04 May 2009

Links of the Day

  • Kings of War linked to a fascinating piece in The New Yorker about modern conflict, noting that the "underdogs" in modern conflict have actually had more success against more powerful armies than one might initially think. Of course, this is not news to those who have studied John Boyd. John Boyd took a look at nearly every conflict over the last hundred or so years, noting all sorts of statistics regarding the firepower and manpower of the two opposing sides. He observed that the side with superior firepower and manpower was only successful about 2/3 of the time, and those victories usually occurred when the weaker side decided to face the stronger opponent conventionally. Rather, Boyd noted that victory in battle did not necessarily come to the stronger side (in terms of manpower and firepower), but rather to those that could operate within the cycle of one's OODA (Observe-Orient-Decide-Act) Loop. That is to say that victory came to the side that could best observe and anticipate the enemy's actions, sow confusion in the minds of their enemy, and display tactical agility by quickly shifting from one maneuver to the next. In Boyd's view of war, agility and speed beats firepower. Or, as T.E. Lawrence noted, the key elements in war are "speed and time, not hitting power". The author of the New Yorker article studies just that concept in an article regarding "Davids" and "Goliaths", using analogies from Wall Street, basketball, and of course, T.E. Lawrence. It brings up a number of great examples of quick decision-making (Wall Street), as well as the power of outsiders who were able to defy the established norms of the military system.


  • About two weeks ago, I was discussing my travels in Latin America, musing at the fact that many farmers resort to growing narcotics because legitimate crop growing simply won't provide food for their families. It moved one poster to note that war was not the answer to many solutions. I appreciate the poster's comments, to be certain. In fact, I'm certain many Soldiers will actually agree to a point. After all, even the great Sun-Tzu noted that war was the most serious matter of the state, and should only be embarked upon after great deliberation. But, unfortunately, the Machiavellian character in me (or maybe Robert Greene) notes that conflict is, for better or worse, an essential component of human behavior. If we aren't engaging in physical conflict, we're engaging in economic conflict, political conflict or social conflict. In fact, a great article from Overcoming Bias today examined just that concept--that, unfortunately, our animal survival instincts spur us to constantly seek and thrive on some sort of conflict. In fact, that's why we love stories so much—we love to see characters engage in some sort of conflict. As Robert Greene notes in his trilogy of books, it benefits all to learn about power, seduction and conflict. What better way to arm ourselves against these phenomena?

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