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Allanea’s Handy Guide To Military Incompetence and Errors

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Allanea
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Allanea’s Handy Guide To Military Incompetence and Errors

Postby Allanea » Fri Aug 19, 2016 1:09 pm

Allanea’s Handy Guide To Military Incompetence and Military Errors

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INTRODUCTION


Military incompetence (and competence) are the stuff of famous works of fiction and non-fiction. Anti-war films thrive on the subject - the notion of a military unit abandoned by its commanders to a pointless mission, a platoon lost deep in enemy territory, young men sacrificed by their cruel commanders, forced into meaningless charges across no man’s land, those things are the stuff of countless military films - Lebanon, Starship Troopers, Ninth Company (actually a war propaganda film under the guise of an anti-war film). Action cinema is also in love with the trope. Villains in adventure films are often portrayed as being incompetent, sending countless faceless goons to face off against the hero. (Soviet propaganda often portrayed Nazi commanders as incompetent maniacs and Tsarist commanders as arrogant buffoons.) Terrorists are also sometimes (not unjustifiably) portrayed as stupid or incompetent, such as in the film True Lies. The Vietnam-era film Siege of Firebase Gloria portrays both an incompetent US commander and incompetent North Vietnamese fighters.

Unfortunately, portrayals of military incompetence in cinema suffer from multiple problems. They are often flawed due to political biases of the writers or directors (the historical advisor for the production for the play Oh! What a Lovely War was literally a KGB spy), or sometimes because of the directors’ lack of understanding of what constitutes incompetence. This creates vastly exaggerated portrayals - for example, the silliness seen in the Starship Troopers film during the invasion of Klendathu, or indeed the entire second half of 9th Company where we are exposed to a portrayal wherein the Ninth Company is somehow forgotten in Afghanistan (in the real battle on which the film was based, the Company was deployed deliberately to protect the retreat of forces from Afghanistan. It was not only not forgotten, but received constant artillery support that rained fire on the Mujahedin. Of course, the real Ninth Company wasn’t wiped out like in the film - it lost six men and inflicted vast casualties.

Another good example of the fictionalization of incompetence is the insane scene shown in Enemy at the Gates, where endless Soviet soldiers are seen rushing into the Nazi machine guns, armed with one rifle per two men, while a commissar with a bullhorn shouts instructions at them to take the rifleman’s weapon should he fall dead. Were there many, many examples of institutional stupidity in the RKKA? Yes! Were the casualties vast? Yes! Were the men at Stalingrad actually herded dumbly towards the Nazi guns, as in the film? No. That is nonsense.


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A thing that never happened


So what causes military incompetence and military errors? What are their roots? Now obviously professional historians have broken many lances over this topic. I don’t claim to be an expert (though some aspects of military decisionmaking do form the topic of my PhD dissertation), but in this informative I’ll attempt to look at various causes of military error and incompetence. This is both to enable players to write about this topic realistically - to either roleplay the forms of incompetence and error what would be endemic to their form of government and national culture, and to assist them in worldbuilding competent, semi-competent, and incompetent military establishments.

For reasons of brevity and due to the limits on my own knowledge, the guide will focus primarily on military competence as it pertains to warfare in the industrial and post-industrial age (roughly 1890 through to what is called in Nationstates ‘PMT’ technology). FT is not covered at all (as we don’t really have a meaningful idea of what a far-future society will be like), and less advanced eras will be only touched upon tangentially.


Personal Incompetence


Personal military incompetence is frequently caricatured. Media often portray incompetent generals as fools and madmen, or sometimes even outright evil, disregarding their men’s casualties as they throw hundreds of men to their deaths. In fiction we can see this portrayal in Blackadder Goes Forth and Braveheart, where Edward I is shown ordering archers to fire in a manner that would endanger his own troops. Sometimes it is done to make the villain a foil to the hero (who, of course, defeats the villain while protecting the lives of his own men as much as possible), at other times it is because the author or filmmaker wants to create an image of warfare as futile and meaningless. In some cultures, writers and artists - the people creating the shows - simply have a stereotype of military men as uncouth, stupid, and cruel. However, this portrayal is simplistic and overly fictionalized.

Of course, sometimes, downright idiots do in fact get appointed to positions of military command. Sometimes it is an accident, sometimes it happens due to institutional reasons - which we will cover in latter chapters. But, importantly, most military commanders are not idiots. In modern societies, it’s because to become a senior commander, it is necessary to undergo specialized training and education (a university education is typically mandatory for senior offices, on top of years of training). While this does not guarantee brilliance, this does mean the average level of intelligence and education will be greater than those of the general public. In earlier eras, military commanders tended to come from social strata that had better access to education than the average person of the era.

So while it does sometimes happen that military commanders make tragic mistakes, the reason for it is quite often not simply them being stupid. If there is anything at all military history teaches us it is that intelligent, well-educated people can commit terrible blunders, leading to devastation and tragedy on a truly Homeric scale.

(As a curio, it’s generally suggested that the Achaeans brought between 70,000 and 130,000 men to siege Troy. I feel this could be used as an estimate to identify the scope of a literal epic conflict.)

Some personality flaws that can be leading to military incompetence have been outlined by Norman F. Dixon, a veteran and scientist, in his famous work, On the Psychology of Military Incompetence. He argued that military incompetence often results from what is termed by psychologists authoritarian personality traits. At the time it was fashionable among psychologists to associate elements of the ‘authoritarian’ personality with political views they disapproved of. Dixon argued that subconscious neuroses or childhood trauma could lead individuals to develop personal traits that could lead them to failure as commanders. For example, a person could possess what had been termed, in Dixon’s work, the anal character - an excessive attention to detail, discipline, and ritual. In military life this sort of attitude is of course very desirable in a drill sergeant, a military policeman, or a safety inspector (with the caveat, of course, that one must not overdo it). In a combat officer it may easily prove lethal, should an officer (on the simplest example) waste time on bunk inspections, parade drills, or polishing buttons that could have been used to enhance battle preparedness.

Another psychological dysfunction sometimes present in military commanders - and identified by Dixon - is the fear of failure. In this context, fear of failure is identified not merely as literally fearing failure (obviously, nobody wants to fail), but a condition where the ‘fear of failure is stronger than the urge to succeed. This may lead generals to unconsciously avoid tasks where they may fail, choosing either tasks where their probability of success is very high (very easy tasks) or nearly impossible (very hard, in which case they won’t be blamed for failing). It is easy to imagine that in a prolonged war such commanders might avoid engagements for fear of being blamed of losing them, and thus actually fail at defeating the enemy and bring about worse disaster in the long term. Sometimes it may lead to a general failing to exploit an opportunity, or making the correct decision only when it too late. This behavior - risk-averseness - may be compounded by cultural and institutional issues we will discuss in later chapters. Another problem with people possessing the authoritarian personality is their tendency to shift blame to their subordinates, so as to avoid being seen as having failed.

Another feature of the authoritarian personality is often linked to what is termed by some writers as ‘toxic masculinity’, but does sometimes appear in women too - the desire of a military commander to appear ‘strong’ or ‘ruthless’. In a combat context this might lead to the commander believing that he can solve complex military issues simply by applying more firepower or throwing more forces into the fray, or by carrying out more indiscriminate attacks. (This is not to say that increasing firepower or carrying out attacks that kill civilians never works - but rather that doing so blindly and indiscriminately often follows from this personality flaw.) In addition to this, people who suffer from the authoritarian personality tend to value other people less - one can imagine easily how terrifying this can become in a military scenario.

Dixon and his various disciples (who have gone on to apply the lessons of A Psychology of Military Incompetence to topics like academic and corporate management argued that individuals who possess the authoritarian personality are often described as more dishonest, less likely to understand opponent's intentions (they are less able than the average person to see themselves in the opponent’s proverbial shoes), less willing to accept change (think here of the various anecdotes of army general being unable to accept new technologies), more likely to insist on blind obedience, and more likely to underestimate the opposition, as well as use various racial and cultural stereotype of their enemy.

More broadly, those persons possessing the authoritarian personality are often obsessed not so much with success or victory in the objective world, but with notions of dominance and submission. According to supporters of the theory, persons of the authoritarian personality type would rather punish his troops painfully than accept a failure of discipline (which he views as an affront to his own dignity), or expend resources assaulting an enemy position as he would consider it humiliating (not only to himself, but to the uniform and national dignity) to back down.

Now it is important to state here that some elements of authoritarian personality theory have been questioned by psychologists and have not been borne out experimentally. The research carried out by Dixon himself into the military history aspect of his book was minimal, and essentially just replicates the accepted wisdom of his time. To some extent the theory also suffers from a degree of political bias, conceived as it was by Frankfurt School Marxists. It should also be viewed as a guideline and not a template - some individuals will display some elements of the Authoritarian Personality but not all of them. Whether or not the theory is true, we’ve all met individuals who can be somewhat described by it.

