05 May 2009

Didn’t that guy lose?

Most of the Aviation Captains' Career Course is spent studying the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP), which means that we spent quite a bit of time, well, tracing lines on acetate and trying to predict the next moves of an enemy Soviet Division Tactical Group.

At the end of the end-of-course exam, I was surprised to learn that I actually did well. The trick was, of course, to simply follow the instructions in the Army manual, and I really couldn't go wrong.

Fast forward to the present day. I find that my reward for moving up in the world is to do MDMP once again. Great. Well, time to pull out the book and see how it's done. I started opening the book to chapter two or so and started reading. "MDMP is a proven decision-making model". Okay, so far so good. But then I saw something in the introduction. Seems that the US Army credits and bases its model for staff planning and operations on German General Helmuth von Moltke.

(Ed. Note--The book isn't specific if it's referring to the elder or younger Helmuth von Moltke, so in the interests of painting a more amusing story, I will base it on the younger Moltke, who is certainly the more well-known of the two)

Helmuth von Moltke (the younger) is infamous for spending decades painstakingly and meticulously planning the invasion of France which would ultimately occur in August of 1914—and for completely fucking it up.

Barbara Tuchman, in The Guns of August, paints a picture of a German General Staff that designed the operation, known as the Schlieffen Plan, as a near tribute to the late Prussian military thinker Karl von Clausewitz. However, as Lt. Col. John Nagl is keen to point out, German officers such as Moltke often took lines from Clausewitz out of context, misquoted him, or misattributed maxims to him which were actually written by lesser military theorists (e.g., Jomini).

To be certain, Moltke spent years, decades even, planning all sorts of aspects of the operation—from mobilizing the troops, to transporting them to the front lines, to arming them, to their invasion route, to how long it would take to travel a certain distance over certain types of terrain…the list goes on. Every time I envision Moltke planning, I imagine him playing the battle over and over again with 20-sided Dungeons and Dragons dice assessing casualties on both sides, factoring in hit points for German troops versus French troops, etc.

Unfortunately, the planning process was not without its flaws. The German General Staff must have made some errors in the "Facts and Assumptions" PowerPoint slide. Or whatever they had in those days. Anyway, they had always assumed that the Russians would not be able to mobilize quickly, allowing them to defeat France and then turn their entire attention towards Russia. Unfortunately, the Germans underestimated the speed of Russian mobilization, forcing them to fight a war on two fronts.

When it was suggested that Moltke move some troops away from the march on Paris and divert them to the east, towards delaying the Russians, Moltke was in hysterics, screaming that the plan was already in place—they couldn't change the plan!

Raise your hand if you've ever heard that line once the mission got underway. (Maybe Moltke needed to insert a "decision point" somewhere. Did he have poor Commander's Critical Intelligence Requirements?)

Moltke also failed to realize that his little shortcut through Belgium would not only infuriate much of the world, but also lead the Belgians to begin to sabotage the German war machine as it marched into France. His wargames also didn't take into account the fact that communications could often be cut off, disrupted, or misinterpreted.

In sum, I only bring this up because, well, I didn't actually finish my PowerPoint slides for my mission analysis tomorrow.

But you know what, I think that the story of Helmuth von Moltke provides me with an incredible excuse.

Stay tuned tomorrow when we find out if my excuse actually worked.

PS-- There are many good things to be said about the military decision making process—it provides a very thorough approach to solving problems and planning missions. But like all systems, it rests upon the intellect of those using it. A number of key factors can be overlooked if one is not careful. Moltke's scientific approach to war discounted many of the political factors which ultimately resulted in a German quagmire on two fronts. Although it should be said that viewing war as purely art has its drawbacks as well. The French felt that superior firepower could be overcome not with intelligence, not with tactical agility, but rather with elan—a sort of superior fighting spirit and audacity. After a few days of fighting, it was painfully obvious that the indomitable human spirit was no match for high-powered rifles and machine guns.

The following video perfectly juxtaposes Moltke's meticulously detailed, albeit flawed planning with the French spirit of elan, as embodied in a Frenchman known as "Leroy". Throw in an unexpected event, and add in Moltke's insistence of "sticking to the plan", and you get…

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