25 February 2010

Military History and Confirmation Bias

Over the past month, I've been doing some research on the 2006 Lebanon War for CENSA's upcoming essay compilation. One of the things that struck me was how many COINtras have used the war to "prove" that the IDF either spent too much time conducting counterinsurgency, and how many COINdinistas used the war to "prove" that the IDF spent too much time preparing to fight armored formations. Gotta love that confirmation bias.

This morning, I decided to take a break from the Lebanon War and started to read an essay from Jonathan B. A. Bailey, which appeared in the book The Past as Prologue. Interestingly enough, after reading the first paragraph of the essay, I realized I had stumbled upon a thoughtful perspective on the punditry surrounding the Lebanon war.

Although Mr. Bailey's essay, "The Pathology of Lessons Learned", speaks of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904, the following excerpt could just as easily apply to the mountain of literature which surrounds the Lebanon War.

[The War] was short but intense, leaving the world shocked and enthralled by its drama. A large number of foreign military observers and journalists witnessed its conduct. Their findings were widely publicized in popular books and official studies. Pundits immediately acknowledged that the war offered important insights into the nature of future conflict at a time of seemingly revolutionary technological change and social upheaval, as well as a novel strategic geography...[Hybrid War, anyone?]

...It is hard to identify any lesson of the war that was not appreciated or documented at the time. Inevitably, many of these lessons were contradictory, peculiar to the theatre, and more or less appropriate to different military cultures. Moreover, observers viewed those lessons through the distorting lenses of political intrigue, social attitude, military orthodoxy, and wishful thinking. The result was what historians at the beginning of the twenty-first century see now as having been clear auguries of the future of warfare generally went unheeded. The military organizations of the time often proved lethally wide of the mark. Perhaps the greatest lesson of the war was how human folly can arrive at lessons that in the end prove to be self-destructive and delusional to a gargantuan degree.
Learn to suffer the pundits...

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