Another issue which can affect military decision-making is the peculiarities of a person’s particular talent. For example, Napoleon Bonaparte is often described by biographers as a brilliant tactical and operational genius - it’s hard to call Bonaparte incompetent in the sense which is often ascribed to cartoonish cinema generals. Yet he had sometimes made fatal errors when failing to completely account for military logistics (famously, during planning for his invasion of Russia), or engineering issues. One account of the battle of Waterloo claims that Napoleon had failed to have complete reconnaissance of the battlesite made, and ordered one of his Cuirassier units to charge through an area where there was a narrow ditch, which the Emperor of France had failed to see from his command post. By the time that the Cuirassiers were able to see the ditch, it was already too late to stop the charge. Dozens of horses flew at full speed into the ditch, bone crunching as legs broke, riders crushed alongside the horses, the men riding in the rear smashing into the men in the front - the attack broken entirely. Now while this account is disputed, something of this vein - omitting a crucial detail that then leads to horrific slaughter is something that can happen to many commanders.

In broader terms, a military commander must combine - in different proportions for different duties - several functions. He must be an educated manager (at higher rankings, many military professionals in Western have actual MBAs to go with their military training) to handle the logistics and planning necessary to have his unit’s training and supplies up to date in peacetime and during war. He must be an intelligent, and preferably creative, thinker, to be able to respond to the challenges of wartime and emergencies. Finally he must be a charismatic and brave person, to be able to lead his men into battle; would you be happy to risk yourself at the orders of someone whom you know to be a cowardly, annoying, possibly dishonest boss? Different military duties require some of these elements more than others - a Divisional Logistics Officer is more in need of managerial skills, whereas an infantry platoon commander needs the charisma more. But one can easily see how a lack of one of these skills when they are needed can lead to disaster.

One such famous example of a person having some command skills but not others was Marshal Budyonny, the famous Soviet Civil War hero. Reputed as a brave and fiercely loyal military commander, popular among his men and general public, Budyonny nevertheless proved badly fitted for commanding men in the industrial hell of the Second World War. After multiple terrible mishaps that led to the deaths of thousands of men, Budyonny was at last relegated by Stalin to a honorific position removed from actual combat decisionmaking.

A special note on Morale: One issue that affects both enlisted men and officers is the issue of morale. While morale is important in all enterprises (including in civilian life - just ask an HR management on employee morale and its importance), it’s particularly important in the military and the emergency services. Because it so important we need to discuss some of the ways it can fail.

Obviously the morale of troops can be sapped by misfortune. It is hard to remain brave when you have been living in the trenches for months, or when the enemy is chasing you back through the countryside and killing at will, or when you are lacking in food and clothing. Enemy propaganda - and domestic peace movements - can sap morale too. Indeed, sometimes peace movements coordinate, willingly or unwittingly, with the enemy’s troops.

Less obviously, morale issues can be caused by inadequate training. Part of the purpose of military training is to prepare civilians for the vicissitudes of war - its dangers, and the grinding physical discomfort that accompanies the military life, the lack of sleep, the dirt, the shortages of food. In some cases - especially in superstitious societies - it can be destroyed by bad omens. During the Ethiopian-Somali War, Ethiopian tank crews refused to fight at night - no threats or cajoling by the Soviet instructors could make them do it.

But morale issues are not only the unwillingness to fight. Sometimes soldiers can be just too lazy if they have not been accustomed to hard labor. The same Ethiopian soldiers also refused to clean their tanks, or to dig trenches in preparation for combat with the Somalis. Even the deaths of their comrades before their very eyes to Somali artillery fire could not force them to alter this behavior, and it was only when Soviet instructors forced them at gunpoint to dig several trenches, and they saw for themselves the ability of the trench to save lives, did their behavior alter.

Avoiding combat for too long may sometimes also dull morale as soldiers begin to perceive their service as meaningless and their commanders as too cowardly, or in some cases, become accustomed simply to not having to fight. Soldiers who are under enemy fire and cannot shoot back suffer damage to their morale as well; indeed, that is known to be more psychologically damaging than being engaged in actual combat. History knows many examples of soldiers who start out as being eager to fight, but whose morale suffers due to combat being delayed - either simply through being pampered in comparable living, or, conversely, exhausted by the daily grind of military life.


Institutional and Organizational Incompetence


While personal incompetence is a very important issue, of course, the military is first of all an institution - or, at more detail an assembly of complicated social institutions. It is often said that we live in the age of industrial warfare - not simply through the sense that we make our guns and bombs in production factories and resupply our troops with boots and socks that have been made and knitted by machines - but because the modern military follows the organizational principles of a large industrial enterprise. The primary principle of the modern armed services, just like the primary principle of modern capitalism, is the division of labor.

Those of us who are more or less familiar with the armed service are well aware of the existence of a broad variety of weaponry and military professions - infantrymen, tank crews, artillerymen, and fighter pilots, and of course all those things that are sometimes included under the umbrella of military logistics - warehouses full of guns and uniforms, trucks and field kitchens. What is sometimes less appreciated is the amount of complexity that goes into carrying out military decisions.

The Soviet or Russian mechanized infantry regiment included in it, for example, units of infantry, a tank battalion, an artillery battalion, an AA battalion, a reconnaissance company, a combat engineer company, a signals company, an anti-tank battery, an NBC protection platoon, a repair company, a logistics support company, a medical unit and even an orchestra! In combat these people would be stretched out several kilometers wide and perhaps a dozen kilometers deep. Imagine administering all of this - practically impossible for a man to do on his own.

The regiment’s commander would have a team of officers - each with a different specialization - working with him in his headquarters to administer all the regiment’s affairs, running commands down to the commanders of all these battalions and companies, advising him on various matters (for example, the regimental artillery officer would have a clearer understanding of how the regiment’s artillery works and what it can do for the commander than the regiment’s commanding officer). It is best to imagine this group of people like a human computer - a bit like the Chinese Room, it can carry out intellectual tasks which not a single human being could carry out.

But should this computer fail - should the organizational arrangements that allow it to solve military tasks fail - even if you have decent, intelligent people working in it, it will fail at its task. The author of this brief piece was once present - as an enlisted man, assisting with some of the IT details - at an exercise designed to train the headquarters of a major IDF logistics unit to deal with large flows of information. The officers were seated in several rooms (a dozen men or more in each room), each behind a workstation, similarly to what they’d have to do in an emergency. Just like in a real emergency, these people would be given pieces of information (by means of having the information emailed to their inboxes on the internal network). Just like in the real world, however, the person who would first become aware of the information would not be necessarily the one to be responsible for it. As part of the exercise, the officers were tested on their ability to locate the man responsible and hand all the relevant information to them. They had computers, faxes, and phones. The rooms were well-lit and air conditioned. There was, of course, no actual combat ongoing...

The exercise commenced at 08:00.

By 12:00, the senior instructor called an emergency stop to the exercise.

The technical details were not then fully explained to me - they were quite a bit above my pay grade. However, on that day, the division headquarters misplaced over half of messages it handled. Some were relayed - despite the fact the officers had Outlook Express and were fully capable of hitting the Forward button - in misworded ways. A report requesting transport and beds for POWs accidentally got relayed with the number of POWs understated by a factor of ten. Imagine the comedy that would have occurred had this taken place in battle.

Indeed, such things did happen in battle throughout the history. During the Second Lebanon war, many IDF officers were trained in various aspects of military theory - but many senior officers still were not very skilled at using Command and Control software that was in use with the IDF, prefering still to use paper maps which were updated, every half-hour, by men in their staff. This simple organizational problem soon took the life of a young man and injured several more.

In the well-lit, air-conditioned headquarters in Israel, the leadership of an infantry brigade and a tank brigade sat at different sides of the same large room, working on their maps and issuing order as Merkava tanks and men with rifles pushed across the hills of Lebanon. They coordinated, of course - but not nearly enough, and of course it was hard for their two sets of paper maps to match up perfectly when they were getting updated only periodically. During the night, a tank commander just on the edge of his unit’s area of operation saw the figures of armed men in his infra-red scope. Wanting to avoid shooting an Israeli soldier by mistake, he contacted his command by radio, asking them if there were any IDF soldiers in the area. They checked their paper map - which, again, was not completely up to date with the infantry unit’s map. “These people are not IDF troops”, they responded, and of course, the tank commander opened fire with his main gun. One man was killed on the spot, and five injured.

These stories are not told here merely to regale the reader. They are told here as to demonstrate examples of ways in which military command organizations - those large human computers - can fail, without any individual doing something wrong. Unlike what is often imagined by pop culture’s renditions of military events, quite often military failures occur without any particular person doing something wrong.

