college thesis on Alinsky. Both the last two Democratic nominees for president found the same man in Chicago to study. (And think of how many Bushies were said to learn from Leo Strauss? And Milton Friedman! Chicago, dude).
How should the candidate approach his job?:
This is a tough, realistic worldview:
“Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.”
“Never go outside the expertise of your people.”
“Whenever possible go outside the expertise of the enemy.”
“Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”
“Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.”
“A good tactic is one your people enjoy.”
“A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.”
“Keep the pressure on.”
“The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.”
“The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.”
“If you push a negative hard and deep enough it will break through into its counterside”
“The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.”
“Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”
Using the world enemy is a little dangerous for me, unless you have a Zen-like transcendent understanding of the meaning of enemy and the mutability of enemies.
That TNR piece by the way written Ryan Lizza.
Weird vote in ColombiaPosted: October 21, 2016 Filed under: Uncategorized Leave a comment
Last month there was a weird and surprising vote in Colombia. I’ve been learning myself about it, and let me share the story as I understand it:Here is messy, mountainous Colombia. For some fifty-two years, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, fought the government. FARC’s origins are Communisty, with their main grievance being rich people have all the best stuff in Colombia. In their war their crimes are many and so are the government’s.
Nasty would be a mild word for this fight.
If you’re new to Colombian history it’s easy to lump this 52 year war in with the period known as La Violencia, but no, La Violencia was a whole separate ten year time, starting in 1948, in which maybe 200,000 people died.
Here’s how we got to the vote. The last president of Colombia, Álvaro Uribe, was what you might call “aggressive” in his tactics towards FARC.
Makes sense: FARC killed his dad. His efforts severely diminished FARC if not knocked it to the ropes.
Uribe oversaw, for example, Operation Jaque, that freed Ingrid Betancourt from her FARC captors.There’s no doubt the USA has been helping the government on this, by the way. Why shouldn’t we? The Colombians helped us in our Korean War for some reason.
By the time Uribe left office, in 2010, FARC was not what it used to be. Here is Uribe’s successor, Colombia’s current president, Juan Manuel Santos:
Colombia entered the Korean War when Laureano Gómez was elected as President. It was the only Latin American country to join the war in a direct military role as an ally of the United States. Particularly important was the resistance of the Colombian troops at Old Baldy.
First secretly, then publicly, his guys negotiated with FARC in Havana. The two sides reached an agreement that would end what Santos called the last armed conflict in the Western Hemisphere.
The guy leading FARC is called Timochenko:
According to the United States Department of State, Timoleon Jimenez has set the FARC’s cocaine policies directing and controlling the production, manufacture, and distribution of hundreds of tons of cocaine to the United States and the world, including the “taxation” of the illegal drug trade in Colombia to raise funds for the FARC and the murder of hundreds of people who violated or interfered with the FARC’s cocaine policies
Santos and Timochenko shook hands at a meeting in Havana in June.
All that had to happen to ratify the accord was that Colombia’s people vote on it. Guess what happened?:
Don’t know where CNN got this number, The Economist says 13m people voted. Anyway, low turnout in a country of 47 million, partly because there was a hurricane.
Perhaps many NO voters thought it was bullshit that FARC murderers would get to be in parliament and wouldn’t be punished much for their various cruelties. Says The Economist:
People who live in areas where the FARC has recently been active mostly backed the deal. “We are the ones who’ve had to live with bullets flying around us,” says Freddy Rendón, a cattle rancher in Uribe, a town in Meta, in central Colombia, where Yes won 93.5% of the vote. Those who live in more peaceful parts, including cities, voted No.
After the votes were counted, everybody was apparently surprised and nobody knew what would happen next.
Then, in a funny twist, Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Maybe to give the whole project a peaceward shove from Norway. Some cynics suggested Santos was a little too thirsty for the prize. That’s a little vain perhaps but is it so wrong? There is something funny about how much humans like prizes.What will happen now is unclear. FARC doesn’t seem dying to go back to fighting. Maybe they can’t, in which case Colombian’s voters are, collectively, clever if sneaky negotiators who pulled quite a trick.
Me? I’m rooting for peace in Colombia, a country I very much enjoyed visiting.You can read more about Colombia, what little I know of it, written at about this level, in my book:
Only if you like tales of fun and adventure.
Amazon or your local indie bookstore. Pick one up at South Congress Books in Austin, TX for example.
I think you’ll enjoy it.
Off We GoPosted: May 15, 2016 Filed under: America Since 1945, explorers, heroes, history, people, the California Condition Leave a comment
Watching Trumbo –> reading about 30 Seconds Over Tokyo
Before I knew it I was looking at the US Air Force’s photo archive specifically photos tagged “history.”
Aviation history has never been a passion of mine but let’s just browse some of the highlights. Pearl Harbor:
Captain Mary T. Klinker:
Father and son:
An explosion 95 years ago:
How about Betty Gillies?:
Cool. Here is My Girl, 1945.
That must be in New England someplace, believe it is near Auburn, MA:
Look, I’m not saying these Air Force photos are any Record Group 80: Series: General Photographic File of the Navy, 1939-1945, the Air Force wasn’t around yet. But some of them are great. I mean:
Dr. John Paul Stapp, the fastest man on Earth:
The Hop A Long to the Rescue:
Can’t help but think of: