Saturday, November 19, 2005

Generation Gap

Blog Them Out of the Stone Age carries a series more than a little derisive of William Lind's 4th generation warfare theories.

In purely academic terms, Fourth Generation Warfare is laughable. The master metaphor--"generations"--is incoherent, since it implies that one form of war eventually generates the next. In the sense of operational or tactical response this might be correct, but as proponents of 4GW themselves point out, the factors that transform war invariably come from outside; e.g., political, technological, and cultural change. Even if you jettison "generation" for "age," "era," or "phase," the taxonomy of the earlier history of warfare is crude. Take my word for it, or read the articles for yourself.

In lieu of better terms I will stay with Lind's terminology (i.e. 3rd generation warfare = 3GW etc).

The term generation is misleading*, since generation implies both descent and progress from previous generations. 3GW is not descended from 2GW, 2GW and 3GW arose at the same time from 1GW during WWI, and 3GW is an alternative not a development or improvement.

2GW is an outgrowth of 1GW in its essential human aspects - it is still the the culture of order. 2GW is the older culture of order adapted to the industrial age. The culture of order was however present earlier, much earlier, epitomized by the Roman legions.

Lind has not written of the other* - let us call it the 0 generation warfare (0GW). This then, the prime demographic of warfare for millennia, where individual honor, chivalry, bravery are more important than discipline or even collective victory. It is essentially chaotic, direction being imposed by vague common purpose or value (crusades, chivalrous codes) or individual loyalties (to ruler, clan, tribe).

4GW is not an outgrowth of 1GW/2GW, or 3GW. It appears to be good old 0GW, loose direction (Islam! .... but which Islam?), fractured (many groups) with clan / tribal / sect / splintergroups abounding , featuring individual heroics (martyrs).

0GW, the basic chaotic condition of human warfare, has throughout history been crushed by entities with unified purposes (primarily imposed by despots, less often but more importantly by shared values - like the spread of Islam). Tribes and sects are isolated, split, finally destroyed or suppressed. The key word is isolated.

4GW is 0GW with a twist, the ability for essentially laughable non-state forces to coordinate, to develop consensus, to share experience. Would the Roman empire have lasted long if the Barbarian margins were linked by the www? Would the European colonial powers have carved up Africa or the Americas with such ease? But ... the warfare culture underlying has not changed. 4GW is the 0GW mindset with modern tools, the same relation as 2GW to 1GW. Divide and conquer becomes difficult when division is nigh impossible.

There needs to be new terminology developed to describe 4GW. Lind himself refers to the cultures of 2GW, 3GW etc, and this is the most important point. How about removing "Generation", the simplest concept being "Culture"?

* Or On War #53 - Fifth Generation Warfare?
One reason for the confusion may be a misapprehension of what “generation” means. In the context of the Four Generations of Modern War, “generation” is shorthand for a dialectically qualitative shift. As the originator of the framework, I adopted the word “generation” because I was speaking to and writing for Marines, and “dialectically qualitative shift” has more syllables than the Marine mind can readily grasp (think of the Emperor Joseph II’s response when he first heard Mozart’s music: “Too many notes.”). Most Marines vaguely remember that Hegel pitched for the Yankees in the late 1940’s.

**Actually he did just that in On War # 76 - 4GW In The Sudan

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