Three important forms of organizational failure occur in the armed forces:

Decisionmaking failure: A common example of military failure comes from the inability of military organizations to have a clear decisionmaking process. Military organizations absolutely must have a clear, top-down, chain of command. A clear example of what happens when this principle is violated is the military forces of Nazi Germany, where several parallel command structures existed. While these organizations all of course answered to one man, Hitler, in reality it was of course impossible for Hitler to oversee their daily functioning. This resulted in unseemly struggles in which the various organizations plotted against each other for supplies (for example, the Luftwaffe constantly plotted to have Me-109s earmarked for the air defense forces shifted into its purview... which ended up harming Germany’s ability to repel Allied bombers).

Another reason for decisionmaking failure to occur is if the armed forces have a structural reason that overly constrains low-tier commanders and punishes them for acting creatively. Obviously there is a need for discipline in the armed forces, but an organizational or training deficiency that destroys initiative will lead to a propensity of junior officers to only carry out maneuvers and tactics that they had literally memorized from their training books.

It should be noted that sometimes a chain of command can be united badly. For example, during the Second Chechen War, the Russian Federation had (quite reasonably) subordinated certain types of strike aircraft to the Army. It was argued that since things like SU-25s and Mi-24s carried out operations directly in cooperation with ground forces units, they needed to be reorganized as part of the ground forces so that they could provide rapid response to the soldiers in the field.

Implementation, however, suffered. Ground forces commanders found themselves suddenly responsible for helicopters - with limited training if any about the limitations and capabilities of the helicopters in Russian service, they were now called upon to perform tasks such as plan the layouts of the runways on which the helicopters had to land (under the new system, helicopter landing positions were now attached to infantry compounds that did not have them before). Planning errors meant that several ground forces bases had only one or two possible approach paths for a helicopter - paths that Chechen rebels soon learned, with tragic results. Another tragic reality was that air liaison officers were now under the command of ground forces commanders, once again not fully aware of the limitations of their men. When helicopters were unavailable - for reasons of weather or otherwise - ground forces commanders ordered the air liaison officers to assist their men with menial tasks, such as digging trenches and field fortifications. They did this out of the rational desire to ease the burden of hard work on the men for whom they were directly responsible. The result was, quite often, that the liaison officers were exhausted by digging trenches for hours, and had difficulties concentrating on their task of directing air strikes when the time came.

2. Information sharing failure: Conversely, a big source of failure in armed services is having organizations which are not good at transferring or handling information - either laterally (to other units on the same level), or vertically (to subordinate or superior units). We had already covered two examples of this. If we follow the parable of the armed forces as a computer, you should have all your circuits designed clearly in such a way that they can clearly hand over the right information. Officers must have clear knowledge about who is responsible for what, and what information needs to be relayed onward.

One of the most famous examples of a failed ‘human computer’ is the actions of Soviet command early on in the Great Patriotic War. As the Nazis invaded the USSR, the Soviets were plagued, on the high level, with a hastily organized General Staff. As, before the war, the structure of the General Staff did not exist in practice, and the generals and Marshals who participated in it did not have experience drilling as a General Staff, there was no clear understanding among them what each member of the General Staff was meant to do. On lower levels of command, because many commanders and soldiers had been recruited from remote areas of the USSR, there was the obvious problem that some officers simply did not speak the same language as the soldiers under their command, or other officers in the same unit.

Another one that has been immortalized in poetry - a British officer, Louis Edward Nolan, mistakenly delivering slightly misworded instructions to James Cardigan, a British cavalry commander during the Crimean War. Instead of attacking and harrying a group of retreating Russian, Cardigan and his cavalry were under the impression that they were meant to attack a heavily fortified Russian artillery position. Worse, Cardigan and his men had no idea further Russian artillery were concealed on the flanks of the position they were attacking, allowing the Russians to open fire from three directions, killing about a hundred out of the 668 members of the Light Brigade, and injuring another 160. The act was immortalized in Tennyson’s Classic Poem


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And a variety of heroic art


3. A third mention that bears mention is training failure - that is not to say, specifically, that individuals are entirely lacking in any kind of training - although there are sometimes circumstances, particularly in great military emergencies, in which individuals are sent to the field after having been only trained for weeks or sometimes even days. But these are fairly extreme, cartoonish circumstances, and they ought to be considered only in passing. More important are various seemingly minor deficiencies, which, in combat, can prove lethal to thousands of men. There are several important considerations in terms of training which ought to be considered

Lacking training - there are situations in which soldiers and even officers appear to have undergone the training that had been required by their military regulations, but the training is lacking in some important aspect that proves crucial on the battlefield. A good example of this is the training of soldiers in the late Soviet Union. At the time, the Soviet government, wishing to both save on ammunition and avoid its theft, limited the marksmanship training of soldiers to only 3 rifle rounds per year, making its men woefully unprepared for the brutal fighting seen in the post-Soviet conflicts. Equally, before the Chechen War, Russian commanders, seeing trench warfare as outdated in the late 20th century, reduced training with trenches to a few exercise a year, held with plywood mockups of trench lines - again, making it difficult for Russian officers and men to confront Chechen separatists who were not so ill-prepared.

In a modern-day military force that wishes to remain relevant, there must be a group of people which continuously studies and improves training. The Israel Defense Force even has uniformed behavioral studies personnel who continuously poll soldiers to establish the psychological effects of training. Additionally, militaries employ researchers - historians and military scientists - who continuously study wars past and present, to constantly improve training and doctrine. In some cases, governments will send officers to tag along as observers to allied and foreign forces in wartime, and learn from their experiences. Sending forces to assist developing countries’ governments deal with their enemies does not only extend the nation’s geopolitical reach, it also allows the force to gain experience and knowledge of real-world conflicts.

Wrong training - sometimes soldiers are trained in things that are downright harmful to them. The Imperial Japanese military is a major offender in this, having included in its training a fervent belief in dominating the enemy through sheer ferocity and military willpower, at the expense of rational military considerations.

Another idea that many people have - some of them, scarily, actual military planners - that making training tougher and more painful will necessarily make soldiers better at waging war. While of course military training needs to be tough to some extent (what this extent is is not really well known), but an excessive focus of toughness, either mental or physical, quite often turns out to be harmful to soldiers. (Many people think Sgt. Hartmann in Full Metal Jacket is cool. Sgt. Hartmann gets himself and another Marine killed.) The extreme example of this - once again - the Imperial Japanese Army, which subjected its soldiers to sleeping in the snow and being stabbed with sharp sticks to prove their willpower. Sometimes soldiers died (as tends to happen when you sleep in the snow in light clothing or get stabbed with what is essentially a spear). Another (possibly more harmful) example includes Russian commanders tolerating a brutal form of hazing (called dedovschina) in the armed forces, where more recently enlisted soldiers were beaten or abused by older ones. This was tolerated, in part, because it was felt it helped the troops ‘toughen up’ and subject themselves to a kind of informal discipline. The result was hundreds of deaths to injuries and suicide, a degrading standard of training, and a devastation of the enlistment rate as Russian mothers and their sons were now willing to pay any bribe to avoid a military service which was rumored to be worse than prison. Lesser examples occur in every military.

Badly organized training - specifically, the failure to regularly produce sensibly-trained troops or even officers for your armed forces. Sometimes this occurs due to having a training cycle that;s too long or too complex - if you train your infantry for two years, you will not be able to replace them with infantrymen of equal grade if your military suddenly takes a lot of casualties. Another serious issue is the loss of command officers.

To some extent, such losses can be staunched somewhat by creating expedited training courses. In an emergency, passable infantry and junior officers can be trained within only a few months (and even weeks, if they’re being retrained from people with previous military experience). Replacing Colonels and Generals on the other hand, is much harder and large losses in this area may very well lead to all the other forms of errors previously shown in this document. Because these individuals take years to train, the loss of generals in combat is devastating to the quality of military command.

Another important issue that can occur for either reasons for faulty training or organizational problems is something that Soviet military experts refer to as template thinking - the inability of officers and units to apply their command protocols in a creative ways. In this context, armed organizations’ revert to applying tactics that the officers had learned in the academy or elsewhere in an unthinking way, not altering them for the situation, nor adapting them to surprise the enemy. In WW2, this was the most clear, when Soviet commanders would tenaciously assault a German position several time from the same direction. Another form of error is to repeatedly arrange your intelligence and reconnaissance efforts in the same way, thus limiting your ability to actually gather intelligence. As such, it is preferable to have training processes that impose upon the officers some ability of independent thinking, and weed out those incapable of it - or remove them to non-combat postings where it is less important. To some extent, it is unavoidable that some creativity would be lost in a military structure - thus is the nature of every conventional military organizations. But one should, at least, seek to limit this phenomenon.


