Archive for the ‘4GW’ Category
Posted by macengr on March 27, 2013
Posted by macengr on August 10, 2011
I’ve read most of Steven Pressfield‘s books, and The Afghan Campaign was the one that really made me realize that we couldn’t win in Afghanistan. I had no idea that the tribes had been around since before Alexander’s time, and if Alexander, the British, and the Soviets couldn’t subdue them, how would we?
Since then I’ve followed Mr. Pressfield’s blog where he discussed the tribes and how an understanding of those tribal groups was a key to the fight in AfPak. I looked forward to reading his newest novel, The Profession, because it combined three things that I have an interest in: the classics, futuring, and modern warfare.
By 2032, most land warfare is fought by mercenaries. These range from Marine MEU-sized groups complete with logistical support such as intelligence and communications to Apache helicopters owned and operated by individuals. Most of the action in this book takes place in the Middle East and the United States. The events in the book cover the gamut from the tactical level – ambushes and so on – to the geostrategic level.
The story is well done, and I did get a pretty good feel for the characters. There’s enough action to keep things moving but Pressfield also gives a sense of the geopolitical background and the history that has led to this world. The book excels in portraying the brotherhood between warriors – the knowledge that above all else you are fighting for the man beside you. You are left with no doubt that these men would die for each other. Pressfield also does a good job of portraying what it takes to lead such men, at least in the character of Gentilhomme. I also liked how he worked in quotes from and references to the classics such as Thucydides, Alexander, Xenophon, and others.
As for the geopolitics, personally, I hope Pressfield’s wrong about this becoming a world where nations and corporations hire their armies to do their dirty work. One of the complaints I have about the book is that mercenaries are portrayed as honorable – in real life, some are, but many aren’t. For example, in the Sudan, it has been noted that:
“among those in the counterinsurgency accused of war crimes were “foreign army officers acting in their personal capacity” – that is, mercenaries, presumably recruited from armed forces outside Sudan. The involvement of mercenaries in perpetrating gross violence has also been seen…in Iraq.”(1)
Another thing that disturbed me – although I think Pressfield’s portrayal is spot on – was the utter amorailty of the characters. For the most part, each one seemed to feel that the ends justified the means and it seemed many of them had values that changed with their circumstances. As one of the characters notes, this is how things are done in 75% of the world. My question is, if we abandon what makes us the other 25%, what makes us any different than those we fight? It’s a tough question and I certainly don’t have the answer. For a mercenary, it’s probably not as big an issue.
I was also interested in how much this reminded me of the Hammer’s Slammers series by David Drake – I wonder if Mr. Pressfield is aware of that series, which has a tank regiment of mercenaries that is employed by different groups on other planets to fight – you guessed it – other mercenary armies, and often is based on historical themes such as the odyssey or Xenophon. A collaboration by these two authors would be outstanding (hint, hint)!
Overall, this was a good if disturbing read, and I highly recommend it.
Posted by macengr on February 8, 2011
Posted by macengr on February 1, 2011
A piece in Foreign Policy Magazine this month made me think. Quote first:
THE UNITED STATES OF AMNESIA
Last but not least, discredited ideas sometimes come back to life because societies simply forget important lessons about the past. Political psychologists generally agree that personal experiences have a disproportionate impact on our political beliefs, and lessons learned by older generations rarely resonate as strongly with their successors. And besides, as the years go by it becomes easier to argue that circumstances have changed and that “things are different now,” encouraging the wrong-headed view that previous wisdoms about how to deal with particular problems might no longer hold. Of course, sometimes those arguments will be correct — there are few timeless verities in political life — and even seemingly unassailable truths might someday be seriously challenged if not discredited. All this just further complicates the problem of learning and retaining the right lessons from the past.
(Me again) It’s all fine and dandy to talk about learning from the past, and we all know the Santayana quote about being condemned to repeat it if we don’t. Still, I wonder if we truly try.
I read a lot of books. What I’ve noticed is that many people…don’t read at all. On the internet is an exception, and I think a lot of bloggers forget that since many of them read. Most of the bosses I’ve had didn’t, even if they were CEOs. They say that you can’t learn anything out of a book. I disagree with this, and my example is simply that I wouldn’t trust a doctor who had never cracked open an introductory anatomy text. There’s no substitute for experience, yes…but background knowledge can indeed be gained from books.
Over the last few months, as I’ve been working in the field of international security, I’ve had occasion to think about this as applied to the United States armed forces. I’ve read David Kilcullen’s Accidental Guerillas. And lately, I’ve read these two books (both good descriptions of small unit tactics in counterinsurgency):
The question is, how many of our United States soldiers have? How many have been exposed to these ideas? Yes, we have a whole Field Manual dedicated to counterinsurgency, but have you ever actually tried to read an army field manual? We have a well trained, professional force. So we say. But I think the army would do well to either encourage it’s troopers to read these books, or else present the main ideas in classes – before they ship out to fight a counterinsurgency.
