Wednesday, December 14, 2011

500 Words or Less

GENOCIDE: Killing the next Generation of War

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.


  1. Hear, hear. The generations model ignores thousands of years of military history in order to shoehorn reality into the construct.

  2. Additionally, the generations model tends to spin through numbers like a gas pump ringing up the total these days as every junior pundit wants to make a name by identifying that next generation of adaptation. Concur heartily with your assessment.

  3. Absolutely Agreed. Our 4th Generation military was almost defeated in Iraq asymmetrically by the tribal nature of the insurgents. General Keane said we "Came within months to weeks of being defeated" We always must understand and know the enemy. Their cultural history and cultural psychology and how all these many facets will respond militarily to our presence. It is also a lesson learned that is Never learned.

  4. Marcus Poulin, from my reading of Bill Lind I think he would say and I believe he has said that we do not have a 4th Generation Military. Slapout9

  5. Yes. I we are a third generation military confronting 4GW, in the taxonomy. Many of the features they point out are valid, but I don't like the overall package.

  6. Actually, we are a second generational military system with a third generational doctrine. That is the point of contention and frustration that our company grade and below intuitively understand now...and continue to highlight in articles like The Attritionist Letters.

    Mr. Mazzara, that is not quite what generational intellectuals are saying. On the contrary, they are simply tracking how the state organizes and understands warfare, how it prepares for it, and ultimately how it is designed to fight (or wants to fight). It highlights tipping points - when nation states radically change their approach to exploit the weaknesses of others - and recognizes the "generational" shift in thinking and organizational methods of other nation states in response. It also points out the dangers of historical bias.

    You obviously don't agree with Mr. Lind's views...good to go. Don't read one in this gun club is jamming it down your throat. But to say that it should be thrown in the dustbin? That is a dangerous mindset to have young padawan. The reason why Mr. Lind has such a profound effect on Marines is because he inspires us to read more and do more critical research on our own. He lead us to John Boyd. I would love to hear what you think of Patterns of Conflict and the Strategic Game of Interaction versus Isolation.
    Focus on this. Now, as has been the case through history, many different entities, not just governments of states, will wage war, and they will wage war for many different reasons, not just “the extension of politics by other means.” They will use many different tools to fight war, not restricting themselves to what we recognize as military forces.
    Mr. Lind is not saying that anything is new or categorically better. What he is saying is that armed forces designed to fight other state armed forces will not be successful when the game changes and they find themselves fighting against non-state actors. The fact that no state military has recently succeeded in defeating a nonstate enemy reminds us that Clio, the patron goddess of history, has a sense of humor; she teaches us that not all problems have a pre-packaged solution - and at the end of the day it is all a thinking man's game. At least Mr. Lind has thrown a hand on the table...

  7. Bill Lind's 4 Generations of Modern War is extremely useful. One element missing from the discussion above is that any understanding of history is "reductionist.". It has to be. The real question is whether it is useful in understanding where we are and where we're going. In this sense, the 4 Generations framework is like a map, which is also a simplified representation of reality. If any of those that dislike Mr. Lind's framework can suggest a better one, then they should share it. Otherwise, I would suggest that they are simply lost without a map.

  8. Anonymous,

    1) Being a company grade officer, I think the point of contention for most is less that we're a 2nd Generation military and more that we're micromanaged about things like annual training and PTP by a level of command rungs higher than the Battalion and even the Regiment, things that don't fit our mission. There have been several articles on this in the Gazette recently, and the blogosphere, I won't belabor this issue with more detail.

    My point is that if there is a "3rd generation army" that's ever existed, it being an army of a State it will necessarily have the same bureacratic difficulties of a "2nd Generation army," which is also a State army. So appealing to frustrations with garrison, and even in country bureacracy, I'd love to see a State military exist without it. The great thing about our troops is that they fight and win in spite of it.

    Our maneuver doctrine is hardly anything new or revolutionary, the only new and revolutionary aspect of our doctrine is that it attempts to lay out for the US military specific universal principles about "fighting smart." Collect all the good points into one easily referenced place.

    2) Don't read someone I disagree with? I'd just be embracing intellectual stagnation. I agree that Lind does just as you say, in fact I mentioned so in the opening of the piece.

    As to the dustbin, Carthago delenda est.

    3) You said: What he is saying is that armed forces designed to fight other state armed forces will not be successful when the game changes and they find themselves fighting against non-state actors.