Politics of Incompetence
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A serious issue in terms of military incompetence is political and institutional contributions. In the previous chapters we have covered somewhat the psychological factors that lead to military errors. Another important interpretation, however - as outlined, for example, in Victor Davis Hanson’s The Western Way of War - portrays military errors as being the product, not so much of individual failure (although individual failure still has a place in this narrative) but as the product of institutional failure. Some societies - thus argues Hanson in his book - are more fit for participating in armed conflict than others. In a straightforward way, Hanson stressed the long-term military superiority of open societies over dictatorial, closed ones. He argued that while dictators (or absolute kings) are quick to make decisions and go to war, and democracies often take time to discuss their decisions before making them, this leads to a long-term advantage as there is a clearer understanding between citizens (and soldiers) in open societies in regards to both the cause they are fighting for, and the methods that need to be accomplished.

Hanson is, however, a fairly controversial historian. Like Dixon, he has a serious degree of political bias (unlike Dixon, Hanson is a conservative) and some elements of his books have been criticised extensively by his colleagues. But he does bring up an important point - while there exists a myth among the general public that dictatorships are ostensibly very warlike (being able, so it goes, to ignore the opinion of civilians and various democratic niceties), and therefore very good at waging war. In Russia, Stalin’s ‘military genius’ is still credited by many people with defeating the Nazis. In other countries, many people believe that Hitler’s Germany or Imperial Japan possessed an incredible degree of strategic prowess.

There are indeed some advantages to being a dictatorship. A dictatorship can commandeer the attention of the people so as to prepare them for war psychologically (through patriotic propaganda that goes unchallenged due to censorship), it can grab hold of resources via the sheer political power of the leader, and it is often associated with a great focus on military preparedness and training.

However, in reality, dictatorships (and especially totalitarian dictatorships like Stalin’s Russia) have vast military flaws that more than balance out their successes. The same organizational issues that have applied to military forces also apply - to some extent - in countries. A nation where the authority of a single leader (or group of leaders, such as the Politburo) is absolute often runs into management problems - when discussion of issues is constrained by fear of the leadership, it often occurs that the leader is kept uninformed of real and serious problems. Worse, positions of unlimited power tend to attract people who can be described as having an authoritarian personality, or, worse perhaps, encourage the state to act as if it had the features of such a personality. Oftentimes, this leads to deficiencies in military command.

The textbook example of this is the Soviet military establishment in the 1930s. Early on it was run by a mix of individuals who had shown a degree of prowess in the Russian Civil War and former Czarist-era military officers. Some of them were even quite talented - it was this group of people that included Georgy Zhukov, Konstantin Rokossovsky, and Mikhail Tukhachevsky. These people had pioneered some of the military inventions that would have become definitive features of 20th century warfare. On the strategic level, Tukhachevsky invented and pioneered Deep Battle Theory - one of the precursors to modern mechanized warfare theory. On the tactical level, Soviet military designers pioneered recoilless rifles, automatic grenade launchers, and other innovative weapons.

However, there were serious problems with the arrangement as it existed. Tukhachevsky himself, while brilliant, overlooked many aspects of military logistics in his planning. His plans called for the construction of tens of thousands of tanks, ignoring entirely the vast shortages of logistics and the infrastructure (even roads were lacking in many parts of Russia). Because, in the Soviet Union, military decisionmaking was affected by the political influence that generals and engineers had, Tukhachevsky promoted people he trusted into leadership positions - for example, promoting Kurchevsky, a pioneer recoilless gun designer, to be in charge of Soviet artillery production. Kurchevsky, in turn, used his influence to have competing engineers arrested or fired. By the time it turned out that Kurchevsky was incompetent (most of the recoilless guns he developed used a pneumatic, muzzle-loading, mechanism to reload, which was incredibly unreliable), competing recoilless gun designers had been practically wiped out, and regular artillery production in the USSR set back years.

The solution, however, which the Soviet Union had for this issue, turned out to be massive purges of the Red Army high command. Hundreds of generals, thousands of officers were imprisoned or shot. Worse, the purges gravitated towards removing the senior - and thus the most experienced and qualified - officers of the Red Army. 65% of Red Army senior staff were imprisoned or shot. Casualties of Corps Commanders reached 112%. In total, A second wave of repressions started in 1940, and continued into the war. Total deaths among Soviet generals reached 446 men - just slightly less than the amount of generals who perished fighting the Nazis (458 were killed or died from disease during the war).

Nor were the structural problems fixed by the purges. Military officers and engineers still resolved competitions between military designs and doctrines by trying to find personal favor with Stalin or members of his inner circle. Taubin - the inventor of the fully-automatic grenade launcher - and several of the engineers in his laboratory were arrested and executed. A powerful group of engineers and officers known as the Mortar Lobby are sometimes blamed for his death. The same group of people, obsessed with the idea of deploying mortars on every level of the armed forces, including the common infantryman, eventually diverted vast amounts of resources into creating said mortars - including a 37mm infantry mortar built into the handle of a small infantry shovel. This design ended up costing untold thousands of roubles to field, was incredibly unsafe... and in the end, had to be removed from use as it turned out that the tiny 37mm mortar rounds could not even pierce thick snow in the Winter War.

While vast purges of the military command are not common, the practice of military officers using intrigue and even crimes to try and wrest control of military planning is the common product of the military planning of totalitarian and authoritarian states. The most extreme example of this is the Japanese phenomenon of gekokujo, in which military officers attempted various actions to try and make their nation more warlike, most famously starting a war with China by carrying out false flag attacks on Japanese troops.

Most importantly, because the government of a dictatorship is centered on one man - and one man, by nature, has only limited expertise, whenever he has unlimited power, military decisions are affected by the ability of whatever faction to influence or persuade this leader. Over the long term, nations (whether democratic or authoritarian) create methods to limit this effect by formalizing their decisionmaking - creating set structures through which information and decisionmaking travels. The German General Staff and the British Admiralty are examples of these institutions in non-democracy, and in the Second World War Stalin, realizing his limits, deferred to some extent to the Soviet General Staff . In democracies, there are established military decisionmaking bodies (like Israel’s General Staff and of course the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the US) which are overseen by the civilian authority.

But, that said, democracies have their own political problems. These are sometimes exaggerated by people with a political axe to grind, but they’re still very important to discuss. The primary problem of democracies, of course, is that decisionmaking in democratic societies is subject to the 24-hour news cycle. As such, while the process for making military decisions in a democracy is overall more effective than in a dictatorship, cultural and social problems that a democracy has reflect in a more immediate fashion on the military.

Additionally, it should be noted that no society is truly equal. While in a dictatorship the elite is typically composed of the dictator and those associated with him (such as members of the security services), in a democracy the social elite includes also media magnates and the reporter class. It’s easy to imagine how military failures can be brought about by faulty media coverage. The media can easily cover a controversial military operation in such a way as to make it seem that it had completely failed (consider, for example, the coverage that US media gave to the Tet Offensive - the Viet Cong were smashed militarily and died by the thousands, but the US media portrayed the events as a military disaster). Conversely, nationalist feelings in the media can cause a war where one is not winnable. During the early 19th century the US public believed the Army easily capable of conquering British Canada, and in 1812, driven by outrage over the British policy of impressment, started what turned out to be a disastrous conflict against the British Empire, ending in a series of terrible defeats, exacerbated by the previous refusal of Congress to spend money on naval preparedness or expansion of the Army. (Only Commodore Perry’s actions on the Great Lakes prevented New York from becoming part of the Empire once more.)
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Postby Allanea » Fri Aug 19, 2016 1:09 pm

Another example of a democracy failing to prepare itself for war is of course, post-Soviet Ukraine. Under both Yuschenko and Yanukovich, the Ukrainian military was funded on the logic that a war would not really happen - and as a result, by the time the Ukrainian conflict actually broke out, shortage of every form of supplies - from food to ammunition to helicopters - made it difficult for Ukrainians to operate. Thousands of troops abandoned the ranks or defected outright (18,000 Ukrainian troops outright enlisted in the Russian Army), and by the end of 2014 Ukraine had lost 70% of its tanks and AFVs.


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A Ukrainian tank disabled by hitting Ukrainian fortifications during a retreat.

Cultural and Social Causes for Military Failures


Many people make the assumption that the development of the armed forces hinges entirely on the rational concerns of military planners. But beyond a veneer of similarity, there exists a broad variety of differences in training, planning, and organizational cultures in military establishments, shaped to a great extent by the culture which the military draws its ranks from. Social problems within the society that the military belongs to also can also lead to problems in wartime.

