Bill Lind has contributed great things to the intellectual culture of the Marine Corps. He played the drum roll for the Marine Corps’ march into the world of Maneuver warfare. He had a hand in the acquisition of the Light Armored Vehicle, and thus an impact on our reconnaissance tactics. He continues to influence Marines through the recent addition of his “canon” to the Commandant’s reading list.
There are many things we do as Marines that can be traced back to Lind.
However, one of the things we do as a result of his influence needs to end. We must put our use of his generational model behind us, delivering it to the dustbin! When Lind locks an army into a specific generation he encourages reductionist thinking. When Lind places this army into his mildly Marxist model of warfare he risks leading his readers into that deadly intellectual vice, fatalism.
His idea is reductionist because he treats armies as mechanical institutions unavoidably restricted by a geist. He casually categorizes the victor and the defeated into two different generations. For example, he describes the blitzkrieg used by Hitler's army as 3rd Generation, thus making the German army "3GW", while the static tactics of the French Army make them 2GW. In the early stages of WWII when the German's defeated the French, Bill Lind would say that their army was qualitatively beyond the French’s such that the French had no hope.
This model for judging historical conflict belongs to the lazy-man historian. It discourages in-depth studies of the why behind a victor’s success and a loser’s defeat. With the generational model, all you do is say, “Oh, he lost because he was 3rd generation vice 2nd.” This becomes problematic when you look at historical examples of armies that defy this dialectic formula.
Take the Confederate and the Union armies. With Generals like Lee and Jackson, the American South meets many of the criteria for a 3rd Generation army, their actions are often "based not on firepower and attrition but speed, surprise, and mental as well as physical dislocation." The Union Army quite the opposite. The South lost.
Take the Polish underground, and their 4th generation manner of fighting. They meet the criteria. They were hardly a purely nationalist movement, and their anti-communism was no less cultural than the anti-Americanism of Osama bin-Laden and al Qaeda. They were soundly defeated by the Soviets.
The generation model is a lazy man’s frame for a photograph taken by an amateur.
To the fatalism. Any American military thinker buying into Lind’s model will look upon our Defense Services with dismay as he accepts with faith that this qualitative dialectic exists, and he believes that his institution cannot beat the synthesis. He’ll next attempt to move the leviathan and establish a new zeitgeist, but in the end he’ll realize institutions are institutions. Then he will leave the fight bitter, an unbalanced intellect who criticizes his former employer as blind, and always headed for disaster. The price of the shallowness of the generation model is a useful intellect spent wastefully as a result of poor philosophical formation.