The average guy doesn’t read history. He reads sports. Right now, the big news in Pittsburgh is the fact that we’re in the Super Bowl (Go Steelers!). Most guys I know (Yes, I know that the plural of anecdote is NOT statistics) can quote Polamalu’s stats from memory, but would be hard pressed to tell you who Hosni Mubarak is. Or what happened at My Lai. Or who Thucydides is.
So how are we supposed to learn from history? Maybe it can’t tell us what the right thing to do is or help to predict the future (See Nassim Taleb’s books) but I think it can help us to keep from repeating the same mistakes. What are your thoughts? Do we need a stronger curriculum for schools? If not, or if that’s not possible, what do you suggest?
Posted by macengr on January 25, 2011
Posted in 4GW, future, Languages, Open Source Warfare | Tagged: 4GW, 5gw, boroditsky, chomsky, culture, future, futurist, international security, languages, linguistics, Open Source Warfare | 4 Comments »
Posted by macengr on November 14, 2007
Ryan Clark Holiday recently did a post on 4th Generation Warfare on the Internet(link), which lead me to a post on Global Guerillas that talked about Urban Takedowns in India, as well as this IEEE Spectrum article.
Back in the eighties a friend of mine read a book (the title and author are lost to memory) about a guy who did guerilla warfare against New York City. One of the exploits was poisoning the reservoirs. Around the same time, the Tommy Lee Jones movie “The Park is Mine” came out where one man was able to defend Central Park against a host of law enforcement types long enough to make a statement. I often wondered at the time when it would really happen here.
Big shows by terrorists like the WTC or Oklahoma City get a lot of attention but fade pretty quickly. Even the effects of the WTC, which is now six years in the past, are fading. People are pretty much back to business as usual. Global Guerillas makes the case that:
- Singular terrorist events (black swans), like 9/11, do not impact city viability. The costs of a singular event dissipate quickly. In contrast, frequent attacks (even small ones) on a specific city can create a terrorism tax of a level necessary to shift equilibiriums.
- In the labor pooling model of city formation, a terrorism tax of 7% will cause a city to collapse to a lower equilibrium. Labor pooling equilibrium reflects the benefits of aggregating workers in a single location. Workers get higher wages and more choices. Firms get stable wages (no one firm can deplete the market) and more candidates.
- In the core-periphery model of city formation, a terrorism tax of 6.3% will push a city to a lower equilibrium. The core-periphery model is based on transportation costs. Firms generate transportation savings by concentrating in a single location next to suppliers and customers. Customers and workers glean the benefit of lower transportation costs by locating near jobs and goods.
Back in the day there was a novel by Thomas Harris and a movie called Black Sunday, where a guy attempted to crash the Goodyear Blimp into the Super Bowl where the Steelers where playing. I write stories and one idea I fooled around with was a terrorist cell operating in Pittsburgh. Consider the possibilities:
- The airport
- Reservoirs and water towers
- Cyber attacks on stoplights and such
Route 376, the Parkway, is the major route in and out of the city on the east side. It has a bottleneck at the Squirrel Hill Tunnels. Let’s say at about 5 AM, an active terrorist cell brings two trucks laden with explosives from opposite sides of the tunnel. They coordinate their attacks using throwaway cell phones. They park the trucks, jump out and get into (stolen?) cars following the trucks, and once clear of the tunnels use the phones to detonate the bombs. That artery is now closed and many thousands of people are re-routed through suburban arteries with stops signs and lights.
The next day the same terrorists drop the Fort Pitt Bridge, a major artery out of the city to the west, into the Monongahela River. Note that many terrorists are engineers, so this isn’t too far out of the realm of possibility, especially if they do it at night.
Over the coming days, they put anthrax in several reservoirs and water towers, launch a Stinger at aircraft taking off from the airport, and use cyber attacks to play with traffic signals causing accidents and snarling up traffic even worse. Perhaps a few smaller bombs at shopping malls.
And then they quietly evac out of the country over the open Canadian border.
They’ve gotten major media attention, every attack is posted to Youtube, and now several other cells mount attacks in other cities, using the lessons learned from this first group.
And suddenly, it isn’t so safe here in the US anymore. And no nukes were required.
So how do we defend against something like this, without declaring martial law? That’s complicated, I think.
First, better protection at the borders. We have over 12 million illegals here in the United States. Who’s to say if some of them are not here for a better life? How do we protect those borders? Well, there’s a whole bunch of well-trained, experienced soldiers getting shot at in Iraq….
Regular patrols and electronic surveillance of public infrastructure targets like reservoirs, water towers, tunnels and bridges. One question is who would handle this?
- Police – obviously, this would require a lot more manpower as well as being expensive. The police are not really meant to be used for this sort of application anyway.
- Army or the like
- Mercenaries like Blackwater. If this option were used there would need to be strict Rules of Engagement to avoid shooting of innocent civilians, as has happened in Iraq.
Jammers around public infrastructure – this would inconvenience people with cell phones, and would only be supplemental. After all, a timer can be used to detonate explosives, requiring no radio signal. But it might be helpful anyway.
There are ways around each of these, of course, and I’m sure there are many other solutions I haven’t noted. There are no easy answers, but in the Flat World this sort of thing is a danger that we’ll eventually have to grapple with.