The most obvious example of a social and cultural problem that damages military performance is corruption - or rather, the willingness of a society to tolerate (or its inability to suppress) individuals using their official position for personal gain. The world-famous example, of course, is Russia in the 1990s, when corruption allowed the Chechen separatists to provide themselves with money (via fake financial documentations that they cashed in at the Central Bank in Moscow, driving away, literally, in trucks full of banknotes), arms (to the point that experimental submachineguns in factory packaging were sometimes seized in separatist camps before they were even being issued to the actual Russian troops), and military secrets (information about the movements of Russian columns and even generals’ transport helicopters) were routinely sold to separatists, with predictable results. Other examples include arms suppliers in the Crimean War and the US Civil War (the word ‘shoddy’ comes from the name of a cheap cloth that was often used in making uniforms in the era - which is really, all you need to know about Civil War military contracting).

But corruption doesn’t just undermine military readiness in the sense that supplies and military secrets get sold. It can affect the actual planning of military operations. During the 17th century, the British Navy was exempt from having the holds of its ships inspected by customs. This meant that naval captains often charged merchants money for transporting their cargo (gold, silver, and spices) in the holds of British warships. Naval officers and admirals were thus interested in promoting themselves to the most profitable routes, and bribery spread through the Admiralty, as officers were promoted based on their ability to bribe their superiors. Stealing - even official prizes captured by the Navy - was so widespread and brazen that during a famous incident, when a British ship captured a Dutch merchantman in the Channel, by the time the boarding action was over and the Captain crossed from one ship to another, the British sailors managed to steal and hide the merchant ship’s load of silver coins. (If you believe the story is false and the Captain stole the silver himself, that probably makes it worse).

Cultural problems can also lead to various forms of other misbehavior in the armed forces. Dedovschina, the cruel form of military hazing that once permeated the Russian military is famous around the world - but for many years Russian officers defended the practice either openly (by suggesting it lead to men being stronger or more disciplined), or simply by refusing to enforce the law. Many soldiers were injured (during the 90’s, up to a thousand soldiers per year were recorded injured as a result of Dedovschina), some killed, and of course it eroded the trust between enlisted men. Another problem that can arise - in a country where, for cultural reasons, a bad work ethic prevails - is soldiers refusing to do their various non-combat duties, such as dig trenches or clean their vehicles. Soviet instructors who fought in the Ogaden War recorded Ethiopian troops refusing to clean their tanks or dig trenches, which led to incredible casualties during Somali attacks - only after Soviet troops forced Ethiopians to dig trenches at gunpoint, did they realize the effectiveness of this simple procedure.

[A nation’s work ethic can be undermined by a variety of issues - for example, some religious movements are associated with a better work ethic than others. Countries that had just emerged from an agrarian stage in their economy, or who still reside in one, will also have a terrible work ethic. To realize the impact of this on a military outfit, just remember the mantra that a military force is essentially an industrial organization of vast proportions.]

Generally speaking, nations with a low level of education, or a high level of superstition, have problems raising good soldiers on the individual level. This is often seen in the various third-world countries, where education levels are often limited and superstitions widespread.


Image
A Liberian Militiaman


There are numerous anecdotes that can be told here - Ethiopian soldiers refusing to fight during the night, Liberian militiamen fighting in women’s dresses in hopes that bullets would mistake them for women and refuse to hurt them. Nor are such tales limited to third-world militaries (they, of course, happen there more often). A friend who was an IDF tank commander tells of a tank gunner who was heavily religious. This person believed that although Judaism allows operating tanks on the Shabbat when needed for military purposes, it is necessary to do so in a ‘unique’ manner to preserve the 'special status of the Shabbath’. As such, this individual insisted on pressing switches inside the tank... with his nose. During the Ancient era, events seen as ‘bad omens’ could destabilize a force’s morale - but we will discuss that in a later section.

Another way a nation’s culture can lead to military dysfunction is if it empowers any of the flawed attitudes we discussed in detail in previous chapters. It’s easy to see that if a country’s culture causes a disrespect for soldiers and for military culture few people will choose to enlist and it’ll be hard to gather up support for a military force in wartime, especially if the war is not outright a war of survival.


A Special Note On Nobility

One important issue that people who roleplay as, or write about, highly class-segregated societies (whether actually by feudalism, a caste system, or another reason) need to address is that class-segregated societies sometimes fall into one of several major social problems. On one hand, basing the entrance into military command on social class can mean (just as with corruption) that people who are not otherwise competent can become commanders just because they are members of the upper-class, with obviously disastrous consequences (the infamous example is the British military during the Crimean War, hobbled as it was by the sale of military positions to noblemen, or Hitler’s appointment of Himmler to command Army Group Vistula on the grounds of Himmler being a leading Nazi who really, but really, wanted to command forces in the field). This can be avoided - indeed it had been successfully avoided by the late 19th century by most European monarchies - by having membership in the upper-class be almost synonymous with cultural values that were seen as valuable in military officer (military bravery, for instance, was obsessively inculcated into noblemen).


]Image


There are however major drawbacks. One, if there are major flaws in the way your culture functions (and every culture is dysfunctional to some extent), then the cultural flaws of your upper class will be the flaws of your command. The fixation, common among feudal and pseudo-feudal elites, on personal honor and proving their bravery had many times throughout history, led their representatives into terrifying military blunders that cost thousands of lives. (Once again, here you have an incident of cultural flaws recreating the features of the ‘authoritarian personality’ in people who might otherwise have been completely healthy).

Another drawback is that a culture that artificially limits participation in command echelons to some upper class runs the risk of running short on officers in a major war. (Of course, in every society, members of whatever ruling class you have will have a tendency to also run the military - as Richard Syme pointed out, In all ages, whatever the form and name of government, be it monarchy, republic, or democracy, an oligarchy lurks behind the façade.). What we are talking about here is a culture that actively prevents lower-class people from becoming officers through formal or informal means). If your officers’ upbringing is associated strongly with an upper-class lifestyle, and lower-class people are blocked from having it, your society will be in for a rude awakening if a major military defeat wipes out ten thousand young noblemen at once.

The effect of this is worsened if you have a military force which is not merely ‘dominated’ by nobles, but one where legal or traditional rules make noble descent the sole basis of entering, and prospering in, the officer class. If one’s military ascent is purely based on one’s family background, this will clearly do damage to the professionalism of a military organization (as all nepotism. And if non-nobles are actually prohibited from becoming officers rather than, as it often happens even in ostensibly egalitarian societies, members of the social elite tend to do better than others), this will exacerbate the problems.

The effects of losing vast proportions of such an elite officer class can be catastrophic not just on the immediate military fate of a country, but can cause incredible social upheaval. While entrenched oligarchies have many obvious downsides, they also serve many important social functions. There’s not really any examples of a country which had a large proportion of its upper-class violently killed without a series of problems following, problems that usually take years to resolve.

Another problem that sometimes arises is that when service in a given military branch is specifically associated with social privilege, members of that branch sometimes oppose reforms that they fear threaten them, like downsizing that force, transferring the men in it to service for less prestigious weapons (for example, cavalrymen had sometimes resisted the turning of cavalry regiments into tank regiments due to the loss of prestige and the far harder work that tank troops had to do. (Both British noblemen and Soviet cavalry marshals were known for this).


Ideology and Religion as Causes for Incompetence


At the beginning of this chapter it should be stated that it should not be understood as a political dig against one ideology or religion or another. Throughout history, nearly every ideology and religion had been sometimes interpeted by its followers in such ways as to undermine their performance - Communism, Fascism, Anarchism, Liberalism, Islam, Christianity, Shinto, and Judaism have sometimes formed negative influences on their followed. This article is not meant to form an endorsement of one ideology or another (though naturally, I, like everyone else, have my own ideological leanings and my own beliefs). Rather, it is to demonstrate the general relationship between people’s worldviews and belief systems and their practical activities in the real world.

It’s important to state on the outset that when we discuss ideology and religion we do not only discuss the decisionmaking process of people who are explicitly and consciously ideological or religious fanatics - fervent Nazis or radical Islamists. In truth, every thinker has some manner of ideology affecting their thinking - whether they are conscious of this, or whether they are unconsciously affected by whatever values permeate their culture and upbringing unconsciously. Social scientists, historians, literary scholars and writers all have some ideology affecting their writing - whether explicitly, like that of Karl Marx, or implicitly. John Maynard Keynes was famous for stating:

“Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back”

There are any number of examples of thinkers - throughout history - who might have rejected the dominant religion of their time but were still in some way influenced by its precepts (Thomas Jefferson was a Deist but was heavily influenced by Christianity, Mikhail Bulgakov rejected mysticism in his personal life but drew on mystical themes in his writing, and so forth). Every ideology and religion has its own flaws, and if one is not careful these can often affect military planning and performance.

The most obvious form of ideology leading to military incompetence - in military terms - is pacifism and antimilitarism. Whatever the positive sides of these worldviews in the broad sense, it should be obvious that societies where large amounts of people are opposed to the military are going to have a problem preparing for war or waging war (this does not mean that individual pacifists cannot sometimes turn out brave in an emergency). Even people who have grown up in a culture where overt violence is considered taboo can sometimes find handling weapons and preparing for war to be distasteful and even traumatizing.

