And Around and Around We Go

Someone on Twitter once replied, “The solution to this problem is more truth, not less.” On the truth in the topic, he’s right — but he’s wrong that “more” is what matters.

It doesn’t make a dent in today’s trench warfare between armies of unreachables — paralleled by this excerpt from Blueprint for Armageddon. As explained on Unschooled in Adjustment and elsewhere on this site:

True folly, Tuchman found, is generally recognized as counterproductive in its own time, and not merely in hindsight. In Tuchman’s template, true folly only ensues when a clear alternative path of action was available and ruled out.

The Belgians are going to teach the first great lesson of the war — about what’s changed since the last time great powers faced off. How much the killing power that machines afforded mankind on the battlefield.

How much that had changed the age-old equation of war.

Machines have been taking over for a long time — becoming more and more important. This is the war where they take over completely. And man’s supremacy on the battlefield — even though they’re the ones who run the machines — will always be now secondary compared to the killing power and mechanization that can be brought to bear by modern societies. . . .

And one of the interesting sort of sub-themes of this whole upcoming conflict is: How long it takes some people to absorb the lessons that are being taught in this conflict.

Lesson number one is how deadly the weapons are and how you have to account for that.

Some of the generals and military thinkers understood this going into the war, because they had paid close attention to the 1905 Russo-Japanese war . . . That taught lessons about what happens when two sides armed with machine guns, and two sides armed with modern artillery and all that face off.

But the lessons were not the kind of lessons some people wanted to learn. . . .

These cavalry commanders don’t want to hear that it’s even worse than it used to be. . . . If your country’s doctrine and your entire military is organized around the culture of the offensive . . . where it’s all about guts . . .

Nobody wants to hear that machine guns just rip guts out — that’s the only thing they care about guts, and it doesn’t work to have bayonet charges and ridiculous offenses. Well, the French would say:

“Yes, well what doesn’t work for the Russians or the Japanese — will work for the French — and that’s why we have a great military.”

There are all kinds of ways to rationalize what you don’t want to learn.

Audio version (with additional commentary)

Tuchman alighted on a root cause of folly that she called “wooden-headedness” — defined in part as “assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting contrary information.”

Many of the militaries of the world are organized like Napoleonic times. They don’t want to hear that that is a completely wrong way to be organized.

The French cavalry heading off to war . . . you have to imagine this:

If you want to see what Napoleon’s soldiers looked like — go look at pictures of the French cavalry in 1914 going off to war — with metal breastplates and horse hair helmets. You’d have to be an expert to look at a picture of them in 1914 and a picture of Napoleon’s cavalry in 1814 — and find the differences.

The officers are gonna go to war in white gloves. They’re gonna have swords.

They’re gonna stand up and troops are gonna march into combat — in like billiard ball formations or bowling pin formations, drill formations from the battlefield.

None of the people who consider this to be an integral part of military culture want to learn:

That the rules have changed. . . .

The military virtues of valor that were so celebrated during this period — where the romance of warfare, which had always been strong in human culture, was probably at its height.

The 19th century — the romance was incredible. This is the era where that romance runs into reality.

Here’s the thing that this war is gonna teach: If you watch the Charge of the Light Brigade and you think it’s magnificent and brave — a doomed sort of attack on the part of incredibly courageous men:

What happens if, after the charge fails — they send another one and the same results occur. And then they send another one and the same results occur.

And then they do it again and again

At what point does this wonderful, doomed, romantic celebration of the courage of the military heart become something obscene?

This war is gonna take us there — and it’s going to pound the point home till you’re sick of it.

Audio version (with additional commentary)

She also saw wooden-headedness as a certain proclivity for “acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by facts.” Wooden-headedness, said Tuchman, was finally — “the refusal to benefit from experience.”

The refusal to benefit from experience

In today’s trench warfare — “white gloves” depict the presentation of tactical arguments that don’t account for larger complexities in play.

Swords” are posts that puncture with a pinprick at best:

YouTube talksTweets, podcasts, debates, speeches, books, blogs, articles, conventional docs . . .

The “billiard ball formations” embody the endless barrage of niche-based argument — repeatedly rehashing the same old problems in the same old ways.

And right on cue

An audience that eats it up like they’re part of some revolution in reason — heaping high praise upon people who’d repeatedly rehash the same topics till the end of time before they’d question the efficacy of their efforts.

That’s not the mark of “genius” — it’s the mark of a market.

And for all those geniuses you love to laud — you sure aren’t learning much. The measure of your critical thinking skills is not your capacity for listening to people you already agree with.

It’s how you handle this

Button your lip and don’t let the shield slip
Take a fresh grip on your bulletproof mask
And if they try to break down your disguise with their questions
You can hide hide hide behind Paranoid Eyes

In a country that can’t even establish that much — on a matter of world-altering magnitude: How can we possibly solve problems that aren’t so crystal clear?

And those who recognize that — have no qualms about denying this:

We must agree that it was watermelon and consider what it means: Maybe nothing, maybe everything. But you pollute the debate when you won’t even acknowledge the irrefutable.

Worse than that — you poison your purpose . . .

And Around and Around We Go

Like many alternatives, however, it was psychologically impossible. Character is fate, as the Greeks believed. Germans were schooled in winning objectives by force, unschooled in adjustment. They could not bring themselves to forgo aggrandizement even at the risk of defeat.

— Barbara Tuchman

Unschooled in Adjustment

There is a way . . .

To use folly from the past for the benefit of the future. But it takes time and effort to think it through — which is what it’s gonna take to make an impact that matters.

That — and the guts to call a spade a spade.

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