Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Fear of Fog, Freezes Minds and Fosters
Indecision in the Face of the Fog of War

 Indecision, hesitation, and disagreement at command and staff levels ar endemic and if allowed to run unchecked leaves the battle to the bold.  The Fog of War is the default status of information of who is doing what, where, when and with what. That includes all involved, regardless of whom.  Grant and Sherman at Vicksburg, and Lee and Jackson at Chancellorsville demonstrated that rare ability described in French as coup d'oeil,  the ability to see at a glance the big picture under all the fog, smoke, and fire of battle.  All had the knack of a grasp of the whole when many of the parts were missing and some were wrong.  Of those four commanders, only one (Robert E Lee) would have been selected for higher command or the War College
Union Plan to flank Lee and march to Richmond A

Grant and Sherman were old and close friends with Grant helping Sherman recover from deep depression and despair.  Both had left the Army before the war and both had experienced failure as civilians.  Jackson was mediocre as an instructor at VMI, and not the career centric courtier that thrive with the Golden Cockroaches that infest the walls of power.  Lee was also rare, particularly today, as the perfect example of the Tidewater aristocracy that included George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

It requires a deep understanding of the relationship between what the Soviets called the Correlation of Forces (COF), which is a broader concept than balance of power. It includes understanding the quirks of dirt, fire and maneuver and impact of the fog of war on the minds of opposing players.  The impact of the fog of war is an understanding of how a leader or manager deals with fog (missing, lost, false, and errant pieces of information.  The fog of war is also found in any decision making body absent the firepower.
Lee splits his army to hold his right and a punch to the nose with his left

The principal problem of some in positions of power is that some can't make a decision until all the pieces are accounted for, confirmed, and lead to certainty.  One British writer, Norman Dixon wrote "On the Psychology of Military Incompetence" about forty years ago, and promptly forgotten and dismissed ... until now when copies of his book is expensive.  His thesis asserts that Assholes  (closest clinical term) lose battles.  More specifically, the Anal Retentive whose sense of security is secured by no shit, no messes, no confusion, orderly, clean and in accordance with regulations. 

Uncertainty in combat intelligence and operational information triggers a rigid hesitation to make decisions absent extra and comforting information that fits the templates. The correlation of shit to shot requires balls, the balls to shoot without all the shit being cleaned up. 
Lee hits Hooker with a wide left hook, while staring a force three times his size in the face

While the Anal Retentive are hesitant in uncertainty, they can be otherwise fearless, inventive, creative and inspiring leaders.  Hooker, Burnside, Fremont, and others were fearless in the face of certainty.  Grant and Sherman having lived in uncertainty and survived, knew that of ten courses of action one end certain victory and the other certain defeat, taking the first one in the middle that comes to mind and go balls to the wall wins.

Some students of the military art and the role that Assholes play in it are coming around to see the correlation in the US military between an obsession over appearance and hesitation to act, and an ever expanding need for visions of certainty: more troops, more supplies,  more intelligence, anything that provides a camouflaged pacifier.   In Afghanistan, after SOF had run the Taliban out of town, some flag rank got furious over SOF troops wearing beards, an essential status symbol in Afghanistan. 

.Indecision to the point of rash decision of the type typified by the Charge of the Light Brigade results when the indecisive mind freezes on the flight of fancy or self delusion.

Patton is an example of one who knew which shit was important and demanded a high standard of appearance and high risk when the odds favored action. It stems, so Dr Dixon says, from excessive excitement over a child's toilet training, which in the British military he traces back to excessive shit over shit in the English boarding school system.   That the diagnosis fits many cultures, the trace back to potty training doesn't hold where in both Japanese and German child raising lets the rug rats run loose, but the leash is tightened by peer pressure later.

Maps by Hal Jespersen,