(Many cultures and religions’ approaches to violence are deeply irrational. Consider the many religions which disapprove of hunting animals, but have no problem with the - quite brutal - ways that animals are killed in a slaughterhouse).

Perhaps one of the most famous example of a pacifist (and religious) group’s military incompetence is the refusal of the Pennsylvania Quakers to fund the raising of a militia during the French and Indian War. (Benjamin Franklin was forced to fundraise privately for arming and outfitting the militia and building earthen fortifications to defend Philadelphia). Countries wanting to sabotage the military will of their opponents will often cooperate with peace movements in the enemy country. That is not to make a criticism of anti-war activism as such, but it’s worth noting that by its nature it is inimical to military success. (Anti-war activists might view this as an advantage). During the American Civil War anti-draft protesters in the North made it difficult for Lincoln to recruit men for the struggle. During the Vietnam War Ho Chi Minh quite consciously worked alongside with the US anti-war movement. Nazi sympathizers tried to get Trumbo to publish a million-copy edition of Johnny Got His Gun to weaken the war effort, but Trumbo (who wrote his book to head off a war with the Soviet Union) refused. In the 1960s, a KGB operative was the historical advisor for the theater production of Oh! What a Lovely War.

Politicians and voters who are illiterate or unfamiliar with military matters (a natural result of a society where antimilitarist views are the norm) are often not fully capable of understanding the realities of combat. This can cut both ways - at times citizens will regard normal military practices as inhumane or cruel. Imagine for example a military force dropping a guided bomb on an enemy headquarters in a city - and then citizens claiming that the fact that civilians have been injured is proof that your armed forces are ‘massacring’ the civilians. Anyone who ever heard the phrase ‘why haven’t they just shot them in the legs’ in response to a controversial shooting is well-familiar with just such a worldview. A military force confronted with a hostile public at home will have problems procuring budgets and recruits, especially in a democracy. In wartime, officers will have trouble giving orders that the public may perceive as excessively brutal and ruthless - during the Balkan conflicts, the Dutch military famously refused to intervene to stop a massacre where - although the Dutch forces were superior in several ways - they possessed no air support for their action, and the command refused to risk casualties. Another example is the belief of many Soviet workers - up to WW2 - that German proletarians were on their side and did not truly want to fight them, and nationalistic warfare was a thing of the past. This was so ingrained in many Soviets that early in the Great Patriotic War many Soviet troops were killed because they delayed opening fire on German soldiers until the last possible moment, hoping to ‘talk it out’ with Wehrmacht troops. To ‘solve’ this problem, Stalin greenlit the publishing of a variety of nationalistic art and poetry, most famously Ehrenburg’s Kill.

But those who criticise - somewhat justifiably - the ‘softness’ of some European cultures when it comes to war should remember that other ideologies can lead to horrible military mishaps, too. A relatively moderate example is early 20th century France. Unlike the stereotype, early 20th century French military theorists were fully aware of the killing power of the machine-gun, the advantages of entrenched positions, and most of the other factors that would make the Western Front so murderously brutal. However, as French doctrine evolved, it began to add to stress the importance of morale. To some extent it was of course necessary, but, as French commanders began to realize that it was not viable to raise in France a military large and skilled enough to compete with Germany on its own, they began to stress more and more the martial spirit of the French people. The term elan (perhaps originating from the term elan vitale, or ‘life force’) began to be used in describing military tactics and strategy. Though at first it was viewed as part of a nuanced worldview, soon quite a few French commanders began to believe in a simplistic variant, in which they believed that French soldiers could defeat the German troops (who were numerically superior and better armed and trained) through an increased focus on personal bravery. This ended in horrifying casualties for the French in the early months of the First World War.


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French infantrymen at the start of the First World War, in German captivity


After the end of the First World War, German nationalists began to believe in Dolchstoss - the notion that Germany was capable of winning the First World War on the martial prowess of its men, but was stopped from doing so by unpatriotic elements back home. The belief that wars could be fought and won on sheer Aryan bravery was a major part of Nazi ideology, and Nazi propaganda openly praised the ‘fanaticism’ of Nazi soldiers. This, Hitler and his asssociates argued, would allow the Germans to overcome the vast wealth and numerical superiority of Allied armies.

Although tests conducted with surviving Nazi war criminals showed that most of them did not demonstrate most of the psychological markers associated with the authoritarian personality, their ideology did in fact guide them to act as if they did. They believed that they could defeat enemies who had more soldiers, more guns, and more fuel and ammunition by being braver and fighting in more brutal ways (thus, eventually, the switch to Totalenkrieg). The reverse turned out to be true.

Similar beliefs, however, were also held by non-Nazis. Many advocates of strategic bombing throughout the years have argued that killing large amounts of enemy civilians (an increase in brutality) through mass-bombings is in itself a war-winning tactic. That is to say, they did not merely view collateral damage as acceptable, but they believed that by being brutal and killing lots of enemy civilians they would intimidate the enemy and degrade their economic power until they surrender. Post-WW2 studies showed that the main benefit in strategic bombing is in taking out military factories and diminishing industry - simply bombing neighborhoods to kill and dehouse civilians achieved little. But terror-bombing advocates, married as they were to the concept of dialing up the brutality more and more did not let down, and repeated the same attempts in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, killing literally hundreds of thousands of innocent people and suffering horrifying military defeat in return (which, in point, caused even more civilian deaths as the North Vietnamese horrifyingly butchered their opposition and the Khmer Rouge took over in Cambodia).

In general, the belief (often common among nationalists and various fascists, but also sometimes available in Communist and even Liberal flavors) that wars can be won by simply becoming braver, or dialing up the brutality, essentially causes otherwise healthy people to replicate elements of the authoritarian personality in their behavior, with often disastrous results.

Another common failure in this is the belief - often entered to by many nations around the world - that since they are in the right (everyone believes themselves in the right in wars!), other people will also obviously see that they’re in the right, and thus they can expect public support in foreign countries their forces operate in. The Japanese, for instance, believed themselves to be simultaneously building a great Empire and standing up to Western imperialism - and so they expected that thousands of Indians would side with them against the English. In truth, nothing of the like took place, and when the Japanese invaded India the support they received from the pro-Japanese Azad Hind was deeply insufficient, and thousands of Japanese soldiers were wiped out in catastrophic defeat.

Religion, too, often contributes to military failure. Sometimes it happens in obvious ways - when the religious begin to believe that the will of their god or gods is enough to grant victory. This leads individuals and armies to carry out horrible strategic and tactical blunders. The most famous incident is the travels of the People’s Crusade - 20,000 ordinary European men and women who believed that, through the will of God they could defeat the ‘Saracens’ despite having very little training or weapons. After sailing over the Bosphorus into Turkey, they were slaughtered almost to a man, with the Turks losing about 50 men.

An even worse example is the belief of the Imperial Japanese in the ‘Spirit of Yamato’ - the notion that men could triumph in war, and even over the laws of physics themselves by being sufficiently brave and dedicated to their country. This ideology allowed the Imperial commanders to avoid criticism for their many logistics and planning blunders, and encouraged the creation of outright abusive training practices (exposing troops to subzero temperatures to build up ‘tolerance’, poking them with wooden spears to build up ‘tolerance’ to pain and injury - which in fact got troops killed and injured during training), and tactics that were designed to defeat the enemy through sheer suicidal bravery. From this fount sprang the idea of assaulting Soviet tanks with explosives on spears, a bewildering variety of suicide tactics (out to creating entire suicide brigades in 1945), and eventually - as the war turned worse and worse for the Imperial Japan - the idea (Advocated but not implemented) of killing all non-combat-capable Japanese (old men, women, and children), issuing methamphetamines to survivors, and fighting a last heroic stand against the Allies.


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Anti-tank spears were an actual thing. They’re not just in Warhammer 40k.


Naturally, the beliefs of certain Radical Islamist groups are also an example of military incompetence. As many members of these groups believe they can succeed purely on the power of faith (and, more importantly, that merely dying in combat is already cause for heavenly reward), many of them lack training and competence. The many failures of suicide bombers are often discussed in this context - in fact, Al-Qaeda suicide bombers have a horrible 50% casualty rate before even approaching their target.

Another problem with religions is that often they can lead their followers into developing a superstitious belief - for example, many Wahhabists believe that merely being bitten by a dog denies one entry into Paradise. Russian Combat Engineers have used the threat of Caucasian Shepherds to cause hardened Islamist fighters to abandon fortified and well-camouflaged bunkers to flee into the open - where they were then butchered by artillery fire.