    Again, there's the defeatism, and that rascal Hegel rearing his ugly head. By calling it something other than insurgency, and putting it within a dialectical framework, you're ignoring the fac that these things don't need to be defeated, they need merely to be neutralized. All States exist with turmoil and violent elements, some more than others. The key is not to say "we can never defeat them." The key is "how do we bring a balance to this situation that neutralized their effects."

  9. Maj Thiele,

    "If any of those that dislike Mr. Lind's framework can suggest a better one, then they should share it."

    Sir, technical proficiency. Know the capabilities and limits of your technology. Study cases and learn the why behind victory and defeat.

    Was it logistics? Was it a turn in the wind? Was it technology? Was it industry? Was it the military's culture? Whatever it was, it certainly wasn't because the two armies (or States, or stakeholders) were operating within two seperate generations.

    Bring rigor, and let reductionism be a natural consequence, a result of the nature of history, and not something forced on your study by some unnecessary mental framework.

  10. Joe,

    The Generations framework identifies a qualitative dialectical shift in war. Some of the factors you mention (technology, industry,etc.) are simply tools. A 2d or 3d generation military will need these things although how they are used by each will differ significantly. They do not determine which generation a military belongs to.

    For instance, the French and Germans each had tanks in May 1940, but each side married these weapons to radically different concepts of employment, supported by radically different philosophies and military cultures. I recommend that you read "The Seeds of Disaster," "The Breaking Point" and "Stormtroop Tactics." These books will help give more substance to this post.

  11. Maj Thiele,

    Sir, the application of a qualitative dialectic shift to our understanding of developments in warfighting is exactly what I am arguing against.

    I've read "The Breaking Point," and "Stormtroop Tactics," neither affect my opinion that framing our study of war within a 'qualitiative dialectic' will lead to defeatism, and that it prescribes a reductionist view of history, two things that should be avoided.

    Reduction happens in the study of history due to the nature of history and the human mind. No need to add another layer of reduction before you get started.

  12. I have a better theory or rather after doing a lot of investigation you guys should listen to the Polar Bear Tapes. These were actual recordings of Colonel Boyd speaking to Marines about his theory and after hearing them myself I am convinced that Boyd had a very differnat concept of Warfighting as opposed to what Lind and others have said he meant. The Boyd Theory of Warfighting has never trulty been developed.

  13. Slapout,

    Where can one find the Polar Bear Tapes? I couldn't agree more with you on Boyd. I have practically applied his theories here in Afghanistan and am now convinced that he wasn't just in the ball park - he was dead on!

  14. As one of the authors of The Attritionist Letters, I can assure you - it was calling attention to the fact that we still operate in a 2nd Generational System and we are fighting against a 4th Generational advesary.

    2nd Generation: tactics of linear fire and movement, with reliance on indirect fire. This type of warfare can be seen the early stages of WWI, where there was still strict adherence to drill and discipline of formation and uniform, but the dependence on artillery and firepower to break the stalemate and move towards a pitched battle.

    We are talking about the same thing. In order to maintain a 2nd Generational System, you need overly centralized, prescriptive and corregraphed training and micromanagement. It is exactly what Boyd talked about in Patterns of Conflict wrt Napolean. As a general, he embraced maneuver warfare, trust and mission type orders. However, once he became emperor, he became obsessed with control, supervision and dictating all movements. We see that in our current system. Although decentralized execution, trust, adaptability, etc worked for them as company grade officers, certain general officers in our corps continue to tighten the screws to prevent "statistics" from rising - eventhough they are killing the very thing that made them successful. That is why the conversation was between a general and a captain - it was meant to show the internal conversation between the older wiser brain and the younger agressive spirit.

    We remain annonymous for a reason - it magnifies the affect because we can't be specifically targeted by name or rank. You have to deal with the message...not the messenger.

    I have to ask...have you ever actually listen to or talked to Bill Lind in person?

  15. Anonymous,

    I have not, though I would welcome the opportunity.

  16. All, here is a link to the SWJ/SWC thread on the Maneuver Warfare Handbook by Bill Lind that I started a while back. In the thread you will see Polarbear1605 who is a retired Marine officer who placed a tape recorder at one of Boyd's presentations to a small group of Marine officers. The tapes have been converted to CD's and cost about $30.00. You can find ordering information by looking up Ploarbear. It is nearly 12 hours of Boyd himself explaing his whole theory of Warfare....which is a lot differant from what you may have heard. Colonel Wylie (who contibuted to Lind's book) was present during this lecture. Hear is the link.

  17. Anon Dec 27, 1005,
    If you are going to condescend the author from a position of supposed seniority, at least have the courage to post under your own name.