Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Clue for the Masses

This is a mix of rant and FYI for various folks out there. Before ranting or rambling on about what books we should be studying for Afghanistan, or that our "Strategic Focus" is off, do myself and other professional military types the favor of at least reading the definitions of what tactical/tactics, operational and strategic mean.

I recently read a WSJ article on how Afghanistan was headed in the wrong direction and that we were following the wrong "Strategy" for winning the war. Now, there is some truth to that saying and certainly we can improve on many things (you always can, no one ever jumps into war and it goes 100% perfect and exactly to plan, not even the Nazi War machine which usually gets tossed up as an example). Where I had the issue is the following paragraph which the author gave a list of books that many officers were reading and studying to prep for action over there. Books like "The Bear Went Over The Mountain" which is a translated copy of the Red Army's AARs for over a hundred small unit actions ranging from squad to battalion size. The reviewed the actions and commented on improvements that could have been made within the Soviet Doctrinal framework. Then the translator added some more based on what the US would have done using ours. Numerous highly useful TACTICAL lessons can be gained from this book. The article author made a huge stink about how this book was merely showing the US "failed" (and most of the actions were not exactly shining examples of how to do it right certainly) ideas and that this was totally undermining the strategy and teaching our officers bad ideas.

This shows an incredible lack of simple understanding of terminology. This book (which I use to train my Junior Officers on in weekly OPDs) is a TACTICAL book. It isn't supposed to be about STRATEGIC level thinking or even operational. It does make some tie ins for certain items along the lines of "The US wouldn't do this as the press would crucify us and its a war crime", but that isn't the point of the book. Its about small unit tactics that junior officers and NCOs might use if they are ever deployed to Afghanistan, and mostly about what NOT to do (I am not kidding, you read this book and any idea of the Red Army being a major military power is going to take a severe hit).

Junior Officers are supposed to have some understanding of strategic aims and operational aims, but their focus is the close in fight. Commanding platoons, doing maintenance, training and so on. The books that this writer was hammering were excellent sources for THIS LEVEL. They were not aimed at strategic levels or operational levels. But this civilian (brutally obvious if you know what you are reading) had his levels and terms mixed up. I agreed with some of his points, but he really needed to work on his understanding of the different levels of warfare. The books he cut down are excellent sources of information that are very useful to draw on at the TACTICAL level.

Apples to apples, not apples to pears or peaches (or guavas).


  1. People I talk to get confused at the idea that there even is a difference between strategy and tactics much less what those differences are. Most folks don't consciously employ either.

  2. Thanks to Doc. James' class, I got it very clear on the difference between tactics and strategy and how the two can be related (Strategy dictating tactical solutions such as nuclear weapon delivery systems for example) or how they need to be kept separately. So unless someone is educated on these finer points they'll always confuse them.

  3. Very true. What annoys me is that you can easily explain the difference, but so many people don't try to or even bother to try. Sure there are links between the two but that really muddies the waters when usually a simple explanation does fine. If you then toss in the Operational Level you will REALLY get the "Huh?" look.

    I have had some cases were people did make the leap in linking a tactical situation with strategic impact and vice versa (Rules Of Engagement is a great example). Oddly enough, it tends to be the left leaning side of the family that makes the mental leap (although my dad has no problems with this). The only problem is they can't separate that one situation out from the overall problem so the one situation where it may apply becomes the rule and hijinks ensue.