The common thing to all religions and ideologies (and again, everyone has a religion and ideology of some kind - this is not an attempt by yours truly to claim that my ideology is enlightened or superior) is that while religions and ideologies help people make sense of the world around them, each religion and ideology has some manner of drawback. There is no real way to fully excise those, except - on a personal level - by maintaining skepticism and remaining educated about the complexities of the world and, - on a social level - encouraging one’s military officers to study and remain aware of, other cultures and other militaries’ approaches to events. In this way, one hopes, at least senior military planners will remain aware of the blind spots of their own culture, ideology, religion, and doctrine, and know how to patch them if needed

A Special Note on Spartan States:

Many people in NS and elsewhere believe that it will enhance tthe military readiness of their country by having it be entirely militarized and having a national cult of toughness and military strength. In the long run, this is not really true - and in fact, will enhance many of the forms of incompetence that we described above. Such a nation will be economically worse off than a liberal democracy, and would, realistically, carry many of the flaws that are associated with militarist, nationalist, and fascist thinking and military bureaucracy. While it might avoid the sort of military weakness associated with peace movements and some European countries, it would suffer from a host of weaknesses that would make it hard for it to confront a society that has a functioning economy and has implemented ways to confront those weaknesses. Historically, most militarist countries end up faring rather badly in long wars against competent opponents - Kaiser’s Germany, the Third Reich, Imperial Germany are all famous examples.


Conclusion


While of course there are many forms of incompetence, and they cannot all be covered in this single document - it is, in fact, fairly short - it is, I believe, a fair introduction to the topic. One hopes that it will aid the reader in either avoiding the most obvious military errors, or, more importantly in our context, writing about them in a more realistic and interesting way in the context of NationStates or other fiction.

I wish to credit the players behind Crystal Spires, Rejistania, Bretton, Imeriata, and others, without whose advice and support this informative would never have appeared.

Finally, this informative is not complete without leaving you with this main thought te most common problem - sometimes brought up by one’s psychological makeup, sometimes by cultural issues or faulty training - is to believe that violence is simply a spectrum, which can be only dialed up or down - from harsh words, to truncheons, to carpet-bombings and nuclear bombs. One person believes that if shooting enemies with a rifle doesn’t work, you should bomb them, and if that doesn’t work, bomb their family, or maybe drop nuclear weapons. Another believes that collateral damage from a guided missile strike on a headquarters and mass-genocide are the same. Both, however, misunderstand violence. Violence is a complex phenomenon, not simply an off and on switch, and to be applied competently it needs to be studied and understood.




Reading and Watching List


Films (Fiction):


Paths of Glory (1957) - a classic Stanley Kubrick film exploring some of the psychological issues of trench warfare, and a situation where officers who refuse a suicidal order are accused, by their inept commanders, of cowardice.

Films (Non-Fiction)

Crusades (1995) - a TV series narrated and hosted by Monty Python’s Terry Jones, describing many of the comical failures of the Crusader armies and their various successes. A must-watch in the context of military incompetence.



Books (Non-Fiction)

The Defense of Duffer’s Drift (1940) is a brief book, written in the shape of fiction, demonstrates some of the common mistakes made by junior officers and military commanders. It was written as educational material for junior officerrs of the British Army, but is now printed and reissued by the US Marines. Its lessons are valuable to this day.
The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Ancient Greece, by Victor Davis Hanson
On the Psychology of Military Incompetence, by Norman Dixon
Why We Lost - A General’s Inside Account on the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars by Daniel Bolger
Why Arabs Lose Wars in the Middle East Quarterly, especially useful if you’re writing about a Middle Eastern nation.

Books (Fiction)

[Not yet filled, but open for suggestions!]
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Postby Holy Marsh » Fri Aug 19, 2016 1:44 pm

Fantastic as always, Allanea!
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Postby MInroz » Sat Aug 20, 2016 6:01 am

I'd say incredible work you put into this subject!

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Taviana SSR
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Postby Taviana SSR » Sat Aug 20, 2016 6:25 am

Very good!
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Tekeristan
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Postby Tekeristan » Sat Aug 20, 2016 8:21 am

How many guides do you have at the moment?

This was quite enjoyable & I wish to read additional guides.

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The Unified Isles
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Postby The Unified Isles » Sat Aug 20, 2016 8:56 am

Nice Guide there :3 I actually think that the Royal Army needs some more incompetence (Especially considering that they somewhat suffer from the Social Class Problem you describe, wherein 2/3rds of the Officer Corps hail from the same families over and over again). Also a small correction: dolschtoss is actually written Dolchstoss ;)

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Allanea
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Postby Allanea » Sat Aug 20, 2016 9:23 am

The Unified Isles wrote:Nice Guide there :3 I actually think that the Royal Army needs some more incompetence (Especially considering that they somewhat suffer from the Social Class Problem you describe, wherein 2/3rds of the Officer Corps hail from the same families over and over again). Also a small correction: dolschtoss is actually written Dolchstoss ;)


Do you mean that it is capitalized?
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Allanea
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Founded: Antiquity
Capitalist Paradise

Postby Allanea » Sat Aug 20, 2016 9:36 am

Tekeristan wrote:How many guides do you have at the moment?

This was quite enjoyable & I wish to read additional guides.


Oh I'm glad that you asked!


Allanea's Friendly Guide to Modern Infantry
Allanea's Handy Guide to Urban Combat for NS Players
Guerrilla Warfare - A Primer for Nationstates Players
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New Hayesalia
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Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby New Hayesalia » Sat Aug 20, 2016 9:41 am

I would tell you how this guide makes me feel but that would break forum rules. Das is wunderbar.

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The Unified Isles
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Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby The Unified Isles » Sat Aug 20, 2016 9:52 am

Allanea wrote:
The Unified Isles wrote:Nice Guide there :3 I actually think that the Royal Army needs some more incompetence (Especially considering that they somewhat suffer from the Social Class Problem you describe, wherein 2/3rds of the Officer Corps hail from the same families over and over again). Also a small correction: dolschtoss is actually written Dolchstoss ;)


Do you mean that it is capitalized?


Capitalized and written somewhat differently :3

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Allanea
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Founded: Antiquity
Capitalist Paradise

Postby Allanea » Sat Aug 20, 2016 10:14 am

The Unified Isles wrote:
Allanea wrote:
Do you mean that it is capitalized?


Capitalized and written somewhat differently :3


Fixed, thanks!
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The IASM
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Psychotic Dictatorship

Postby The IASM » Sun Aug 28, 2016 6:23 am

Hmm, so what would a nation with a strong entrenched politically divided militaristic aristocracy have on its military leadership? If the military was also greatly encouraging of meritocracy also?
HUN-01

20:22 Kirav Normal in Akai is nightmare fuel in the rest of the world.
11:33 Jedoria Something convoluted is going on in Akai probably.
Transoxthraxia: I'm no hentai connoisseur, but I'm pretty sure Akai's domestic politics would be like, at least top ten most fucked up hentais"
18:26 Deusaeuri Let me put it this way, you're what would happen if Lovecraft decided to write political dystopian techno thriller
20:19 Heku tits has gone mental
20:19 Jakee >gone
05:48 Malay lol akai sounds lovely this time of never


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Allanea
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Capitalist Paradise

Postby Allanea » Sun Aug 28, 2016 6:46 am

The IASM wrote:Hmm, so what would a nation with a strong entrenched politically divided militaristic aristocracy have on its military leadership? If the military was also greatly encouraging of meritocracy also?


What is 'meritocracy'?

That's to say, I understand that it means 'advancement on merit', but what does your civilization regard as 'merit'?

How is 'merit' measured?
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The IASM
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Postby The IASM » Sun Aug 28, 2016 8:23 am

Allanea wrote:
The IASM wrote:Hmm, so what would a nation with a strong entrenched politically divided militaristic aristocracy have on its military leadership? If the military was also greatly encouraging of meritocracy also?


What is 'meritocracy'?

That's to say, I understand that it means 'advancement on merit', but what does your civilization regard as 'merit'?

How is 'merit' measured?

These may be useful for some contextual knowledge about the country and the armed forces.
http://iiwiki.com/wiki/Akai
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Rf3 ... sp=sharing

Doing well in the Heavenly examinations related to your particular profession results in greater initial mobility and greater opportunity. That being said, Akai also begins military education of certain children who prove to be promising to be a more ideologically oriented and loyal section to the military to rely upon and generally must be physically capable, intellectually capable and show "loyal" and "virtuous" behaviour. So in this context it is likely to be anyone who is capable of acing their military education exams and or after a while having great successes in the battlefield. It also should be noted that the aristocracy due to its wealth is likely to be more able to get more than enough resources for their children in this instance.
Last edited by The IASM on Sun Aug 28, 2016 8:26 am, edited 1 time in total.
HUN-01

20:22 Kirav Normal in Akai is nightmare fuel in the rest of the world.
11:33 Jedoria Something convoluted is going on in Akai probably.
Transoxthraxia: I'm no hentai connoisseur, but I'm pretty sure Akai's domestic politics would be like, at least top ten most fucked up hentais"
18:26 Deusaeuri Let me put it this way, you're what would happen if Lovecraft decided to write political dystopian techno thriller
20:19 Heku tits has gone mental
20:19 Jakee >gone
05:48 Malay lol akai sounds lovely this time of never


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Aterria
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Postby Aterria » Sun Aug 28, 2016 10:00 am

No wonder political officers don't tend to be good commanders.
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Allanea
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Capitalist Paradise

Postby Allanea » Mon Aug 29, 2016 12:16 am

The IASM wrote:
Allanea wrote:
What is 'meritocracy'?

