There have been some great books lately on how warfare is both returning to its desultory roots and evolving from Mao’s war to a decentralized trans-national threat. One buzzword is 4GW, which stands for Fourth Generation Warfare. The general idea behind all of these works is that war keeps evolving, and understanding how it is evolving is essential for winning it.
Indeed, “What war are we fighting?” seems to be a popular topic among armchair Generals, and real Generals too. In a recent article in Armed Forces Journal, Major General Bob Scales, Ret, after digging up the ghost of Clausewitz for yet another trip through the briar patch, says it’s World War IV and we need to understand what the “amplifying factors” are. Amplifiers are not “multipliers” or “enablers” in that their influence on the course of war is nonlinear rather than linear; amplifiers don’t simply accelerate the trends of the past, they make war different.
For example, World War I was a chemists’ war in that the decisive strategic advantage on the battlefield was driven in large measure by new applications of chemistry and chemical engineering. The war should have ended for the Germans in 1915 when their supplies of gunpowder nitrates exhausted. But the synthesis of nitrates by German scientists allowed the war to continue for another three horrific years. World War II was a physicists’ war. To paraphrase Churchill, the atom bomb ended the conflict, but exploitation of the electromagnetic spectrum in the form of the wireless and radar won it for the allies. “World War III” was the “information researchers’” war, a war in which intelligence and knowledge of the enemy and the ability to fully exploit that knowledge allowed the U.S. to defeat the Soviet Union with relatively small loss of life.
So what does General Scales and the academic he quotes think is going to be the amplifier in WWIV?
…controlling amplifier will be human and biological rather than organizational or technological. From his theory we can postulate a new vision of the battlefield, one that shifts from the traditional linear construct to a battlefield that is amoebic in shape; it is distributed, dispersed, nonlinear, and essentially formless in space and unbounded in time. This war and all to follow will be what I would call “psycho-cultural” wars.
The General goes on to say that sociologists are going to be needed in the new war along with scientific psychology “Cultural psychology can teach us to better understand both common elements of human culture and how they differ. An understanding of these commonalities and differences can help gain local allies, fracture enemy subgroups, avoid conflicts among allies, promote beneficial alliances and undermine enemy alliances. ”
I think the general is on to something here. Populations and attitudes play a critical role in our next war, even if it gets a lot hotter. The goal of any war is to make the enemy stop fighting, whether that enemy is one guy on the internet or an entire national command structure. There are obviously roles that culture play, and psychology and the way people think is an important part of all of this.
In short, I think the general is so close it’s a crying shame, as we say in the south. But a war for social scientists and scientific psychology? It seems that the general would keep the Armed Forces the same, and just “smarten up” the way we select and train people, sprinkling some little buzz words from the towers of academia over them as they head off into battle.
I know I’m new to the party, and I don’t have any stars on my collar, but I beg to disagree. Close, but no banana. The general is so close — the answer is sitting right under his nose.
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