That's to say, I understand that it means 'advancement on merit', but what does your civilization regard as 'merit'?

How is 'merit' measured?

These may be useful for some contextual knowledge about the country and the armed forces.
http://iiwiki.com/wiki/Akai
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Rf3 ... sp=sharing

Doing well in the Heavenly examinations related to your particular profession results in greater initial mobility and greater opportunity. That being said, Akai also begins military education of certain children who prove to be promising to be a more ideologically oriented and loyal section to the military to rely upon and generally must be physically capable, intellectually capable and show "loyal" and "virtuous" behaviour. So in this context it is likely to be anyone who is capable of acing their military education exams and or after a while having great successes in the battlefield. It also should be noted that the aristocracy due to its wealth is likely to be more able to get more than enough resources for their children in this instance.


The big problem I see with this description - and that's the one you must answer for yourself is...

What kind of aristocracy is this?

"Aristocracy" is a kind of catch-all term.

European aristocracy was for many years the descendant of feudal knights and noblemen, who associated their position in society with martial prowess and military service, and so for many decades educated their children with values that were reasonably useful in terms of being a military officer. (They grew less useful as warfare became professionalized, but never totally stopped being useful).

India had a caste of priests at the top.

Jews for many years had biblical scholars and merchants at the top of the social hierarchy.

So for obvious reasons some of these things are better than others for shaping a caste of military officers.
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The IASM
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Psychotic Dictatorship

Postby The IASM » Mon Aug 29, 2016 2:56 am

Allanea wrote:
The IASM wrote:These may be useful for some contextual knowledge about the country and the armed forces.
http://iiwiki.com/wiki/Akai
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Rf3 ... sp=sharing

Doing well in the Heavenly examinations related to your particular profession results in greater initial mobility and greater opportunity. That being said, Akai also begins military education of certain children who prove to be promising to be a more ideologically oriented and loyal section to the military to rely upon and generally must be physically capable, intellectually capable and show "loyal" and "virtuous" behaviour. So in this context it is likely to be anyone who is capable of acing their military education exams and or after a while having great successes in the battlefield. It also should be noted that the aristocracy due to its wealth is likely to be more able to get more than enough resources for their children in this instance.


The big problem I see with this description - and that's the one you must answer for yourself is...

What kind of aristocracy is this?

"Aristocracy" is a kind of catch-all term.

European aristocracy was for many years the descendant of feudal knights and noblemen, who associated their position in society with martial prowess and military service, and so for many decades educated their children with values that were reasonably useful in terms of being a military officer. (They grew less useful as warfare became professionalized, but never totally stopped being useful).

India had a caste of priests at the top.

Jews for many years had biblical scholars and merchants at the top of the social hierarchy.

So for obvious reasons some of these things are better than others for shaping a caste of military officers.

Akai's aristocrats are members of clans who used to rule Akai as warlords, lords and kings and often take up roles as bureaucrats if they want to get more power in the central government, they are quasi-feudal in their nature in that they are able to enforce the law to a limited extent in their eon lands and apply it as they so desire. The levels of militarism in some clans are greater than others. They tend to put emphasis on power, success and strength generally as well as stoicism.
HUN-01

20:22 Kirav Normal in Akai is nightmare fuel in the rest of the world.
11:33 Jedoria Something convoluted is going on in Akai probably.
Transoxthraxia: I'm no hentai connoisseur, but I'm pretty sure Akai's domestic politics would be like, at least top ten most fucked up hentais"
18:26 Deusaeuri Let me put it this way, you're what would happen if Lovecraft decided to write political dystopian techno thriller
20:19 Heku tits has gone mental
20:19 Jakee >gone
05:48 Malay lol akai sounds lovely this time of never


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Allanea
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Capitalist Paradise

Postby Allanea » Mon Aug 29, 2016 2:58 am

Stoicism is reasonably a good thing.

The problem you might have is that overemphasis on theoretical training and bureaucratic things might tend to great numbers people with faulty personal leadership skills (a problem that te current Russian Army is having, for instance, due to an avalanche of forms everyone there must fill out).
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The IASM
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Psychotic Dictatorship

Postby The IASM » Mon Aug 29, 2016 3:09 am

Allanea wrote:Stoicism is reasonably a good thing.

The problem you might have is that overemphasis on theoretical training and bureaucratic things might tend to great numbers people with faulty personal leadership skills (a problem that te current Russian Army is having, for instance, due to an avalanche of forms everyone there must fill out).

That does make sense given the climate, the military itself also has some very bad factionalism who are divided in what they want the military to be. The defensive clique wants to be ultimately orientated on ensuring Akai is pacified and it should be fairly isolationist - it's backs by mostly the army and parts of the Air Force. The maritime clique which is the current dominant one, focusing on expeditionary warfare and power projection - it is lead by the navy and its composite parts, the mariners and naval aviation. There is also the spider clique who leads their own faction who favour more covert tactics and a modernised form of total war in everything can be used as a way of waging "war" against its opposition. It is mostly controlled by the Geluxu who's re a hybrids of the GRU/MOSS/NKVD/ONI etc who are a rising faction.

I should also mention that they very recently (1984) used to maintain their own conscript armies until being forced to at metaphorically gun/nuke point so now days they must rely on the military or PMCs for military matters..
HUN-01

20:22 Kirav Normal in Akai is nightmare fuel in the rest of the world.
11:33 Jedoria Something convoluted is going on in Akai probably.
Transoxthraxia: I'm no hentai connoisseur, but I'm pretty sure Akai's domestic politics would be like, at least top ten most fucked up hentais"
18:26 Deusaeuri Let me put it this way, you're what would happen if Lovecraft decided to write political dystopian techno thriller
20:19 Heku tits has gone mental
20:19 Jakee >gone
05:48 Malay lol akai sounds lovely this time of never


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Chinese Peoples
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Ex-Nation

Postby Chinese Peoples » Mon Aug 29, 2016 8:56 am

Allanea wrote:How is 'merit' measured?


1. day-to-day performance, i.e. appearing at proper hours, completion of assignments on time, not generating complaints, &c.
2. examinations.
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Capitalist Paradise

Postby Jedoria » Mon Aug 29, 2016 2:14 pm

Very well written and very thorough. Nice job.
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Allanea
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Founded: Antiquity
Capitalist Paradise

Postby Allanea » Mon Aug 29, 2016 11:00 pm

Chinese Peoples wrote:
Allanea wrote:How is 'merit' measured?


1. day-to-day performance, i.e. appearing at proper hours, completion of assignments on time, not generating complaints, &c.
2. examinations.


The first thing should really be a given.

What are the examinations on? What is considered to be a skill to be tested on?

The obvious downside of this is that it'll turn out lots of stodgy bureaucrats and career staff officers that might bad at leading men or perform badly in combat.
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Chinese Peoples
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Ex-Nation

Postby Chinese Peoples » Mon Aug 29, 2016 11:16 pm

Allanea wrote:
Chinese Peoples wrote:
1. day-to-day performance, i.e. appearing at proper hours, completion of assignments on time, not generating complaints, &c.
2. examinations.


The first thing should really be a given.

What are the examinations on? What is considered to be a skill to be tested on?

The obvious downside of this is that it'll turn out lots of stodgy bureaucrats and career staff officers that might bad at leading men or perform badly in combat.

Examinations really apply only to commissioned officers, of which there are comparatively few (slightly lower proportion, not drastic) in this nation; examinations for commanding officers usually test the subject's competence in managing unexpected situations, savvy with military strategy, perspective with recent advancements in military tactic and equipment; these exams are very discerning and do require candidates to stay on top of their job and keep informed. Examinations for officers with more specific skillsets will of course be geared towards those skills, in areas such as medicine, pharmaceuticals, veterinary treatment, music, &c. &c.

Non-commissioned officers and warrant officers also have their own exams, but those test for general competence. Commanding officers often do not personally lead their men but leave the task to their warrant officers. The commanding officers are there, as they say, to give the right commands.
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Allanea
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Capitalist Paradise

Postby Allanea » Mon Aug 29, 2016 11:38 pm

Have you looked into how real militaries do this? Because it's not quite how you described.
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